Dryland workouts are a staple in any competitive swimmer’s training ritual. This year, they are a lifeline to a high school season currently in doubt for swimmers in the Twin Cities and surrounding towns because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Indoor track teams know all about training on dry land, or floors. But it likely won’t help them find a path to competition this season.

Winter sports “skills and drills” practices opened statewide this week, but team activities in Androscoggin and Oxford counties are limited to virtual gatherings due to the state’s “yellow” designation for COVID-19 risk.

As county schools wait to get the “green” designation, many are still doing what they can under Maine Principals’ Association’s rules. For Lewiston swim team coach Troy Boutin, that means gathering his team on Zoom for dry land work or the occasional study hall.

“We’re trying to get kids active,” Boutin said, “trying to focus on the muscles and conditioning they’ll need if we can get into the pool, and really it’s time to bring the team together, welcome the new swimmers on board and cultivate the camaraderie amongst swimmers.”

Boutin has his smallest team to start a season: 22 swimmers, including only three boys.

“Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that we’ll be able to get in the pool. In the meantime, we’re going to do what we can,” he said.

Androscoggin schools are hoping the state updates the designation to green on Friday. If and when that happens, the Blue Devils have time at the Central Maine YWCA in Lewiston lined up.

“We’ve got 90 minutes a day, Monday through Friday, just waiting for us as soon as we go green,” Boutin said.

“We’re pretty fortunate among high school swim teams. We’ve got the pool time there for us, if we go green,” Boutin said.

Boutin estimates nearly half of all high school teams don’t have access to a pool this year due to college and club pools being closed by COVID-19.

Competition will be strictly virtual, and the MPA has set Jan. 11 as the first day for meets.

“There are going to be plenty of teams competing, but certainly not all of the teams across the state can compete because they don’t have pool time,” said Edward Little coach Scott Morrison, a non-voting member of the MPA swimming committee and an executive officer with the Maine Swim Officials Association.

Morrison said he has been working with Cony swim coach and athletic director Jon Millett on a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference virtual meet schedule. One advantage to virtual meets is the teams won’t have to compete concurrently or have all of the events on the same day. Centralized timing allows events to be held at different times, then sent to the host school for scores to be compiled.

“What we’re planning to do is have one virtual meet a week, for a total of six,” Morrison said. “Whatever we can offer safely to the kids, I think that’s amazing.”

“If we can get in the pool, we’re going to bring in officials and we’re going to get official times for the kids,” Boutin said. “We’re going to run meets even if it’s just our team competing against each other.”

Edward Little swimmers, who will also be practicing at the YWCA when — if — Androscoggin County goes green, officially dove into their season Thursday night with the annual parents’ meeting. Morrison has 13 swimmers from the school plus 10 independent swimmers from Leavitt, Lisbon, Oxford Hills and St. Dom’s who will practice with the Red Eddies.

“We’re going to do some Microsoft Teams virtual stuff with the kids,” Morrison said, “whether it’s videos about swim races or nutrition or dryland stuff, no matter what, we’ll continue to work with the kids.”

The MPA and coaches have already established protocols for meets and practices, such as the number of swimmers allowed on the pool deck and in the pool itself, mask wearing and mask removing to enter the pool, and arriving at the venue already wearing their swimwear. Locker rooms will be off limits for changing or showering.

“I feel pretty confident that we can be quite safe,” Boutin said. “I think we’re going to exceed the state recommendations for what we should be doing in order to guarantee the safety of our swimmers.”

TRACK IN TOUGH SPOT

Lack of facilities, and the difficulty of hosting meets and meeting state guidelines, where they are available, will make holding virtual meets nearly impossible in indoor track.

“With the colleges being shut down,” said Lisbon athletic director Eric Hall, a voting member of the MPA’s indoor track committee, “especially Bowdoin and USM, who host meets, they’re not accessible right now. So it’s a lot of hoping that things change,”

“Unfortunately,” Lewiston indoor track coach Steve Virgilio said, “that’s going to deter a lot of kids. A lot of kids do it just for the competition.”

Lewiston indoor track hasn’t held any virtual meetings this week, and aside from a preseason team meeting, so Virgilio hasn’t been able to have much contact with his athletes.

Steve Virgilio, Lewiston High School’s indoor track coach, talks with his team in Dec. 2019. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Team activities will resume when Androscoggin County returns to green again, but some training will still probably be set aside at the start so he and his coaches can gauge how athletes have coped mentally with the shutdown.

“It will be kind of play to the needs of the athlete, check in on their mental health and their school responsibilities. Kids are struggling,” Virgilio said. “After we settle in on that, we’ll start with the outlook of, in some point in the future we’ll be a team again and we’ll compete again and the kids will have goals and work towards that again.

“Eventually, we’ll get back to preparing and training, even though it doesn’t look like we’re going to have competition in the near future.”

Hall said schools in northern Maine would have the University of Maine facilities available to them, but discussions involving possible competition have centered on holding separate meets for throwers, jumpers and runners because the size of teams would make it impossible to hold full meets and stay in line with state limits of indoor gatherings of more than 50 people.

Practices also are an obstacle for indoor track. Many high school teams practice in narrow school hallways.

“Space is a big thing,” Hall said, “because if you’ve always used the back hallways or the stairwells for conditioning, you have to be socially distanced now, your group stretching is probably going to be compromised,” Hall said. “If you do get gym time, you’re limited to 50, so if you have more you’re going to have to do it in pods or cohorts. There are a lot of things that are hard to figure out, especially for indoor.”

“I think it’s going to come down to a lot of coaches being very creative,” Hall added.

Edward Little indoor track coach Angie Jalbert has met virtually with her team daily this week and has them rotating through modified group workouts, some of which she tried out herself to see what could translate from the long hallways at the high school to smaller spaces such as the living room or garage.

“We decided that we still wanted to have our virtual practices every day, just like we would if we were in person,” Jalbert said.  “We’ve managed to make it work. I’ve got 20 kids. I normally would have about 50, but that’s OK. We have a quick start-up meeting with all of the coaches and kids together and then we break out into separate Zooms, so I take four kids, the other coaches take four kids, and then we go through our workouts.”

“This way, we can see them, we can correct them if they’re doing something wrong so they don’t get hurt,” she said. “And they talk more when we’re like that. We get to have a conversation while we’re working out.”

EL will likely rent out the Ingersoll Turf Facility in Auburn for some practices and intrasquad meets. But Jalbert told her athletes not to get their hopes up for the real thing.

“None of the colleges are renting out their facilities, so I told my kids on the first day, ‘We’re not going to be able to have meets,'” Jalbert said. “We’re going to do some sort of little competitions throughout the season. If we can get in person, I would like to do some different things like a vertical jump (competition) so they’re still striving to see, ‘Did I get stronger?’ and there’s an end result, a goal, that they’re going for.”

Numbers have thinned dramatically in virtually every sport since the pandemic started. But one thing coaches don’t want to worry about is the commitment of the athletes who have decided to stay in the action, whatever the action ends up being.

“The kids are very much like the adults. They have a realistic appraisal of things,” Boutin said. “But they are dedicated athletes. It blows me away. I know our athletes will do whatever they have to do to participate if we can have a season.”

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