Of course, 2016 did high school sports fans a favor by setting up all kinds of intrigue for 2017. Several tri-county area teams enter the new year without a loss — Edward Little, Spruce Mountain and Winthrop boys’ basketball, Oxford Hills, Gray-New Gloucester girls’ basketball, Lewiston boys’ ice hockey and St. Dom’s girls’ ice hockey.
Whether they’ve won all of their games so far this season or not, every team has one goal in mind — to win the last game.
Basketball will crown its state champions on March 3 and 4, with Augusta hosting the Class AA, A and B finals and Bangor hosting the Class C and D championships.
Lewiston’s Androscoggin Bank Colisee will once again be the hub of the high school hockey universe when champions are crowned in girls (Feb. 18) and Class A and B boys (March 11).
Competition cheering will be the first to hand out the hardware, on Feb. 11 at the Augusta Civic Center. February 18 will be laden with gold as wrestling and indoor track open their state championship meets.
Bates College will host the Class B indoor track meet on Feb. 18. Class A follows two days later at the University of Southern Maine. Class B also gets first crack in the pool with the swimming titles on Feb. 17 and 19 at the University of Maine. Class A dives into the action on Feb. 19 and 20 at Bowdoin College.
Medal podiums for skiing will be crowded Feb. 21-24 for the state Alpine and Nordic championships. Mt. Abram (Class A) and Black Mountain (Class B) host the alpine finals the first two days. The spotlight will shift to Waterville’s Quarry Road Trails (Classes A and C) and Sugarloaf Outdoor Center (Class B) for the Nordic championships over the final two days.
The ski season peaks in late March when Sugarloaf welcomes the U.S. National Alpine Championships for the sixth time in the resort’s history. The nation’s top male and female alpine skiers will hit the Narrow Gauge trail March 25-28.
Daily racing kicks off with the Men’s and Women’s Super G, followed by the men’s and women’s slalom, the women’s giant slalom and men’s giant slalom. The star-studded list of potential competitors includes Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso, Stacey Cook, Ted Ligety and Carrabassett Valley Academy alums Bode Miller and Sam Morse.
Not long after the nation’s top skiers finish dashing through the snow, the boys of summer will be circling the bases around the state. Opening Day for the Portland Sea Dogs is April 6 at Hadlock Field.
By then, the state’s high school spring athletes will be deep into their preparations for their seasons. Practice for all athletes begins March 28, but baseball pitchers will report one week earlier with the knowledge that the Maine Principals’ Association has installed a new pitch count rule designed to protect their arms.
Following a mandate from the National Federation of State High School Associations, the MPA will limit varsity pitchers to no more than 110 pitches thrown in a single game. Off days between pitching appearances will also be required based on the number of pitches thrown. American Legion baseball also adopted slightly different pitch count restrictions for its upcoming season.
Golfers will be counting their strokes in earnest in July when the state’s amateur and open championships are decided. The Maine Amateur Championship tees off July 12-14 at York Tennis and Golf Club. Val Halla hosts the MSGA Junior Championships July 19-20. The Charlie’s Maine Open returns to Augusta Country Club July 25-26, while the Maine Women’s Amateur takes place at Penobscot Valley Country Club July 25-27.
Oxford Plains Speedway revs up the short track racing season in April, with the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) making the first of eight scheduled stops on April 22. The green flag drops on 44th Annual Oxford 250 on Aug. 27, and the PASS North Championships close the racing calendar on Oct. 14.
The high school football landscape could look very different after Maine football fans bid farewell to the Class of 2017 in the 28th Annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic in mid-July. By then, school administrators will have decided what action, if any, to take in order to address the sport’s competitive balance and the health of multiple struggling programs.
The MPA’s football committee met last month to discuss several options, including adding a fifth class, implementing tiered scheduling similar to hockey, adding a developmental league or playing seven-man football. The plan is for the committee to have a proposal by mid-February so it can draw feedback from the MPA’s member schools before submitting a formal proposal to them for a vote in April.