While a number of area lacrosse teams kicked off the regular season last Friday, the Gardiner girls will have another week to prepare for their opening match at Messalonskee. Time that first year coach Andy Haskell is welcoming.

“There is so much to prepare for in preseason,” Haskell said. “We’ve had one scrimmage and now we are spending the rest of our time with conditioning and game preparation.”

Gardiner finished 8-5 in Class B a year ago but will play a predominately Class A schedule this season. The Tigers will face four of the top Eastern A teams in their first four games this season. After the Eagles, Gardiner plays Mt. Ararat, Brunswick and Cony.

The Tigers are very strong but will need to play at their very best when facing the Class A schools.

“We have a balanced group with strong players in midfield, attack and defense,” Haskell said. “Having an extra week is good for us. We can use the time to make sure we are ready with all the little things that make up what we do on the field.”

Gardiner looks to seniors Caitlin Ham and Paige Pilsbury for scoring while sophomore goalkeeper Maddy Cutler has played well in preseason. Senior Maria Turner and junior Paige Hinkley will provide plenty of defense in front of Cutler.

“We have looked very strong in the back,” Haskell said. “And we know that Ham and Pilsbury are strong players also.”

Messalonskee will be a stiff test for Gardiner, returning an exceptional midfield group in Haley Pelletier, Mara Balboni and Sara Grenier along with one of the top goalkeepers in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference in Izzy Skinner.

Game time is 4 p.m. Friday in Oakland.

* * *

It was a tough way to open the season as the Mt. Blue boys lacrosse team carried just 13 players to its opening game against Mountain Valley in Rumford on Monday morning. The game was pushed back three times from its original date.

“We did so many things right, in today’s game, I cannot complain,” Mt. Blue coach John McDonough said. “It was iron man lacrosse.”

Plagued by injuries and academic eligibility problems, the once highly successful program that had over 50 players on the team during the 1990’s has fallen on hard times.

In an email last week, Mt. Blue athletic director Todd Demmons announced the lacrosse program would not be fielding a junior varsity team this spring, saying, “unfortunately, we will not be able to have junior varsity lacrosse games this season due to low numbers and academic eligibility issues.”

“It’s going to be rough,” McDonough said. “We are a little undersized and looking to take advantage of our speed.”

One major issue facing the lacrosse team centers around the lack of a facility while the school is in the middle of a rebuilding process. Teams have not played at the high school all year and it appears next year will present the same problems.

“I think once we get back to school and can practice and play on our own field, we can start to rebuild the program,” McDonough said. “When you can roll out of your own locker room and onto the field, it makes it nice.”

With only two seniors on the team, the Cougars are working on building their knowledge of the game while attempting to build a foundation for the coming seasons. McDonough said he will also be instituting a study hour before practice, making an effort to help players regain their academic eligibility while helping others maintain theirs.

“We’re going to do an hour of study hall before practice,” he said. “The school will take a look at the kids’ academic standing in two weeks so we could get some players back.”

Mt. Blue travels to Maranacook/Winthrop on Wednesday and will host Lincoln on Saturday at Prescott Field, home of the University of Maine at Farmington.

* * *

Five years ago the Cony girls lacrosse program was at the club level. Friday when the Rams travel to Mt. Ararat for their season opener, the team is heavily favored to win the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference along with a top seed in the Eastern A tournament.

Cony’s lineup features a list of potential all-conference players at nearly every position. For starters, the Rams have a pair of high intensity attackers in Chelsea Begin and Mia Diplock, who each poured in 48 goals last season.

“Our girls have always done a good job of utilizing each other,” Cony coach Gretchen Livingston said. “They all have varied experiences from other sports and work to their strengths.”

In the net. the Rams boast the 2011 Kennebec Journal Player of the Year, Katrina Duncan, whose anticipation and understanding of the game is unmatched. When problems arise in the back, Duncan can call on Josie Lee and Erika Burns for defensive help.

“We do have a lot of talented athletes from other sports,” Livingston said. “I think the entire team works as a supporting crew for each other and raise the level of play of the players around them.

Both Mt. Ararat and Cony made it to the Eastern A semifinals last season before being eliminated. Game time is set for 10 a.m. in Topsham.


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