Shawn Drillen, the coach of the new Winthrop/Maranacook girls lacrosse team poses with some practice gear after practice on Monday afternoon. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

MANCHESTER — Shawn Drillen’s lacrosse roots go back to the roots of Maine high school lacrosse, so guiding the new through its first varsity season isn’t completely new.

Drillen was playing for Cape Elizabeth when the school’s boys team became the first varsity lacrosse program in the state recognized by the Maine Principals’ Association more than two decades ago, at the dawn of a Capers’ dynasty that has won 11 state titles.

“That was pretty cool to be sort of on the leading edge of things,” he said.

The Winthrop/Maranacook co-op played a junior varsity schedule the past two years, but the first day of spring practice Monday had a different feel to it, in part because the Hawks were only 19 days from opening day and their first Class C game against Nokomis/MCI.

“I think it’s a little more intense,” junior Katie Ide said.

“It’s exciting, though,” sophomore Abbie Ross Ross said.

The program already has the makings of a promising inaugural season thanks to the addition of a half-dozen ninth graders who are moving up from the strong middle school program.

Two dozen girls carried sticks at the first practice (with two more expected players away on a class trip), and most of them had at least one season of playing experience under their belts.

“There was a lot more unknown last year because we had a lot more new players last year,” Drillen said. “I think only three of the 24 who were here today had never played before.”

Senior midfielder Lilly Voye was among those with no experience last season but picked up the rules and fundamentals quickly.

“I loved it. It was really fun,” said Voye, who also plays soccer. “I think starting out from not playing at all to playing on a team was a lot. But the team really stepped up and helped. It’s real fun and it’s super easy. I thought it was going to be way more difficult to understand in the beginning.”

Like many other teams, Maranacook/Winthrop will jump right into their first game action on Saturday as part of a play date on Morse High School’s turf field in Bath.

The Hawks are looking forward to seeing how they stack up against varsity competition, but they will be more focused on developing and improving than on wins and losses in the early going.

“We scrimmaged some varsity teams last season and it went pretty well,” said Ide, a midfielder. “So I think coming into the season we’re pretty excited to see what we can do.”

“I’m very excited because last year we had a lot of building to do before we even got to the point where we felt like we could run an offense,” Drillen said.

The roster is currently mostly Maranacook students, with four players from Winthrop. Fortunately, all four played last year, so team chemistry shouldn’t be an issue.

Ross said she is encouraging more of her Winthrop classmates looking for something to do this spring to give lacrosse a shot.

“I think getting the word out more, having girls come and try it, even if they’re not sure, coming to practice and seeing how they like it,” said Ross, a defender who started playing lacrosse in sixth grade.

Maranacook and Winthrop launched a co-op boys varsity program in 2011 and quickly grew into one of the strongest programs in central Maine. The girls program is not yet fully funded in the school budget, but Drillen is glad to have new Maranacook athletic director Brant Remington,  a former girls lacrosse coach at Lewiston, as an advocate for the program.

Drillen, who used to run the Kennebec Cannons, a local youth lacrosse program, thinks Winthrop/Maranacook has the foundation to develop into a contender quickly.

“Having that JV program I think will be huge for us this year,” Drillen said.

“I think the only trouble we’re having at this point,” he added, noting the snow still covering what will be his team’s practice field, “is just getting outside.”