VASSALBORO — Lindsay Cote had a new team. She had high expectations for herself.

All the Waterville senior golfer needed was a chance to play.

“When they pushed all the dates back in August, I got really worried,” said Cote, formerly of Nokomis, who tied for third in the state tournament last year and then won the Maine Junior Amateur Championship this summer. “I got really optimistic in June, July, beginning of August. But when they started to push the dates back I was getting a little worried. I was really holding on to hoping there was going to be a season.”

That season began Monday, as golf teams around the state played their first matches of the abbreviated schedule. At Natanis Golf Course, Cony took on Gardiner and Maranacook, while Erskine hosted Lawrence and Waterville. At JW Parks Golf Course in Pittsfield, Nokomis took on MCI and Mount View. Brunswick hosted Morse and Mt. Ararat at Brunswick Golf Club. And plenty of other teams got their seasons, which were far from guaranteed mere weeks ago, under way.

“It was really good to get back into overall competition,” Erskine sophomore Joe Lemelin said. “I haven’t really played competitive golf, I’ve really just played by myself this summer. To actually have to come out here and compete against other players, it was really fun and a challenge.”

The afternoon, however, wasn’t just golf’s beginning. It was the return of high school sports, as Monday brought the first varsity competition since the hockey state championships closed out the winter season. The coronavirus pandemic canceled the entire slate of spring sports.

On Monday, high school athletes finally had a sport to play, and an opponent to face.

“There’s a lot of nervous energy in the air among everybody, and you can definitely feel that,” Cony senior Bobby Stolt said. “It’s great to hit the ground running and just take right off and start playing.”

Mount View golfer Miles Littlefield watches a tee shot during a match Monday at JW Parks Golf Course in Pittsfield. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

For many of the players who hit the links Monday, the chance to compete provided a missing element. Many of the golfers are spring athletes as well, who saw what it was like to lose the chance to play — making them all the more grateful and thankful when the opportunity returned.

“It makes me spend my time out here in a lot better way,” said Stolt, a player for the Cony baseball team. “I definitely value being out here a lot more. I don’t take it for granted like I would in the previous years. Losing that spring season really showed me what losing a season does.”

They knew there was a chance they would lose this season as well. Fall sports were not guaranteed for much of the summer, and even given golf’s low-risk nature, players knew it was not a leap to think that fall sports as a whole were going to be wiped out too.

“It was definitely looking like that, for a good amount of time,” Stolt said.

Gardiner’s Damien Jamison found himself facing that reality. A junior at Hebron last year, Jamison lost his spring with the baseball team, and was staring at the same fate for the fall when Hebron decided to cancel its seasons. He instead transferred to Gardiner, which approved fall sports in late August, and then saw the move pay off when the announcement was made that the Maine Principals’ Association was sponsoring most fall sports.

“It’s great to play,” Jamison said. “The waiting game that we played was a little scary. … (But) it’s great. I’m glad that we can at least do some sports. It’s a positive to see if we can do some more.”

Even those who didn’t lose a varsity season last spring were relieved to be out playing on Monday. Maranacook freshman Wyatt Folsom, whose brother T.J. was a standout for Kents Hill, has been playing 18 to 45 holes a day all summer and working himself down to a 7 handicap, looking forward to the chance to make his mark with the Black Bears.

On Monday, it arrived.

Players look for the ball during a match Monday at Natanis in Vassalboro. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“I wasn’t too nervous, because I’ve been playing against a lot of high schoolers this summer,” he said. “I’ve spent all my time golfing. I thought, if we don’t have a season, all that time was just going to be wasted. … I’m glad that I’m having a freshman season. I didn’t know what it was going to look like.”

Even those that had seen high school competition before had to adjust to the challenge.

“You may think that you’re shooting amazing when you’re practicing by yourself, and then you come out here and you golf with golfers that are the same tier as you,” Erskine’s Lemelin said. “It definitely puts that pressure on you.”

That pressure beats not being able to play at all. For many golfers who felt what that was like in the spring, they were happy to see that wasn’t going to be the case in the fall.

“I’m really happy and really grateful that we’re having some form of a season,” Waterville’s Cote said. “We’ve been playing all summer, getting ready for if we have a season, and I feel really confident in all of us. We’re going to have a lot of fun this year.”

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