It didn’t look much like football at all, not in the sense of the sport that will be played once September and October roll around. There was no contact at the Gardiner Area High School team’s first practice Monday, and there were few plays and plenty of drills to rehash the basics and fundamentals.

Not that it mattered to Cole Heaberlin. For the Tigers senior, just being on the field and holding a helmet was exciting enough.

“We were all beat up last year, a lot of injuries,” he said. “I was out for the year, so it’s great just to be out here. It’s like I haven’t been out here for two years now.”

He wasn’t alone, and neither was his team or his sport. Teams in all fall sports across the state got going Monday, kicking off their preseasons with rust-busting morning and evening sessions, buoyed both by a prevailing sense of optimism at the fresh starting slate and a notion of excitement to finally get the autumn under way.

“We’re all excited. We’re out here working, but we’re taking things slow,” Gardiner senior running back Collin Foye said. “I think we’re going to be ready to go. I think it’s going to be a good year.”

The Tigers have reason to be confident. A shakeup in the football alignments turned the four divisions into five, and Gardiner, which missed the playoffs in Class B last year, moved to Class C, where it will be one of the biggest teams — and, its players feel, one of its most competitive.

“We’ve got all the tools for it,” Heaberlin said. “In Class B, we were always undersized. It’s going to be nice. We have something to prove, that’s for sure. Going from Class B to Class C, other teams are going to be expecting us to be the big dogs now.”

The road to what the Tigers hope will be a deep playoff run started small. In between conditioning work in the offensive-themed morning session, ballcarriers worked on finding and getting through holes, and linemen worked on the fundamentals of footwork following the snap.

Going over the building blocks can get tedious, but coach Joe White said complacency never set in.

“These guys had it in their mind that it was going to be go time this morning,” he said. “The pace was upbeat the entire time. Guys were out here for about two, two-and-a-half hours, going hard. There was never a lull.”

Meanwhile, six-and-a-half miles north, the Cony field hockey team began its season with a session running from 7:30 to 10 a.m., and according to coach Holly Daigle, the Rams had the energy flowing from the opening drill.

“Once the first day of preseason comes, it’s really exciting to be back on the field,” she said. “I think they’re just as excited, too. And they looked good this morning. They were ready to go.”

Fitness was the theme for the Rams’ first practice. The team did ladder work, ab exercises and sprints, and spent time in the weight room as well, with a few shooting drills mixed in.

“We’re doing a lot of conditioning right now, starting early,” senior co-captain Cari Hopkins said. “It was mostly first-day conditioning. Got to get our legs ready.”

“During the preseason we like to get into the weight room. During the regular season it gets a little bit tougher just because time is a little more limited,” Daigle said. “I think that’s a really important component of field hockey, because we’ve got to be in shape.”

Daigle said the team will often hold two sessions a day this preseason, and spend most of its time in the evening practice on the field.

“When it comes to our evening sessions, it’ll be more small games, game situation play,” she said. “Because even though we really push working on fundamentals, we start games really quickly too.”

In Monmouth, the girls soccer team spent part of its afternoon session going through 1-on-1 drills, with one player bringing the ball up the sideline, the other contesting, while goalkeepers worked on technique and cutting off angles of attacking players. They were one of the many exercises making up Gary Trafton’s play sheets, drawn up to help the head coach organize his time and guide his Mustangs through the first days of the preseason.

“It’s hard to budget your time in. I have a lot of index cards and a lot of papers, and I try to coordinate everything so I can get what I want in,” Trafton said. “I have a list that’s a mile long of things I want the girls to be able to do. And the idea is to check those things off, because after the first scrimmage, I’ll have probably two pages of notes of things that we did not do well. And then, as each preseason game comes and the season games go, my list gets smaller and smaller.”

It won’t be easy, as the Mustangs, like most teams, will hold two practices a day for the week. But Trafton said his team, which made the C South semifinals last year, is up for the challenge.

“That’s the goal, to get a little farther than last year,” Trafton said. “Some of these girls went to the Western Maine final a couple of years ago. … That’s the goal here, to get deep in the playoffs and have a chance to play for the gold ball.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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