The Cony High School girls track and field team won the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship last year, the boys finished second, and both sides were counting down the days for their chance to defend, or improve upon, their results.

“I do think the excitement about last year has carried over to this year,” coach Shawn Totman said. “There have been kids that have been talking about track since last fall. And it’s nice to be around that excitement in our program.”

Monday officially marked the return for the Rams, as well as the rest of the spring sports teams in the state. It was the first day in which teams were allowed to conduct full practices, and though the first day of spring was its usual modest self — most tennis, track, baseball, softball and lacrosse teams were confined to the gym or parking lots — there was still enthusiasm at being able to flip the page from the winter.

Winthrop High School tennis players gather in a circle Monday after after the first day of spring practice. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“You can tell, there’s a buzz in the gym right now,” Totman said. “As we’re standing here, you can tell these kids are pretty psyched to be starting track, and it’s really cool.”

Totman estimated his team had 35 girls and 40 boys show up for the first practice.

“These are numbers that we’ve never seen before,” he said.

The team got going with cardio and conditioning work, but Totman said the plan is to utilize both Cony’s large gym space and the outdoor track with the warmer-than-usual temperatures.

“We (didn’t) have the wall open today, but we will tomorrow. That’s plenty of space to get a good practice in,” he said. “But this first week, it’s actually going to be nice outside. Our long-distance kids, they’re going to go outside every day. There have been years where we can’t do that.”

Over in Readfield, the Maranacook girls track team returned to a similar situation. The Black Bears are back after winning the Class C state title a season ago.

“I think we got a lot more buzz in the school about it, so we got some new people to come out and try it,” senior Laura Ireland said. “I think we’re going to have a great season. We have a great team, some new freshmen. … I think people are just excited.”

“I think that last year there was definitely the thought that we could do something big,” junior Ashley Cray said. “Now that we’ve done it, I think everyone wants to keep doing it and keep setting those high expectations.”

Like the Rams, the Black Bears kept the gym work light while the sprinters and runners got to take advantage of the nice weather and run outside.

“A lot of the first two weeks before we can get on the track is conditioning,” senior Grace Despres said. “So we do some running, sprint work, some form for jumping, and just a lot of conditioning to get back in shape from whatever sports we were doing in the winter.”

Cray said that the thought of spring being on its way helps make up for the dimmed enthusiasm from having to start indoors.

“I think that it’s definitely harder when we’re inside,” she said. “But having that excitement of getting out on the track just prolongs the excitement for the beginning of the season, and that’s really good for getting people to work hard.”

The challenge of defending hardware or following up successful seasons generates that buzz coaches look for, but so does the presence of something different. For the Cony boys lacrosse team, that element came from new head coach Jake Whitaker, who ran his first practice after taking over for Chad Foye, now the athletic director at Messalonskee.

“Talking to the boys, everybody’s pretty amped up just to start a new chapter,” Whitaker said. “I think we’ve got some exciting things in the works. We’re going to be all right this year.”

Whitaker was an assistant coach under Foye last season, but said the task of leading a team was entirely new territory for him and his coaching staff.

Winthrop hitter Jackson Ladd takes a few swings in the school gymn Monday. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“It’s a whole different world,” he said. “We have nothing really to fall back on. It’s all brand-new to all of us. We’re looking up some new plays, looking up some new drills, just trying to see what we can get into motion. ”

That’s not to say Whitaker didn’t have a plan for his first practice and his first week.

“These first couple of practices are just checking our endurance and seeing what we have to work with,” Whitaker said. “The team and I are kind of on the same page as far as (knowing) we might not be the most skilled team, but we’re all pretty committed to being the best conditioned team. We’re going to outwork some teams this year.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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