August 19, 2013

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS: 'Tis the season

By Bill Stewart
Staff Writer

Ben Lucas dropped back to pass, scanned the field and fired a dart to receiver Jonathan Saban.

click image to enlarge

IT BEGINS: Cony High School football player John Bennett, right, leads his squad in a stretch during the first morning of football practice Monday at Cony High School in Augusta.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

GOOD DAY: Cony High School quarterback Ben Lucas, center, raises his helmet with teammates on Monday during the first morning of football practice.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Lucas, the Cony senior quarterback, pumped his fist and yelled in excitement.

"It feels great to be back out here," said the 6-foot-4, 227-pound Lucas. "We're tired of lifting and tired of the seven-on-seven stuff. It's nice to get back out to the field."

The fall sports season opened Monday under mostly sunny skies. Football, field hockey, soccer, cross country and golf teams held their first official practice -- or practices, as was the case for the Cony football team.

The Rams, who reached the Pine Tree Conference Class A championship game last season, are fresh off their finest season in 20 years. They finished 8-3 and reached the regional final. Cony lost to Lawrence 20-10 in a game that hasn't yet been erased from memory.

"It was always a dream of ours to reach the (PTC A) final," said Cony coach Robby Vachon, who added Hall-Dale girls basketball coach Brandon Terrill to the staff this season. "But once we got there and actually had a halftime lead, we wanted it bad. That loss still stings today."

Added Lucas, who threw 32 touchdowns last season: "We still think about it a lot. It's definitely on our minds. We're hungry."

Coaches treat opening day differently.

For some, it's a chance to complete paper work and maybe get in some light conditioning. Others, like first-year Winthrop field hockey coach Jess Merrill, take a dive-right-in approach.

"We got right back into the flow," said Merrill, who was an assistant for the Winthrop team that reached the Class C state championship game last fall. "We have a lot of returning players. The past few years we've had a good core returning. We've been able to jump ahead a bit. We worked a lot on passing. We really want to form our own identity. We're working on some new formations and passing more. We don't want to dribble as much as we did last year."

The Winthrop/Monmouth football team enjoyed its first day of practice as a co-op program.

Coach Joel Stoneton said 63 players showed Monday.

"Awesome," he said. "We were a little behind but everything is fresh. This is a great way to hit the restart button. We got right into it. We walked through some plays. We just dove right in."

Phil Hubbard enters his 10th season as Erskine boys soccer coach. The Eagles, who dropped from Class A to B this season, opened with a series of conditioning and skill tests.

"We focus on three areas, including physical fitness, short field scrimmages and a skills challenge, on the first day," Hubbard said.

Players ran three miles Monday and also were scored doing pushups and pullups.

"If you were in the top (performers) would get 250 points, and then we'd go down to 200, 150 and down to zero," Hubbard said. "It just gives me a good gauge of where everyone is at."

The Eagles also divided into small groups and played a series of two-on-two games. Points were awarded for goals and stripped for goals against.

"It really shows itself," Hubbard said. "There's nowhere to hide."

Maranacook boys soccer coach Don Beckwith, whose program dropped to Class C but will play a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B schedule, put his team through a series of conditioning exercises.

Players worked out on medicine balls, weighted jump ropes and also worked out with a 22-foot long rope.

"They would shake it up and down and up and down," Beckwith said. "We did some crazy stuff. They'll be sore by Friday I'm sure."

The Monmouth girls soccer team reached the Western C semifinals last season. The Mustangs return enough talent to make another run this season.

Coach Gary Trafton said he stressed fundamentals on the first day.

"We didn't go at a quick pace early," he said. "The first two days we're putting plays in and going over fundamentals."

Trafton added that he's in the process of trying to fill the junior varsity position. Longtime assistant Larry Saucier stepped down this season, although he's helping out this week.

"He's been with me six years," Trafton said. "As of right now, I'll be doing double duty."

Bill Stewart -- 621-5640

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