OAKLAND — The wind whipped as Messalonskee boys lacrosse players flung passes back and forth to each other, laughing about the brisk conditions.

The weather didn’t matter. After everything that happened last year, just being on the field was good enough.

“I’m not complaining,” senior defenseman Brayden Hutchinson said.

It sure beat late March 2020, when spring athletes were homebound and wondering when they’d get to resume a coronavirus-delayed season that eventually became a coronavirus-canceled season. This time, though, there was a first day of the spring season, and athletes for all sports were either in gyms or outside getting started on seasons that were two years in the making.

“The last week I’ve just been waiting, patiently, for today,” Hutchinson said. “I was heartbroken (last year). … Being back out here, we’ve just started and it’s amazing.”

“It’s fantastic to be out here. (Chad) Foye, our athletic director, was just telling us (to) be grateful for this field that we played on two years ago for the first time,” senior midfielder Luke Buck said. “Obviously we didn’t play last year, so everyone’s really excited to be back out here.”

At Cony, the girls and boys teams practiced together inside while volleyball practice went on across the divider.

“I know everybody’s been really looking forward to it for a while, just to get out and be a team again,” said Mandy Cooper, a senior and the top singles player on the Cony girls team. “It’s even more so this year, like ‘Thank God we’re back.’ … Everybody’s split into cohorts. I see people here that I don’t get to see at school.”

Cooper said losing the chance to play last year was tough, particularly considering the talent and experience Cony had coming back.

“It was super hard. We had a majority of seniors last year,” she said. “I know for months before I was working at A-Copi at the club, getting ready and preparing, and I know a lot of other girls were too. It was really disappointing, but we had little Zoom calls during that and we still tried to stay together as a team. We did our best with the situation.”

“For us, it was complete disappointment like everybody else,” said Cony girls coach, and Mandy’s father, Kirk Cooper. “The kids were excited. They picked out new uniforms and everything, they were excited about that, we picked up new warm-ups, we did fundraising. And then it all came crashing down.”

Kirk Cooper said the team is eager to turn the page from the frustrations of 2020 to the promise of 2021.

Cony track and field athletes run in the gym during practice Monday in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“It’s a totally different group of kids, so the excitement is a little more there,” he said. “I had a lot of expectations last year with the kids, and I knew them all quite year. This is a little more excitement because several of them, I don’t know who they are yet.”

The Winslow track and field team gathered for outdoor practice after missing not one, but two seasons in essence to the pandemic. Indoor track was reduced to little more than practices this winter.

“The track kiddos who have been at it for a number of years have just kind of been on the wayside waiting for something to happen,” coach Ken Nadeau said. “The kids are excited, you can tell by their attitude. … I think all the coaches are just as excited to be out and doing something. We’re looking forward to it. I know the kids seem to be already buzzing.”

Junior Evan Watts, a sprinter, echoed his coach’s words.

“It’s been building up since sophomore year, the outdoor season,” he said. “My emotions were pretty high last year after getting told I wasn’t going to be having the opportunity to run. And then with indoor, sure, having practices was great and all, but not being able to run those meets, it just adds to it even more.”

Being able to play is the big benefit, but being able to compete for state championships, something most fall and winter athletes couldn’t do, is a plus as well.

“It’s a huge carrot for the kids. They have something to work towards,” Nadeau said. “And our kids, when there’s a carrot, they go for the carrot. I think it’s important to them to compete in any fashion, but really compete in a championship format.”

There’s another bonus — this spring will see fans able to attend games. Fans weren’t allowed at events for winter sports, and some schools didn’t allow them for fall sports either.

“It’s going to be great,” Buck said. “The fans are everything. Having people here to see you play, to cheer you on, it’s definitely a big part of the game.”

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