WINTHROP – There’s a shiny, new Gold Ball sitting in the Winthrop High School lobby.

A dozen or so steps away in the gym, the boys basketball team was getting started in its attempt to win another one.

“I’ve got some players here that, they’re out to prove something this year,” coach Todd MacArthur said. “They want to defend their title, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with their opportunity.”

Cony boys basketball coach T.J. Maine directs looks on during the first practice of the season Monday in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

The Ramblers and the rest of the boys and girls teams in the state were at work beginning what they hope is a season that will end the way Winthrop’s did last year. Monday marked the beginning of the basketball preseason, which means a time of excitement — and for teams defending titles like Winthrop, an uptick in expectations.

“It definitely adds a lot more pressure,” senior guard Cam Hachey said. “Everybody’s going to want a piece of you, knowing that you’re the defending state champs. Everybody’s going to go out there every night and really try to take us down.”

Of course, this isn’t the same team that won the Class C title last year. Seniors have left, new potential starters have emerged, and the only guarantee is that the story of this year’s team won’t look like that of last year’s.

Which, MacArthur said, is the fun part.

“I love that. That’s my favorite part of coaching, is molding kids into a team that they can become,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love tournament games, they’re really fun. But practices, that’s where you win games.”

The Cony boys basketball team knows a thing or two about expectations. The top seed in the A North regular season last year, and the preseason No. 1 this season, the Rams were back Monday with most of the scoring core from a season ago.

While Winthrop got started with defensive drills and half-court run-throughs, Cony got going with a team-wide shootaround, looking to begin honing the touch that carried it last season.

“We had 43 kids in the gym today for three teams, and they’re excited. It’s good energy in here, and it’s just nice to be back in the gym,” coach T.J. Maines said. “We’re introducing some new offensive concepts because we don’t have that many practices, so we’ve got to introduce them now. … But we have to let the kids play a little bit so we can see who’s done what.”

The Rams reached the A North semifinals last year, and were picked by KVAC coaches as the top team in the conference in the preseason poll. Maines, however, said he doesn’t expect the team to feel any pressure.

“We’ve expected to be good for the last bunch of years,” Maines said. “We have really good leadership because we have a lot of kids back.”

The Waterville girls basketball team rolled to an 18-0 regular season before falling in the B North final. With two seniors and seven juniors back from that team, coach Rob Rodrigue knew he didn’t need to familiarize himself with his group.

“I told the girls when I met with them, ‘We’re going to go to practice,’ ” he said. “We have tryouts, but it’s going to be practice. Our systems are in place, all our kids are familiar with it, so we can go full tilt right off the top. I’m not sure there are many teams that can do that right off Day 1.”

The Purple Panthers, who will be led by seniors Maddy Martin and Sadie Garling, began the session with layup and fast break drills before moving on to five-man weave and a speed shooting drill that consists of trying to make 100 3-pointers in eight minutes.

Messalonskee senior Gabirelle Wener goes up for reverse layup during the first practice of the season Monday in Oakland. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“I firmly believe that we’re going to be really good at what we do,” Rodrigue said. “What we do well, I want to make sure we do those things at a high level.”

Other teams that got started Monday are looking not to replicate, but improve on the previous year. The Messalonskee girls, who went 11-9 and fell in the A North semis, fit into that group.

“We’re wicked pumped for this season, especially with how last season went. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” senior forward Gabrielle Wener said. “This year we definitely have a fire.”

It’s served Messalonskee well, as the Eagles have been one of A North’s most consistent programs. Even before the practice began, coach Keith Derosby said that fire was showing itself.

“The excitement has been building,” he said. “They’ve been very loud the last week and into this week. They are more than ready to be here.”

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