While most winter athletes got good news regarding their sports last season, wrestlers kept waiting. And waiting. And when the news came, announcing an official end to a season that never got started, it wasn’t good.

“I was thinking ‘I’m going to give it my all,'” Cony senior Nolan Turcotte said. “It just bummed me out.”

On Monday, however, wrestlers were back in the gym, with a season and an immediate future that, for the first time in two years, they could look forward to.

“I’m just really excited,” Turcotte said. “It’s my senior year, I want to make this my best year.”

“It’s awesome. You can tell the kids are pretty pumped to be out here,” added his coach, Shawn Totman. “It’s so nice to be back, planning and knowing kind of what to plan for. The tournaments, the meets, and knowing they’re going to compete, it’s awesome. The energy these kids have had, you can tell they’re excited for it too.

“I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this. … It’s been a long year and a half for Maine wrestling.”

Wrestlers weren’t the only ones getting going on Monday. The basketball season began for boys and girls teams, and boys hockey teams got the go-ahead to return to the ice (girls teams have been practicing since Nov. 8). Swimming and indoor track, too, opened their seasons with their first practices.

But while all sports dealt with a different winter last season, wrestling took the biggest hit of all. Basketball teams played games, albeit without a formal postseason. Swimming teams had virtual meets. Indoor track was greatly compromised, but some teams managed to hold competitions. Skiing, being an outdoor sport, was mostly unaffected.

But wrestling, with COVID-19 protocols limiting all person-to-person contact, was dead on the mat.

“Last year was, basically, conditioning,” Totman said. “We conditioned for about 10 weeks, 11 weeks, and then they decided not to have the season.”

Cony wrestlers work out during the first day of practice on Monday in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Conditioning will still be a big part of the first few practices. At Cony, Totman watched as his wrestlers ran laps around the gym to begin the afternoon.

“These kids are out of shape. They need the conditioning,” he said. “But tomorrow, we’ll be going full bore. These kids will actually be wrestling against each other, or at least practicing with each other.”

And that’s the level that wasn’t available last season.

“The guys are excited to actually get on the mat. We didn’t have any chance to even step on the mat last year at all, or have any semblance of wrestling,” said Tenney Noyes, the co-coach at Skowhegan along with Brooks Thompson. “Guys are excited to get matches and get back to what they love doing.”

The sport is back, but it will be different. The Maine Principals’ Association released guidelines recommending wrestlers be masked while competing — in basketball, the protocols will be left up to each school — and coaches and players are preparing to wear them during meets.

“We’ll figure it out,” Noyes said. “They’ve just got to tell us what we can and can’t do, and we’ll figure it out. They’ve just got to give us the chance to do it.”

Skowhegan wrester Camryn Atwood, front, works through a drill with teammates during practice Monday in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Caden Trask, a Messalonskee junior competing with Cony, said he’s OK with wearing a mask if that’s what it takes to wrestle.

“I think it’s definitely going to be a big change. It’s going to be a hard adjustment,” he said. “But I’m willing to do it, and I’m sure everybody else here is to get the season.”

Totman said he’s already looked into how to pull it off.

“I have tried to become a mask expert within the last three weeks,” he said. “I heard from a referee from Massachusetts, I talked to a coach from down there, they sent me links to masks that they felt … worked best. So we’ll just try to figure it out.”

Basketball teams are looking at a second straight season of wearing masks, either all the time or when they visit certain gyms. Masks aren’t mandatory at practices unless required by the school.

At Winthrop, new girls basketball coach John Baehr held his first practice of the season, and the Ramblers wore masks as they shot baskets while getting the afternoon started.

“I’m just excited for us to play,” he said. “For me, it’s training with and without masks. You’ll see a lot of these girls shooting on the court have their masks on their chin, just so we can train and practice for a team that (when playing) we’d have to mask the whole game.”

Winthrop senior Lydia Rice said there’s a bigger thought on her mind as the season begins.

“The masks, I don’t even care about anymore,” she said. “I’m just happy to start competing for a Gold Ball again. I’m so excited.”

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