Optimism reigns as seasons begin

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AUBURN — Edward Little boys’ track coach Ryan Laroches leaned back in his chair Monday as dozens of students poured out of his room and into the hallway on the second floor at the Auburn school. Moments later, the floor shook as those athletes took to running a couple of laps around the halls, down one set up stairs and up the other.

A glance outdoors told the story. With a pile of color-coded paperwork stacked on his desk in front of him, Laroche looked toward the window.

Yep, still raining.

“It’s OK, though,” Laroche said, choosing to take the glass-half-full approach. “We can’t get out there today, but we know we will be out there soon. When you think past years, maybe eight years ago, there were snowbankings out there taller than I am at this time, at least 5-6. You couldn’t see kids around a corner, so when you think of that, this is awesome.”

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Laroche and girls’ coach Rebecca Hefty gathered their athletes for the first time Monday, the first date allowed by the Maine Principals’ Association for full-squad, spring-sport practices alongside, tennis, lacrosse, baseball and softball. The latter two sports get a one-week head start for pitchers and catchers, but Monday was the first day for full-squad workouts.

And for the first time most coaches can remember, there will be no snowblowing tennis courts, plowing tracks and runways, or spending inordinate amounts of time running short drills in a gymnasium. Once Mother Nature disperses the rain clouds this week, most teams will practice on grass, asphalt and other, rubberized surfaces for their respective spring sports.

“It’s exciting for us,” Hefty said. “In the eight years I’ve been here now, this is the first time we have a clear track right away to start working. I already have the pole vault mats out, because I knew we’d get hammered somewhere else, and I wouldn’t get the chance to get them out. We never have those out by now.”

Across the river, Lewiston’s boys’ tennis team may have been the first team in the state to begin practicing in full for the spring sports season. Wanting to get a jump on things, coach Ron Chicoine scheduled his first meeting and practice for 5:45 a.m. Monday.

“Going for No. 8 is going to be a challenge,” Chicoine said, referring to his team’s quest for an eighth consecutive Class A state title. “We wanted to get started early.”

Chicoine’s plan was for a double session, but the rain washed that idea away with the gym already booked in the afternoon.

“For as early as it was, we had a great practice,” Chicoine said. “We used some older balls to try and slow them down a bit on the surface of the gym, but to be honest, it was a great session.”

So good, Chicoine added, that he may do it again Wednesday.

“This is the kind of practice where you find out who really wants to be there,” he said.

For area lacrosse teams, waiting on gym time proved to be the toughest part. The Lewiston boys’ team didn’t begin its season until 8 p.m. Monday, and Edward Little’s girls’ lacrosse squad waited its turn until 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, the track teams buzzed through the hallways at school, sending fliers and papers posted on teachers’ doors ruffling in the breeze and causing some on the first floor to duck playfully as if the ceiling was about to cave in.

With nearly 140 athletes between the boys’ and girls’ squads at EL, the less time they have to spend cooped up in a hallway (or five), the better.

“We tell the kids, if it’s cold, we’ll go out. If it’s raining, we’ll go out. But, if it’s cold and raining, we don’t want to risk the injury,” Laroche said. “But to have the chance to be out there the first week? That’s unheard of, and it will allow us to really get in some good workouts early. It’s scary to think how much better everyone will be with this extra time to train outdoors.”

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