AUGUSTA — Eric Drappeau had some work to do. The Hall-Dale senior was trying to qualify for the Mountain Valley Conference championships in the javelin, and Friday’s Capital City Classic represented his last chance to do it.

“It’s more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge,” he said. “I think that (during) the year, I’ve mentally beaten myself up when I’ve made progress because there’s always been one ahead of me. But I think this meet is a really good time for me to get over that, accept where I am and try to go all out.”

That’s the case for athletes every year at Cony High School’s annual meet. But this year, given rules put in place with the pandemic in mind, there’s a wrinkle. Qualifying for states is harder, with only 24 spots available for athletes instead of 32. Conference championship qualifying is easier, since the Mountain Valley Conference was split into two regions and the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference was divided into four, but even that becomes a different challenge.

Normally, athletes looking to qualify for conference meets would be chasing only a time or a distance. Now, with 16 places available in lane events and 12 in distance running or field events, there was something of a trade-off. The bar to clear to get in was lower, but getting in depended not just on your result, but the results of your fellow competitors.

When Drappeau went into the meet with a javelin high mark of 97-3, he was looking for a few more feet to comfortably make the top 12 and punch his ticket to the MVC championships in that event. He got more than that — his first throw of 110 feet clinched a spot next week.

Drappeau also hoped to qualify in the long jump. He had a plan for both events.

“I’m more concerned about how I perform than how others perform,” he said. “As of today, I’m trying to just get into MVCs to have that one more meet to try to qualify for states, and buy myself more time.”

Gardiner’s Isaac Dostie flies over the hurdles to win the 110 meter hurdles at the Capital City Classic on Friday at Cony High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Many athletes who gathered in Augusta on Friday afternoon had that mindset. That’s not unusual. The rules for getting in, though, are.

“That does change things a little bit,” Hall-Dale coach Jarod Richmond said. “You’re not necessarily going to be getting the cream of the crop this year (at conference championships), but it’s a special year, it’s a different year. There’s no perfect answer to how we do this.”

Athletes who went into Friday on the states bubble had a tougher challenge, with eight fewer places open to those who meet the provisional standard. This meant that Friday was about rising to pressure — whether that pressure was meeting those state standards, or holding off others for a spot in the KVAC or MVC championships.

“I think that there is (more pressure),” Richmond said. “The kids know it, they realize it, they want to have their season continue after today. The kids have so much access with Sub-5 and Milesplit to be able to see where the results are and where they stack up with other kids.”

For some schools, even conference qualifying got tricky. Gardiner would normally be against other Class B schools next week. This time, though, the Tigers will be going up against larger schools in Brunswick, Mt. Ararat and Camden Hills at KVACs.

Gardiner’s Emily Grover tries to catch Erskine’s Jasmine Crommett in the 100 meter dash at the Capital City Classic on Friday at Cony High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“That’s kind of a challenge,” Gardiner coach Jenn Boudreau said. “Even being split into four groups for KVAC, Gardiner, we’re with three Class A teams in our group. So it throws us for a huge loop. … But at the same time, it gives our kids a chance to step up to the plate and really kind of shine.”

One of those athletes was Annabelle Ladner-Hudson, who was on track to qualify for KVACs in the javelin but was hoping to make it in either the 100 or long jump Friday. The senior said the new rules put the onus on athletes to keep improving their times throughout the season in order to avoid being bumped out.

“The stakes this year have been a lot more pressured,” Ladner-Hudson said. “I feel like I really need to put my best out there every time. … It’s a lot more marginalized. It makes you think, what do you really want to reach for? And it makes you want to work harder.”

Maranacook sophomore Kaitlynn Dunn began the day ranked 10th in her KVAC region in the shot put. She knew she was likely in, but she knew she couldn’t take her spot for granted either.

“It’s more the mentality of ‘OK, I’m probably not going to stay there if I don’t work for it,'” she said. “I just know I have to constantly work on things like that.”

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