Messalonskee’s Gaby Smart, left, tries to get past Brunswick defender Lily Hatrick during an April 6 scrimmage in Oakland. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

 

Crystal Leavitt, the girls lacrosse coach at Messalonskee High School, was asked to break down the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference. Which teams should be considered favorites in 2021? Which teams could be dark horse contenders?

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Leavitt said. “We’ll focus on what we can do.”

Leavitt wasn’t being flippant. On the contrary, her sentiments were echoed by coaches across the region. Since the 2020 season was lost in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been almost two years since they’ve seen another team. Getting to know their own players again is enough of a challenge.

“I have to make up for the time lost,” said Lawrence girls coach Cassandra Poli, who has only a few players with more than three years of lacrosse experience. “We missed a whole season of season of work. We have a lot to make up for.”

Players who were neophyte sophomores the last time they played are now senior leaders. This season, experience is relative. For teams like the Messalonskee boys and girls, for example, fielding young teams in 2019 could turn into a blessing this season.

“We have three seniors who played a lot as freshmen and sophomores. We played so many young kids in ’19, it helps us a little,” Messalonskee boys coach Tom Sheridan said.

“I have a core group of girls who have played at the varsity level,” Leavitt said. “I can put them in drills with younger players and get them learning.”

The Messalonskee boys return midfielder Luke Buck, a senior, and junior Rhys Bridges, a versatile player who could play midfield or defense. The Eagles girls team is led by senior midfielder Gabby Smart. Senior attacker Jenna Cassani could be an offensive catalyst, while seniors Elizabeth Fulling and Jordyn Caouette lead the defense.

Gardiner boys coach K.C. Johnson, like many coaches this spring, is stressing skill building in early practices, in an attempt to get players young and old who have been away from the game for a long time back up to speed.

“It’s a lot of fundamentals, sticking to basics, throwing all kinds of options at the kids,” Johnson said. “We graduated a huge class in ’19. We’ll be all right, though. The goal for us is to get better as the season goes on.”

The Winslow boys have nine seniors, but with just 16 players, that experience will have to overcome a lack of depth. Seniors Justin Bolduc, Robby Clark, Marek Widerynski, JJ Carey, Holden Dart and Hunter Gagne will be expected to log a lot of minutes for the Black Raiders.

Messalonskee girls lacrosse players work through drills during a March 29 practice in Oakland. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“There’s definitely ability. Conditioning is going to be key,” Winslow coach Dakota Gendreau said.

In 2019, Maranacook/Winthrop played in the Class C state championship game, losing to North Yarmouth Academy. The Hawks open this season with 25 players in the program, approximately 10 fewer than what they’ve had in recent seasons. Maranacook/Winthrop is currently on pause due to a COVID-19 outbreak at Maranacook. Coach Kyle Dennett is meeting with his team via Zoom and giving players individual workouts. When the Hawks are allowed to practice, senior Tim Worster will be a key at midfield.

“We can’t resume practice until April 26, and our first game is May 1,” Dennett said. “It’s going to be a different season. We’ve got our fingers crossed for sure.”

The COVID pause is a real concern for every team. Nobody wants to be the team that is forced to shut down late in the season and jeopardize a chance at the playoffs.

“A lot will be determined by who can play what week, given the current situation of things,” Cony girls lacrosse coach Gretchen Livingston said. “Our attitude is, we can play with anybody and we’re grateful to be playing.”

Livingston’s Rams have just three returning players with varsity experience. Senior midfielder Sierra Clark could become an offensive threat after scoring six of Cony’s 10 goals during a recent play day at Messalonskee.

The Gardiner boys lacrosse team gets warmed up during a March 30 practice in Gardiner. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The only rule change in a nod to the pandemic is wearing masks at all time. Athletes who played a winter sport are already accustomed to this, but for boys lacrosse players, a mask underneath a helmet takes getting used to.

“Keeping your mask up under your helmet, under a chin strap, is not an easy thing,” Erskine boys coach Ethan Rettew said. Rettew’s Eagles have just one returning varsity player, senior captain Michael Nicholas.

As in other sports this year, lacrosse will play schedules based more on geography than conference affiliation. The Messalonskee boys, for example, will play Winslow and Lawrence.

“We’ve never played regular-season games against those two schools,” Sheridan said.

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