The girls of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School soccer team were on their practice field, arranged in a circle and doing leg lifts while holding a soccer ball between their feet. Beyond the trees at the far end of the field, the sun crept into the sky, casting a warm orange light on the team. With what seemed like a collective exhale, the team finished the warm-up exercise and prepared for the next one.

“That hurt my legs more than my abs,” one player said.

“Really?” commented another. “That hurt all over.”

But then, Hell Week is supposed to hurt all over. The week before Labor Day, when fall athletes gear up for the season ahead, is a way to snap out of summer haze and back into shape.

“It’s a very short preseason for us,” said boys’ soccer coach Damon Burke before an afternoon practice. “We have to get very fit very quickly.”

The teams took to the fields last Thursday — with the exception of football, which began last Tuesday — for their first practices. In six days, which included a day off to recover, they must train, set varsity and junior varsity rosters, and prepare for another Eastern Athletic Conference season.

And with freshmen and transfer students getting their first taste of the regional high school at this time, they must also become teams.

soccer players athlete field
Field hockey team arrives at 5:45 a.m. for practice. — Ivy Ashe

“It’s important that [everybody] knows who everybody else is,” said field hockey coach Lisa Knight. Varsity and JV distinctions aren’t made until the end of the week, so upper- and lower-classmen train together, going through the same workouts and forging an “espirit de corps,” in Coach Burke’s words.

In most cases, though, the real pain of Hell Week comes not from the fitness aspect but rather the hours during which the athletes train. When the first cars start to pull onto Sanderson Drive each morning, even the sun is still a little bleary-eyed.

“I never thought you’d get 30 teenage girls to come out this early — and with enthusiasm,” said assistant girls’ soccer coach Curt Cetrulo. The girls take to the fields at six each morning, preferring the morning slot to the afternoon, when the boys’ team practices, because many of them are working later in the day.

When it comes to early arrivals, however, no team bests the field hockey group, which arrives at 5:45 in the morning and leaves at 8:30.

“We’re always the first ones here, and the last ones to leave,” said senior team captain Maggie Johnson, a four-year veteran of Hell Week.

“And the loudest,” chimed in senior Lily Gazaille, laughing.