Messalonskee girls lacrosse players work through drills Monday in Oakland. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

OAKLAND — It was 39 degrees and a wind that gusted to tree-snapping speeds made it feel 10 degrees colder, and Gabby Smart did not care. The sun was shining and her first lacrosse practice in almost two years began in 15 minutes. Her stick was at her side, and Smart’s facemask shifted, giving away the ear-to-ear grin it hid.

“It’s definitely weird, but I’m excited to get back on the field with my teammates. I think this past year we’ve all just been itching to play and be together again,” Smart, a senior midfielder on the Messalonskee High School girls lacrosse team, said. “We started a group chat, which we usually don’t start until the first day of the season. We started it two, three weeks ago. Everyday, we’re talking to each other, counting down the days, getting so excited.”

Smart is a member of the Class of 2021. The class that saw good friends lose a senior season with a previously unknown abruptness, and the class that spent a year hoping the same thing wouldn’t happen to them. Well, not exactly the same thing. If another spring was going to be lost, the Class of 2021 would see it coming like a tidal wave they could not stop. Smart has worried about that.

“Oh, 100%. The last three weeks, I’ve been sitting on the edge of my seat like, please don’t shut down. Please don’t shut down. I’m very optimistic now that we’re here,” Smart said.

The Class of 2021 is getting the senior spring season the Class of 2020 did not. The Class of 2021 were a bunch of sophomores the last time they competed in the spring. Now they are the seniors. They are the team leaders, without getting a junior season to apprentice under veteran teammates. They were time warped by a pandemic into a leadership role while skipping an important step. They will not hesitate.

The last time Smart and the Eagles played was the end of the 2019 season. It was their first season on Messalonskee’s new artificial turf field and the future was bright, because the future had no idea a pandemic was nine months away.

Smart hasn’t had the chance to play much lacrosse in the last year. She’s gone out with friends and passed a ball around, and Smart played in a showcase in October, but that’s not the same as being with the entire team. That’s what Smart said she’s looking forward to in a few minutes. As soon as the boys team wrapped up their first practice, Smart and her teammates would get on the field and embrace every second.

Smart plays golf in the fall and basketball in the winter, but lacrosse is her sport. It’s the one she loves the most, and the one she will continue playing competitively next year at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. Smart loves the team dynamic of lacrosse.

“We have a really fun team and everyone’s just so excited and always enthusiastic, so that makes it a lot of fun. I love being able to play midfield and be defense and offense at the same time. I can go down and shoot and score, but I can also get back and make some stops,” Smart said. “It’s so different from just seeing my teammates in the school hallways to being out on the field where we’re cheering and screaming each other on. I’ve definitely missed that part.”

Messalonskee players stretch out during girls lacrosse practice Monday in Oakland. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The seniors who missed out on that in 2020, the friends who missed out on that, will be on Smart’s mind this season.

“We were all really close. We had been talking about my junior season since the beginning of the year, how excited we were to get out and play and win and score. So I think we were all disappointed. I think we feel really bad for the seniors. I think a lot of the season will be us playing for them, because they didn’t get that season. We want to make ours extra special and take nothing for granted,” Smart said.

A practice is one thing. When the Eagles play that first game, when Smart is on the field fighting for a ground ball against a girl from another school… oh boy.

“I think there’s going to be so much built up excitement, we’re all just going to go out and play 110 percent for sure. This is just what we’ve been waiting for,” Smart said.

There are hundreds of Gabby Smarts across the state. They are the Class of 2021, and they will make up for lost time.

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