BY DAVE DYER

Matt Holman couldn’t have it much better.

The Messalonskee coach has nearly all his top athletes back on the girls track team — the defending Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A champions — who are not only back to defend their crown, but to also make noise at the Class A meet in February.

“This is what you hope for as a coach,” Holman said. “You hope for a group of kids on one side that are this talented. We’re spread out very well.”

Not only is Messalonskee stocked with talent, it’s young talent as well. Sophomore Emma Concaugh is the defending KVAC champion in the 800-meter run and the triple jump. Senior Jacey Richards and junior Markiana Hewett finished third and fourth, respectively, in the 55-meter hurdles. That’s just a snippet of the talent returning to Messalonskee.

If talent wasn’t enough, there’s plenty of motivation. The Eagles finished less than a point behind Edward Little for the KVAC A title in outdoor track last spring.

But even though there will be a big target on Messalonskee’s back, Holman said the team isn’t paying attention to the noise.

“We don’t talk about it,” Holman said. “They no doubt want to win the championship, but it’s not a conversation we have. We stick to what we have to do in order to run fast and compete well. We know that the other schools have a lot of talent. The KVAC conference is a good, competitive conference. We just don’t get bogged down by the details and that pressure. If we take care of our business throughout the season, the championship meet will take care of itself.”

The Eagles will be tested by plenty of teams in the area. Lawrence — finishing third at KVACs last year — lost top athlete Kiana Letourneau to graduation, but returns lots of talent, including shot putter Olivia Patterson.

“This season could see some personal bests that might spell individual successes throughout the regular season meets and the postseason meets,” Lawrence coach Tim Alberts said.

Erskine — 5th at KVACs last year — also returns a strong girls team, which loaded up on new talent such as former two-time state champion Kaylee Porter (in the 800-meter run) and distance runner Mikayla McIntyre.

Rounding out the Class A girls teams is Skowhegan, which will be a young team with lots of speed, coach Dave Evans said. Cony will be too small to challenge for a team title, but coach Kevin Russell is looking for a successful individual season from junior Zinaida Gregor.

Waterville returns plenty of talent, including defending KVAC B shot put champion Sarah Cox. A junior, Cox finished second at the Class B meet and is making her mark as possibly the best female shot putter in the state. She’ll be joined in the event with fellow junior Jennasea Hubbard, who finished third at KVACs. Senior Rebecca Beringer rounds out the upperclassmen, as she finished third in the long jump and fourth in the mile last season.

“We feel like (the team is) stronger, and can make a run at the title,” Waterville coach Ted Brown said.

There will be plenty of competition coming after Waterville in KVAC B, starting with perennial powerhouses Belfast and Lincoln Academy. Local teams will challenge the Purple Panthers as well.

Waterville’s rival, Winslow, returns with Katie Doughty (400) and Sara Doughty (200) leading the way. The Black Raiders will also be bolstered in the distance runs by freshman Olivia Tiner — the reigning Morning Sentinel Cross Country Runner of the Year — after a breakout season in the fall.

Maine Central Institute — which has bolstered its numbers this season — should also improve. Nokomis enters this season as its own program after breaking apart from its co-op with MCI and will be led by distance runner Emily Eastman.

On the boys side, Messalonskee is the defending KVAC A champion, but it lost a large senior class to graduation. The Eagles have plenty of competitors this season, although inexperience will be a factor.

“We’ve got a lot of new, hardworking kids, not sure how it’s going to shake out,” Holman said. “But I’m excited to work with them, for sure. Our numbers are good. I’m looking forward to how things shake out on the track. Lot of good athletes. I know as the season progresses, they’ll turn into good track athletes.”

Numbers will hurt Lawrence in team scores, but it has a strong contingent of returners, led by hurdler Zachary Campbell. Skowhegan, which finished eighth at the KVAC A meet last season, returns a promising lineup of athletes, including senior Kyle Jacques, who finished second in the triple jump and fifth in the long jump at the conference meet. Cony will look for strong individual performances from senior James Olivier, who has the talent to be a force in the 400.

Erskine returns senior Chris Weymouth, the defending KVAC champion in the triple jump. Weymouth finished fourth in the event at the state meet.

“We have an excellent group of returning athletes along with a lot of new talent that should help us to be very competitive this year,” Erskine coach Scott Rollins said.

Brown, the Waterville coach, is taking a wait-and-see approach with the defending KVAC B champion Panthers. Ethan Nurick — who was third in the triple jump at KVACs — will help lead the team.

“The talent is there … the boys can be a team to be reckoned with this season,” Brown said.

Winslow lost its top star from last season in Ben Smith, but has enough group talent to be a contender in Class B. Junior Nick Tiner placed third in the 800 at KVACs last season, while sophomore Max Spaulding finished second in the 200.

“I really like the attitude I have seen so far from the student-athletes,” Winslow coach Ken Nadeau said. “They come to practice and are willing to put in the time to get better. We have a lot of amazing student-athletes this year and I think our diversity will help us as the season progresses. The key will be to place them in the correct events and give them the best opportunity to score.”

MCI brings a young squad looking to gain experience throughout the season. Nokomis also shows promise with the return of junior Tyler Pelletier, who placed second in the long jump at KVACs last year and qualified for the state meet last spring.

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

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Twitter: @Dave_Dyer