Morse’s Ben Brewer, left, and Skowhegan’s Hunter McEwen grapple during the KVAC tournament last season in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file photo Buy this Photo

High school winter sports teams began skills and drills workouts this week and next, with the hope that practices and competition will follow next month.

As coronavirus numbers continue to surge, coaches and athletes alike are feeling a wide range of emotions, from optimism to skepticism.

Wrestlers are feeling both these days, as their season remains very much in limbo after the Maine Principals’ Association recently pushed the start of meets to Feb. 22.

“Since the beginning, I figured wrestling was going to be hard-pressed to have a season this year,” Gardiner coach Matt Hanley said. “To be able to hold out for a chance for a season later on is always good.”

Hanley added he is skeptical meets will be held.

“Until we get a vaccine, I wasn’t too hopeful (for a season), and I’m still not very hopeful, even in February” Hanley said. “Until you get the vaccine, a lot of things won’t change. But they’re getting closer with that. If they had to make a deadline right now, when the season would normally start, we would have been shut out altogether. To push it back and to give us an opportunity to get this season in, is a really good thing. It gives the kids something to look forward to.”

Of course, not everyone will get going so soon, particularly those in counties the state designated as “yellow,” meaning there is an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and hybrid instruction is recommended.

The state designated Androscoggin, Oxford, York and Somerset counties as “yellow.” Schools in those counties won’t participate in athletics unless or until they go “green.”

Cony’s Casey Mills (left) and Morse’s Isaak Sinclair get set to lock arms during a match last season at Morse High School. Times Record file photo

“I’m really hoping that they come up with something late (before meets start) that will allow us to continue to do it, obviously,” said Skowhegan coach Brooks Thompson, whose school is in Somerset County. “The way I look at it, even if it’s a few weeks (off) and a much shorter season, it’s better than nothing. I think them pushing it off is much better than the alternative, possibly canceling (the season) right up front.”

Thompson added that, while he’s glad there’s still hope for a season, he also doesn’t want news of a canceled season to come at the last minute.

“My only concern, I hope that they don’t kind of string us along and then turn around…hopefully we’re not dodging the inevitable, I guess,” Thompson said.

“Part of me is surprised (the season has been pushed back), on the other end, I think they’re being optimistic,” Mount View coach Hamilton Richards added. “I work full time in the National Guard, so we’re right in the middle of some of the COVID response. It’s going to be interesting. I think, from my perspective, because we’re very focused on how the (COVID) trends are going to go in the state of Maine after the holidays. We’ve got post-Thanksgiving, and we’re trying to see what kind of (positive COVID numbers) bump — we’re seeing a little bit of a bump now — but we’ve got Christmas and New Year’s. It’s going to be interesting. We’re still waiting to play football, and we’re behind football in terms of a whole season, so it’s going to be very interesting.”

Morse head coach Mike Bennett says he is optimistic a season be held in early spring.

“The other coaches and I are optimistic about what could be a great season for the Shipbuilders,” Bennett said. “Our kids are feeling anxious and excited but remain cautiously optimistic.”

The Shipbuilders return six seniors this season, which will begin Dec. 14 with individualized workouts.

“These guys have put in countless hours of hard work over the years and have loads of success,” Bennett said. “It would be heartbreaking if they weren’t able to have a season, but I tell the guys to worry only about what they can control.”

Bennett added that they will hopefully be allowed to physically wrestle in practice starting Feb. 1.

“For now, we have something to look forward to as we move into the colder months,” he said.

Cony coach Shawn Totman said there is renewed focus on safety measures, including cleaning wrestling mats and stopping matches immediately to treat wrestlers and disinfect mats if a participant is bleeding.

“I’ve got to tell you, probably like every wrestling coach in Maine, I was kind of surprised that they were entertaining even having a season,” Totman said. “But on the flip side of that, I’ve always kept in the back of my mind, why wouldn’t we have a season? If there’s a sport that preaches — and I know COVID is a different animal, with the world we live in. COVID is like a different world with athletics than ever before. But if there’s a sport that has ever embraced the idea of hygiene, of cleanliness, of making sure that you’re taking care of yourself. You never know who you’re going to wrestle. (The chance of) skin infection is real. I think wrestling is really prepared for this. And obviously, this is different. But if there’s a sport that can adapt to it, it’s wrestling.”

Mt. Ararat senior Ben Laurence (top) battles Mt. Blue’s Tucker Nicholas at the KVAC wrestling tournament last season in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

By starting in late February, wrestling would be offered as an in-between season with meets squeezed in between traditional winter and spring sports seasons. Indoor volleyball would also be part of the shortened season.

The state’s indoor gathering restrictions to 50 people or less would make holding a championship meet of any kind nearly impossible this season.

However, holding individual championships in each weight class is a potential option.

Coaches agreed that having some competition beats the alternative of a wiped-out year.

“It depends on the kid,” Richards said. “I think every wrestler is going to be happy to get on the mat and be able to do something, if they get the opportunity to do so. I think every wrestler is going to say ‘Hey, I’d rather wrestle than not wrestle.’ That said, there’s a number of wrestlers that are going to be out there that are very disappointed. (John Bapst wrester Landon St. Peter) is a three-time state champ, looking to pick up a fourth state championship, and he’s not going to be able to do that. I feel really bad for him. I’ve got Zach Ward, who is a former state champ, and he’s been been pretty competitive the past couple of years. He’s in the predicament of not being able to pick up an additional state title. The other part, too, in order of our school records, he’s right on the heels of his brother (Mark Ward) for wins, but he really needed another full season to do it. We’re just not going to have the opportunity to have 40 or 50 matches where he can catch up and beat his brother, Mark.”

“Honestly, I think it would be a huge letdown for some of my kids who had some big ideas for this year,” Maine Central Institute coach Mike Libby added. “But I think they would feel pretty good about having something where we could get together as a team, even if it was a short period of time.”

Totman said if there’s no tournament, the Rams would treat any meet they can participate in as if it’s the biggest of the year.

“The way I hear it, we’re going to be doing these pod dual meets, and I look forward to it,” Totman said. “I respect every team in the area that we compete against. So, if that’s our season, why not make the most out of whatever it is the season is going to be? Whether we have a state championship meet or not, I want to beat Gardiner. It doesn’t matter to me. And I respect Skowhegan, they’re one of the best programs in the state. If we wrestle Skowhegan, I want to beat Skowhegan. It doesn’t matter, but that’s the same mentality that I had last year. The championship meets, they’re what we train for. But if the dual meets are what we have to train for, then that’s what we’ll do 1,000 percent. Our results in those meets are as important to me as any state championship. We have to make the best out of what we can.”

 

The Times Record staff writer Eli Canfield contributed to this report.

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5610

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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