Members of the Monmouth Academy track and field team work through some drills during an April 1 practice in Monmouth. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

 

There are plenty of unknowns surrounding the 2021 high school track and field season after the pandemic shuttered the previous one more than a year ago.

Sophomores who last competed in 2019 are now seniors.

“It’s definitely different,” Messalonskee head coach Matt Holman said. “Everybody is out of sync when it comes to the typical practice, expectations and culture. How to execute workouts, you have to re-teach the culture that we’ve tried to put together and have been putting together for the last five years or so. It’s not too bad, I haven’t had to alter anything drastically, it’s just taking more time to allow the kids to catch up and get used to the workouts. Track is fairly lucky. We’ve always had kids of all levels. If you have 50 kids, you have 50 different starting points, no matter what. You always are able to tailor your workout and your expectations based on everybody’s skill set.”

It could take coaches a little longer to evaluate their teams this spring as well.

“We’ve been kind of timing and testing (athletes) the last couple of weeks, here and there,” Gardiner head coach Jen Boudreau said. “I don’t want to do too much. My distance kids were training hard before the season (in cross country), but the sprinters weren’t training a lot due to COVID in the spring. But we’ve been timing them and testing them, and I think we’re going to use the first two meets to shake things out. I think it’s usually like that almost every year, but this year, it’s a lot of changes and moving targets.”

Some coaches reported normal turnouts, while others said numbers were a tad down.

“I had 60 (athletes) two years ago, I had 60 signed up last year and I have 52 this year,” Boudreau said. “So I’m pretty impressed with the numbers. I was kind of thinking we were going to be in the 30s. At first, I was like ‘No one is going to come out.’ And that’s OK. If there’s going to be a year to be low, it is what it is. But, I just added two kids who have never done track before. That’s kind of cool.”

Monmouth Academy coach Tom Menendez said his numbers are lower.

Members of the Monmouth Academy track team run around the school during an April 1 practice. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“This year (competition-wise), it’s going to be really, really wide open, because it’s going to be a numbers game,” Menendez said. “My numbers are down by almost 50 percent than it was two years ago. A lot of kids have opted into home schooling. With the hybrid model, they can only get to school two days a week for practices. The other two days a week, it’s difficult, because parents are working and they don’t have a ride. I have a lot of seniors who are taking classes at (Central Maine Community College) or (the University of Maine at Augusta), that’s put an extra burden on them. It’s a numbers game… We’ve had teams (in the past) in the 50s. Right now, we’re struggling to get 30 kids out there.”

Despite early season questions, however, coaches and athletes are thrilled to get back to work. There’s some added excitement at Nokomis as well.

“We’re pretty excited at Nokomis, we finally get to christen our facility up here,” Nokomis coach Chip Littlefield said. “In my mind, I don’t believe we’ve ever hosted a home meet, ever. I know recently, we’ve been a pretty successful road team. It hurt last spring. Coming off the indoor year, (the outdoor season) was going to represent five or six years of hard work, and we missed out on having a good team.”

“It was just great to be back together,” Hall-Dale coach Jarod Richmond added. “The kids were just so happy to be participating in track and doing something. A lot of kids lost their junior year. Some kids, that’s all they do is track. To have them come back out and have that opportunity to get back out there, they were super excited.”

Athletes will be required to wear masks while competing, and Richmond said the rule may not matter in the sprints, jumps or throws, but could take its toll on athletes running middle and long distance events.

Members of the Hall-Dale High School track and field team work on their conditioning during a March 31 practice in Farmingdale. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“You’re going to see some interesting things in the distance events,” Richmond said. “Remember, in cross country, once they cleared the start area, they could take their mask down. They can’t do that this year. The 3,200, the 1,600, the race walk. Anything above a 400 is going to be interesting, that challenge.”

The mask rules for outdoor track differ from the cross country rules in the fall, where runners were required to wear a mask to the starting line, but then were allowed to take them off during competition.

“It’s been a little hard on my end to convince the kids, I’ve told them ‘Guys, the mask mandate isn’t going away,'” said Winthrop coach Ed Van Tassel, who has one of the area’s top male athletes in sophomore James Cognata. “They’ve been like ‘Oh it’s going to (go away),’ and I’m ‘No, it’s not going away, you’re going to be competing at states in a mask.’ You just have to get used to it, because if you don’t, that gun is going to go off and it’s not going to feel normal and it’s going to be a big competitive disadvantage.”

On the track, one of the bigger storylines of the year may be Winslow moving to Class C after several strong seasons in Class B.  With strong returning senior competitors Carly Warn (the 2019 Class B triple jump champion), Olivia Tiner (one of the state’s best distance runners), Bodhi Littlefield and Denali Norris, the Black Raiders are a threat for the girls Class C title. But coach Ken Nadeau said getting the state crown will be no easy journey.

“The thing about C that people don’t understand is, there’s so many teams,” Nadeau said. “It only takes one kid from a single school to disrupt what you’re doing (in team scoring). I think it’s a little harder with a Class B school — where all the schools are together — because in C, it’s not just C (schools). It’s C and D and private (schools) and everybody else. It’s a whole different planning ballgame. It’s kind of a cool dynamic, because coaches really have to be on their game with study and pulling of data and watching the league. It’s not a cakewalk. Us going down is not going to make it any easier, I assure you there… It’s a different challenge, but I like our chances.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

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Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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