SANFORD — Diana Walker looked out at the outfield grass at Goodall Park recently after a Sanford High field hockey practice and said, “This is 35 years. There’s been a lot of memories.”

That there have. In the 35 years Walker has coached Sanford’s field hockey team, the Spartans have won over 350 games, two Class A state championships and at one time had a 50-game winning streak, then a state record.

But in Walker’s 36th year, Sanford won’t be playing on the manicured grass at Goodall Park. Instead, its home games will be played at Sanford’s new high school and on artificial turf.

And the players can’t wait.

“It’s all new, all exciting,” said senior back and co-captain Mackenzie Tierney. “Everyone wants to have the first assist, be the first to score a goal. It’s like a whole new energy.”

After years of being a measuring stick for other programs in the SMAA, Sanford is coming off back-to-back losing seasons, a first for Walker. Moving to a turf field should benefit the Spartans. The game is played at a faster pace on turf, where the ball bounces more purely and players can use their skills more freely.

“I don’t think there’s any other sport impacted by turf like field hockey,” said Portland Coach Beth Arsenault, whose team plays on the artificial turf at Fitzpatrick Stadium. “I even have different corner plays for grass and turf.

“On grass, you need a strong insert and hope there are no variables (bumps) along the way. On turf, you can do a sweep. It changes how you play. It changes how you practice.”

Moving to turf has been a huge factor for several local teams recently.

Scarborough has five regional championships and two Class A state titles since 2006, when it moved onto turf. Thornton Academy moved onto artificial turf in 2010 and has had seven winning seasons and playoff appearances and a Class A South title since. In the 16 years before that, the Trojans had three winning seasons.

Massabesic moved to turf two years ago. In its first season, it advanced to the state championship game and was ranked No. 2 in Class A South last year before losing in the regional semifinals.

And Sanford isn’t the only team moving to turf in the area. So is Biddeford, where Waterhouse Field got a turf makeover, and Class B South contender Freeport.

The Tigers, who lost in the regional finals last year, are fast and athletic and were considered favorites in Class A South. Moving from grass to turf makes them even more dangerous.

“I think it’s going to help them grow as players and as a team,” said Biddeford Coach Caitlin Albert. “Just the timing of the turf for the field hockey program couldn’t have come at a better time. I think we do have the perfect team for turf.”

“I think it will definitely bring our team to the next level,” said Biddeford senior Paige Laverriere. “We’ve done OK on grass, but every time we’ve played at a turf team, we’ve clicked even better.”

Sanford’s first home game is 6 p.m. Sept. 7 against Marshwood.

But while construction on the new Sanford High School has continued, the team has not been allowed to practice on the turf. So Walker, who said she has four more years of coaching in her, is prepping her team as best she can.

In a recent practice on grass, she kept talking to her players about the differences in the game on the two surfaces.

She spoke about corner plays, especially the insert: “When you’re on turf you have to learn to do a sweep pass out without any lift. You can’t do that on grass.”

She talked about the reverse hit being stronger. She talked about running to your position, especially on transition defense, because the ball is going to be moving a lot faster. She talked about passing the ball more quickly. She talked about the weather, how rain is not going to postpone a home game anymore. She knows that moving to turf can be a huge factor for the growth of her team.

“The last four or five years, I can see our skill level is not up to some of these other teams that have turf,” said Walker. “We’re falling further and further behind the longer that we don’t have it. So it’s time we have turf.

“The kids go to camp and it’s on turf, they play in the winter leagues and it’s on turf. But as a team we’re playing on grass and it’s a whole different game on the turf. Kids don’t understand the speed that’s required. They think they’re fast, but they’re not.”

The players know there’s going to be a difference.

“As a forward you really have to increase your speed on turf,” said Kim Works, a senior forward. “When the backs drive the ball, it’s really flying. You have to be able to be able to stop it or keep up with it. And it goes faster when you’re dribbling.”

Maya Joy, a senior back, said you can lift the ball more easily on turf, and use sweeps and reverse chips more effectively.

The players also feel moving to turf will make the game more exciting for fans who come to watch.

“I think it’s going to be good for our program,” said Tierney.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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