WINTHROP — For some high school athletes, it took more than just the first practice for them to realize that the fall sports season had arrived. But Winthrop/Monmouth senior Nate Scott was glad to step on the football field again Monday morning.

“It’s surreal. It doesn’t really feel like it’s started yet, we’ve been waiting for so long,” Scott said. “But it’s here. I couldn’t get any sleep last night. I was here early. I just couldn’t wait.”

Teammate Alec Brown couldn’t wait either, even though, as a senior, his days of high school football are winding down.

“It’s very bittersweet,” Brown said. “It’s double sessions, but it’s our last time doing double sessions.”

Scott chimed in: “It’s the last one. Savor it, even if it sucks. It’s the last one. Savor it.”

Around the state, Monday was the first day of practice for high school field hockey, football, soccer, cross country, volleyball and golf teams. Golf teams can open the season Aug. 26, while field hockey gets under way five days later. Football kicks off Sept. 2.

Preseason is the time when teams bury the previous season and focus on what lies ahead. However, it’s easy to formulate expectations based on the previous season, as well how many familiar faces are back in the huddle and on the sidelines.

Winthrop/Monmouth finished 5-4 in Class D South last year and gave eventual state champion Oak Hill a scare in the regional semifinals, which Oak Hill won 13-10. The Ramblers graduated just three starters and have the talent and experience to have its best year since Winthrop High School and Monmouth Academy merged football programs in 2013.

“We all have our goal. We know what that goal is and we’re just out here working hard,” Brown said. “We’re not looking forward. We’re looking at this afternoon’s practice.”

“We lost some talent from last year, some great leaders and great players. But we’re all ready,” Scott said. “I felt like we hit the ground running today.”

Of course, it’s much easier to hit the ground running when you return six of your top eight receivers, six of your top eight rushers and eight linemen who lettered last year.

“We just did one drill and … the juniors and seniors executed it like they can do it in their sleep,” head coach Dave St. Hilaire said. “And they lead. They’re constantly talking to the younger guys. It’s a good group of veterans because they accept those younger guys; They’re not freshmen. They’re basically younger brothers, part of the family and they’re bringing them in that way.”

Erskine Academy boys soccer is bringing a lot of young talent into the fold while coming off the best season in school history. The Eagles won the first regional title in school history while finishing 14-5 in Class B.

Erskine graduated a dozen seniors, including eight starters. But coach Phil Hubbard believes the returning lettermen, most of whom saw significant time on the pitch, and a talented sophomore class can keep his team in contention.

“We lost a lot of seniors but we’ve got a lot of good underclassmen,” he said. “We’re just going to regroup and see how things come together. I still expect us to be right in the thick of it.”

Senior striker/midfielder Andrew Browne said getting young players on the same page with the veterans can be a challenge, but believes last year’s success can help build everyone’s confidence and breed more success.

“A lot of us have had a taste of what it’s like to play big-game soccer, and I think it gives us an advantage going into this year and maybe inspires some younger kids to want to get to the same level we were out last year,” Browne said.

Hubbard said the team philosophy of emphasizing discipline, hard work and heart remains intact. Senior center-midfielder Nate Howard vowed that the players’ approach won’t change, either.

“A lot of these kids are young, but nothing’s going to change. We’re going to work just as hard,” Howard said.

Erskine hopes to establish itself as a perennial power after losing to the state’s reigning powerhouse, Yarmouth, in last year’s championship game. Likewise, Messalonskee field hockey had its championship dreams extinguished by a dynasty, Skowhegan. Undefeated and the top seed in the Class A North tournament, Messalonskee fell to No. 2 Skowhegan, 2-1, in the regional championship game last year.

“We’ve decided it’s time to move forward,” coach Katie McLaughlin said. “It’s a new season. How do we take such a setback like that? The girls played incredible that game. What is our frame of mind going to be? The girls, they’re ready and they’re very excited. They’re ready to move on.”

Messalonskee’s players believe they still have the talent to move on to their first state title game since 2000, but it won’t come easy.

“We lost a lot of seniors. We still have tons of talent,” senior Lydia Dexter said. “Skowhegan’s in the back of our mind, but we have to think about the whole league this year and work hard every single game.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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Twitter: @RAWmaterial33