Winthrop’s Jillian Schmelzer, right, draws a foul from Richmond’s Marybeth Sloat during a Class C South game last season in Richmond. Kennebec Journal file photo by Andy Molloy

It will be a team effort on the sideline for the Winthrop girls basketball team this season.

Fortunately for the Ramblers, Jess Merrill and Kelsey Ouellette have a background with such a partnership.

Merrill and Ouellette are set to begin their first season as co-coaches at Winthrop, guiding the program that Joe Burnham took to the Class C state championship game last season before stepping down in March. The two got the job in July, and through the first few weeks of organizing for the upcoming season, they said it’s been a harmonious process so far.

“We knew we would work really well together,” Ouellette said. “It always seems like if I have an idea, Jess is thinking the same thing. We always agree with each other, we’re always on the same page.”

They know this because they’ve already worked together. In addition to field hockey, Merrill coaches the girls tennis team, while Ouellette coaches the boys. The programs frequently intertwine, particularly at the start of the season when they’re indoors and practicing together.

“Sometimes we practice together, or I may take a skill and she’ll take a skill,” Merrill said. “We found that really works well.”

Ouellette was the JV coach for Winthrop for the past three years. A former player for the Ramblers, she was interested in the opening, but she really wanted to go for it alongside Merrill, a former player at Gardiner who like Ouellette has coached junior varsity and middle school.

“We interviewed together. That was the idea from the start,” Ouellette said. “We’re in this together, we’re co-coaching because it’s a big job, and it’s usually very time-intensive.”

Ouellette said the details of who will handle what will be sorted out once the games begin.

“Not having any games, or the potential for games for a while, it’s difficult to say whether we’ll be doing the same thing or doing different things,” she said. “We haven’t gotten there yet.”

Merrill said the goal is keeping a Winthrop program that grew under Burnham strong.

“We’re building off what Joey did,” she said. “I don’t want it to go backwards. I’ve got the experience at the varsity level, Kelsey and I both read off each other really well and she’s got the experience with being in the program. … I know the girls from field hockey, and it’s nice to see them in a different context.”

 

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The recruiting process wasn’t what Brooke Martin envisioned when she first thought of playing college softball, but the Messalonskee senior still found the school that’s the right fit academically and athletically.

Martin recently signed her letter of intent to play college softball at Caldwell University, an NCAA Division II school in Caldwell, New Jersey. Martin toured the campus in October, when she was able to watch the team practice and meet coaches and players. She felt right at home, Martin said.

“The feel of the campus was absolutely perfect. I just felt like the hometown feel was great for me,” Martin said.

That hometown feel was amplified by the connection Martin shares with Caldwell head softball coach Dean Johnson. A native of Belgrade, Johnson also graduated from Messalonskee High School.

Messalonskee High softball player Brooke Martin (4) will play at Division II Caldwell University in New Jersey next year Kennebec Journal file photo by Travis Barrett

With last spring’s softball season canceled with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Martin had no junior season in which to develop her skills or create a highlight tape to send to college coaches. She joined the Maine Thunder under-18 team this summer, with plans to play in showcase tournaments.

“We were scheduled to play in five showcases out of state, and every single on was canceled,” Martin said.

The Thunder did play in some tournaments here in Maine, and Martin worked with her brother Denny to create a tape. Denny recorded videos of Martin hitting, throwing and fielding.

In Caldwell, Martin joins a college softball program that has enjoyed a long run of success. Not including the 2020 season, which ended after just six games, under Johnson, the Cougars have won at least 30 games every season since 2003. A member of the Central Athletic Collegiate Conference, Caldwell has played in 15 NCAA Division II softball tournaments since 2002.

A catcher, Martin said Johnson said she could be converted to a corner infield position in college.

“I’m so excited to play, I’ll play wherever he asks me to,” Martin said.

 

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Tom Sheridan is taking over the Messalonskee swim team this season, as Beth Prelgovisk is taking the 2020-2021 season off.

“I’m sure she’ll be back next year,” Sheridan said about Prelgovisk.

Sheridan, normally an assistant under Prelgovisk, has inherited a large team, as the Eagles are carrying over 30 swimmers on the roster this season. Because of their numbers, Messalonskee has had to split up its individualized workouts by gender while practicing at the Alfond Community Center in Waterville.

“I’m excited for the season,” Sheridan said. “I think we’re around 16 boys and 16 girls.”

Sheridan, who is the boys soccer coach (as well as the boys lacrosse coach) at Messalonskee, has already seen firsthand how some form of competition has helped athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think a lot of the kids just want to be part of a team,” Sheridan said. “Looking back at the memories of high school sports, it’s not always about the competitions that you think about. Training, being with your teams, friends, stuff like that (matters).”

Prelgovisk is not the only area swim coach to be taking this season off. Justin Giroux will also be taking a break during the 2020-2021 season from the leading the Waterville/Winslow program. Lindsay Bates, who has previously served as an assistant coach, will lead the program this winter.

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