SPORTS As winter sports season begins, some central Maine athletes...

As winter sports season begins, some central Maine athletes adjust to quick turnaround

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FAIRFIELD — After a fall season of taking and dishing out hard hits, Gavin Lunt was offered a break — not that he wanted anything of the sort.

On Saturday, Lunt was catching passes and making tackles in the Class B state championship football game as a wide receiver and linebacker for Lawrence. On Monday, he was wearing much different garb as the Lawrence boys basketball team held its first practice. 

“(The school) offered a week off to us if we needed it, but we’re not going to let a little bit of soreness keep us away from basketball,” Lunt said. “We have a tournament this weekend that we want to participate in, so coming out here and getting ready for the season is definitely something we wanted to do.”

Monday marked the first day most winter sports teams could practice.

Many athletes find themselves in the same position as the first week of a new season begins across the state. The first scrimmages and preseason tournaments are already just days away, forcing some athletes whose minds were focused on different sports merely a week ago to turn the page quickly.

Football is a physical sport, and you won’t find many teams that embodied that better this year than Lawrence. In a pass-happy Pine Tree Conference, the Bulldogs were somewhat of a unicorn, using their physicality up front to bruise their way to a Class B North championship.

Although that style of football is tried and true, it’s also physically taxing. With football players accounting for 14 of the 18 kids who showed up for Lawrence’s first basketball practice Monday, head coach Jason Pellerin is paying extra attention to how those players’ bodies and minds perform.

“We offered to the kids, ‘you know, if you want a break, take a break,’ and we made it their choice,” Pellerin said. “If they don’t want it, but we see that they might need a mental break, we’re probably going to say, ‘hey, just relax for a day or so; we know you want to be here, but we also need you here both mind and body.’”

Monmouth Academy boys basketball coach Wade Morrill, middle, gives instructions during boys basketball practice Monday in the Foster Gym in Monmouth. Dave Dyer/Kennebec Journal

With the exception of one player who went home sick earlier in the day, Lawrence’s football-basketball contingent all opted to participate in the first day of practices. Michael Hamlin said the desire to move on from a 40-20 defeat to Kennebunk in Saturday’s football game played a role in that decision.

“I feel like the loss in state could help us; we’re still hungry to win, and we can do that in another sport to help us get our mind off it,” said Hamlin, Lawrence’s quarterback. “(Basketball) is physical, but it’s definitely a different type of physicality. The first few weeks could be pretty tough with a lot of fouls, but I think we’ll be ready.”

It’s not just the players who have to adjust quickly; those who coach both fall and winter sports have to do so, too. Pellerin is the football team’s defensive coordinator, meaning he, too, was in a football mindset rather than a basketball one as recently as 48 hours prior to Monday’s hoop practice.

Returning to basketball means a shift in responsibilities for Pellerin. As a defensive coordinator, he’d been tasked this fall with drawing up coverage schemes and blitz packages, but as a head basketball coach, he now has a responsibility bigger in scope in a much different sport.

“Sometimes, I wake up at 2:30 or 4 in the morning, and I’m finding a different set, a different out-of-bounds play or a drill that fits something I want to do,” Pellerin said. “In essence, basketball is on my mind quite a bit, but during the football season, my job was to be there for the Lawrence football team.”

Lawrence head boys basketball coach Jason Pellerin, who is also the Bulldogs assistant football coach, laughs with his team during tryouts just days after the Class B championship football game Monday in Fairfield. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Some 37 miles away from Fairfield, the Monmouth Academy boys basketball team hit the floor in the Foster Gym for its first practice of the season. Several basketball players also competed on the soccer team that beat Easton 5-3 on Nov. 11 to win the Class D title at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. Just nine days later, the Mustangs were running drills on the floor under the watchful eye of head coach Wade Morrill.

“It feels great to get back (into basketball), just getting back into it with all the boys,” Monmouth senior Sam Calder said.

“It’s a lot of fun (to start the winter),” added senior Kyle Palleschi. “It’s a quick transition. We’re still in shape (from soccer), we didn’t lose anything. We didn’t lose a step (athletically), so it’s fine. And it’s basketball season.”

While some members of the team used the nine days off to rest, senior Lucas Harmon used the time to hit the weight room.

“(The transition) isn’t terrible, we’re happy,” Harmon said. “We just came off a win, so it’s good in that regard. If we came off a loss, it might be looked differently.

“I tried to eat a lot (during the week), gain some weight before basketball. I knew I was going to lose some (weight during soccer), and just lift.”

Members of the Monmouth Academy boys basketball team practice in the Foster Gym on Monday in Monmouth. Dave Dyer/Kennebec Journal

While the transition may be relatively easy, Monmouth players were also mindful of the grind a basketball season can bring.

“For me, a big thing is recovery; I take recovery super-serious,” Palleschi said. “I have two massage guns and foam rollers (at home). It’s a big thing for me, so it definitely plays a role. But as long as you keep your body loose and stretched, just keep treating it right (not) eating junk food and sit around, do nothing and let it tighten up.”

Madison junior Raegan Cowan is coming off a historic season, scoring 58 goals to lead the Bulldogs to a girls eight-person state championship, a 3-1 win over Penquis Valley on Nov. 11 at Cony High School in Augusta. On Monday, Cowan had to keep her mind off the Gold Ball to focus on the hardwood.

“Honestly, I didn’t comprehend the fact that I was going to be playing basketball until (Monday),” Cowan laughed. “I’m still very much thinking about soccer and our state championship. I just wish that I could (experience it) every day.”

Cowan and teammates were quick to get to work for basketball season.

“Me and a couple of my teammates went to the gym, started right after the (soccer) season was over,” Cowan said. “We put some shots up and started lifting. There really is no break for us. … It’s hard to differentiate (training) between the two sports. Going from soccer to basketball is completely different. Different conditioning, different everything. But we’re just trying to get into the right mindset and focus up on basketball this time.”


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