Kate Sawyer is one of the most versatile athletes at Edward Little High School. Her answers to sports-related questions are among the most thoughtful.
So, Kate, which feeling is more powerful: The four weeks of restlessness between the end of soccer season and the beginning of basketball? Or the nine months of hunger after the Eddies fell two minutes shy of their regional championship hoop dreams?
"It's not even hungry," Sawyer said. "It's famished."
Sawyer chose a powerful word for Monday's first official practice of the winter sports season. Other students, depending on their sport or status, might throw around more common terms.
Nervous. Excited. Exhausted. Sore.
"It's not just practice. You've got to mentally prepare also," Lewiston boys' basketball senior Steven Patrie said. "Getting ready for that first game is all mental."
Girls' hockey dropped the puck two weeks ago, but Monday was back-to-work day throughout the tri-county region for hopefuls in boys' hockey, basketball, wrestling, swimming, indoor track and cheerleading. Skiing will begin next month as the snow starts to fly.
Time is of the essence. Games and meets will commence Friday, Dec. 7.
Two-a-days are closely associated with the fall sports season.
Athletes and many of their coaches have another two weeks off between the initial August workouts and the start of classes. Football, soccer and field hockey teams often take advantage of that flexible schedule to practice twice a day, morning and afternoon or night, in preparation for fast-approaching games.
As luck would have it — and yes, "luck" being loosely defined, if you're an affected athlete — Auburn schools have this entire week off as Thanksgiving vacation.
Edward Little track was among the teams taking advantage of that loophole and meeting twice Monday. All those athletes reported for duty at the prove-you're-serious hour of 5:30 a.m.
Across the river, Lewiston boys' basketball did the same, convening before the start of classes.
"It's actually amazing. It felt good to get out there again, especially for the kids from last year," Patrie said.
Lewiston devoted its first 90 minutes of the day to conditioning and some shooting. Patrie expected more dribbling and organized drills in the second segment, which started at 4 p.m.
That's the dedication you might expect from a team that has been booted from the Eastern Class A quarterfinals each of the past two seasons. Lewiston reached the KVAC championship game and was seeded second in the region before Edward Little rallied and broke the Blue Devils' hearts in the playoffs.
"We learned a lot about ourselves last year. We know we can get to that same level, especially with our underclassmen. We have a lot of talent in our underclassmen," Patrie said.
EL track continued a tradition started by its outdoor team in March, meeting just before sunrise.
The Red Eddies, who are defending KVAC boys' indoor champions, returned at 3 p.m. for an abbreviated session on the outdoor loop.
"It's mostly teaching," EL coach Calvin Hunter said of the afternoon agenda. "Explaining to them what the expectations are."
There was no chance of a double session for EL basketball, which had to share its gym with a Monday-Tuesday teachers' workshop.
Anyone arriving early for the Eddies' season saw principal Jim Miller and athletic director Dan Deshaies serving as custodians, relocating tables, folding chairs, easels and projectors in order to clear the floor.
"It's that time of year," Deshaies said later, a basketball in each hand. "We stacked up all the chairs and now probably somebody chasing after a ball will crash into them and knock them over."
Whether an EL player looked at opening day as a tryout or a practice was directly related to gender.
Coach Craig Jipson's girls went first. Among the co-favorites in the KVAC and Eastern Class A, the Eddies have a surprisingly low turnout of 25.
"We'll go a couple hours each of the first two days and separate varsity, JVs and possibly freshmen. There aren't many freshman girls' teams left in the KVAC," Jipson said. "We were going to be one of like four, and I don't know if we'll have enough."
What EL lacks in quantity, it should deliver in quality.
All-purpose guard Sawyer, leading scorer Ashlee Arnold and point guard Kory Norcross are among the players returning from the last-minute loss to Cony in February's Eastern Maine championship.
"Last year really motivated us for this year," Arnold said. "I'm more relaxed now that I'm a senior, so I think my game will be better."
While the EL girls are already weighing the competition — they expect Mt. Blue, Mt. Ararat, Cony and Bangor to battle with them — the boys must first run an in-house gauntlet.
Deshaies said 65 players are signed up to try out for Coach Mike Adams' team. That means roughly half will be cut after the Eddies' three rosters are filled.
Better shape up
Athletes know that opening day will test the discipline of their summer and fall workouts.
Arnold didn't play an autumn sport. She steered clear of fall basketball, as well.
"I just hit the gym and tried to get in the weight room," she said.
Patrie played for a Lewiston football team that won two games, including its season-ender against EL on Oct. 27.
"It's just one of things where it's hard after football because you just want to sit and relax, but you've still got to get in shape and get ready for basketball season," Patrie said.
Sawyer and Patrie are three-sport athletes. Neither has played much organized hoop since the summer.
Lewiston competed in a Saco summer league and took a team-building trip to the northern part of the state, where Coach Tim Farrar once worked at Fort Kent and still maintains many connections.
The EL girls embarked upon an aggressive, almost winter-like slate, something the Eddies' leader readily admits might be a reason for diminished participation.
"We practice twice a week, play games twice a week, go to a couple of big-time camps," Jipson said. "We ask a lot of them. If you play three sports now, your summer is booked."
That's OK with Sawyer, who hasn't been able to quench her thirst for competition since the Eddies lost to Mt. Ararat in a soccer tournament game almost a month ago.
"I feel like a little kid on Christmas," she said.