As eight high school football programs prepare this week for their respective state championship games, the rest of the state has moved on to the winter sports season.

“It’s good to be back,” Lauren Chadwick, a junior on the Gardiner Area High School girls basketball team said in between drills Monday. “This year’s going to be a good season for us.”

Chadwick’s sentiments were shared by many Monday afternoon as most of the state’s teams held their first practices of the winter season. Here is a look at how some of the area sports teams addressed their first day back on the ice or court:

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Excitement levels were high for the Tigers as they look to build on last winter’s improbable run to the Class B East championship game as the No. 9 seed.

“It was huge. That kind of confidence was big for us because going into the summer they knew, ‘OK, we can play with these teams,'” Gardiner head coach Mike Gray said. “They weren’t worried about who we had to play against or the fact that we’re Class A now. We know what we can do. We have a lot of the key kids coming back from last year, which helps.”

Gardiner will face a step up in competition this fall as a member of Class A North, but playing as an underdog is nothing new for the team. Many of those who play basketball were on the Gardiner girls soccer team that made it to the Class B North semifinals as a No. 12 seed.

“A lot of it has to do with trust. We trust each other,” junior Mary Toman said. “With the newcomers we have to learn to trust them and they have to learn to trust us. If we can build a good trust, I think that will help us out a lot.”

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The Tigers are not the only ones that know a thing or two about pulling off upsets. Last winter the Maranacook boys basketball team made a memorable run to the Class C West championship as the No. 8 seed before falling to Dirigo.

“I’m excited to see what we can do,” Maranacook senior Kent Mohlar said. “Everything is switched up this year with the new class so we’re kind of coming in with a new approach. To win games is what you want to do every year.”

This winter the Black Bears will compete in Class B South but — like the Gardiner girls — should have the personnel to remain competitive. Maranacook returns all of its players from last season’s team with the exception of Cam Brochu.

“(Losing Cam) is kind of like losing three guys but we’re going to need new leadership this year because he was our leader,” Maranacook head coach Rob Schmidt said. “He was statistically a leader and emotionally and physically and he just brought so many things. Every year is new and to see who emerges as a leader takes some time. That’s one thing that we need this year in a big way.”

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While the team is still predominately made up of players from Cony High School, the Rams have added two players from Hall-Dale High School to their co-op hockey team with Monmouth. Tommy Small, Avery Pomerleau and Cody Pelletier are each returning players from Monmouth.

“It’s been good,” Rams head coach Chad Foye said. “We were a fairly young team last year so having a lot of kids with another year experience and growing I think is going to help us quite a bit.”

The biggest addition for the Cony/Monmouth/Hall-Dale co-op will be Kents Hill transfer Riley Boivin, though, who brings with him three years of experience playing hockey at a high level.

“He adds an element to our team and he’s a really strong player,” Foye said.

Boivin said Monday he is excited to get one last season of playing hockey. He plans to play baseball next year at the University of Southern Maine.

“It’s a little bit different coming from prep school, we’re on the ice a little bit earlier — mostly all fall — but it’s good to be back,” Boivin said. “This will probably be my last year of playing hockey so it’s good to play for Cony.

“…I’m going to enjoy it and have some fun in my senior year.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

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Twitter: @Evan_Crawley