A Messalonskee volleyball player returns a serve during a game against Cony on Oct. 5, 2020 in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

After the Cony volleyball team held its first practice, coach Lindsey Morin said it felt like a somewhat return to normalcy. 

“It’s not weird, it feels like regular back to school,” said Morin. “More so this year than last for sure.”

Volleyball, like most sports, was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The MPA announced in September that it could not sponsor indoor volleyball or football in the fall 2020 because of coronavirus safety concerns. However, many volleyball teams decided to hold outdoor practices and matches on makeshift courts. Cony, Gardiner and Messalonskee all competed outside in the fall.

This fall, the sport moves back indoors and championships will once again be contested. Host schools will determine if those attending the match should be masked or not. 

First-year Brunswick/Mt. Ararat co-op coach Janey Martin said it’s exciting to have an opportunity to play a fall season just months after spring. 

“Returning players are much fresher with their skill sets,” she said. “Reaching that new level of play sooner with having the spring jumpstart is only going to benefit players as individuals, as a team, and the program as a whole.”

Messalonskee has a new but familiar face in charge for its first-ever season of varsity volleyball. Jennifer Croft, who was a volunteer assistant for the past three seasons, will lead the Eagles this season. 

“The improvement that I’ve seen just over the first week has been dramatic,” said Croft. “We don’t know what to expect for ourselves this year, but we like what we’ve seen thus far.”

After forming as a club team in 2018, Messalonskee was set to have its first season of varsity volleyball in 2020 before the season was postponed. With zero seniors on the’ roster, Croft is hoping to build the foundation of the program.

“I would say we’re definitely in a building phase but can work off the success we had in the spring,” said Croft. “I do feel like we will be competitive in the conference, but I’m sort of in a wait-and-see mode.”

Messalonskee returns just two starters from last season, and its roster is comprised of seven juniors and eight sophomores.

Cony volleyball players compete during a Sept. 10, 2020 practice at Cony High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Development will be key for us at both the varsity and junior varsity level,” Croft added.

While Messalonskee is still looking to find its identity, Gardiner is hoping for big things this season. 

“We’re an older team. I’m expecting quite a bit out of them this season,” said Gardiner head coach Tiffany Grover. “We’re seasoned and have a lot of experience, especially from how much we’ve gotten to play together over the past 12 months.”

Unlike most teams, Gardiner was able to hold some practices outside in the fall before the shortened season took place in the spring. 

“We treated the spring as a real season, we worked and played hard and wanted to win like any other season,” said Grover. “To be back already is a bit strange, but it’s a great feeling to be back in the gym with the team together.”

Morin, Cony’s coach, says the Rams are gaining valuable experience in the early going, as well.

“We have strong junior talent and a strong freshman class that we’re excited about,” said Morin. “This year our goal is to improve our attacking instead of relying on serves and defense. We also need to improve our communication on the court.”

The Brunswick/Mt. Ararat volleyball team competes during a March 11 practice at Brunswick High School. Eli Canfield/The Times Record

Schedules will be similar to pre-pandemic life, and the postseason will be played for the first time since the fall of 2019.

Many coaches agreed that it’s tough to gauge which teams will contend. 

“It’s hard to determine that right now; to my knowledge there should be a lot of evenly matched teams in Class B,” said Grover.

Brunswick/Mt. Ararat will once again play in Class A but will play a fairly mixed schedule. The Dragons face Cony, Messalonksee, Gardiner, Hampden Academy, and North Yarmouth Academy. 

“I’m confident we will be competitive within our match schedule and will be putting in the effort to earn ourselves a spot in the postseason bracket,” said Martin, whose team opens up its regular season on Sept. 8 at home vs Gardiner. 

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