Temperatures were low for the first week of spring training. But Raegan Bechard didn’t care. And neither did her Cony girls lacrosse teammates.
“It’s the first we’ve ever been outside. First day of practice, we are outside,” said Béchard, a senior forward. “We are frozen, but we are so happy to be here. It’s an unreal feeling.
The Rams were able to hold their first practice outdoors thanks to the grass surface at Fuller Field, which, after being installed last fall, will provide its first full season of service to Cony’s lacrosse and track teams. . Meanwhile, in Gardiner, the region’s other all-new turf layout makes its debut at Hoch Field and gives Tigers teams a head start in the spring as well.
The fields have already been boosted. The schools hope is that they will provide an even bigger one as the season progresses, both logistically and competitively.
“From day one of conditioning for baseball and softball, they were out, and it never happened,” Gardiner athletic director Nate Stubbert said. “It’s a great tool to have. Hopefully our teams will reap the benefits later in the season as we were able to exit so early. »
“The rain has had no impact on the playability of the pitch, so we’ll be able to play on days when we have torrential rain,” said Cony sporting director Jon Millett. “There’s no water on the pitch at all, and we don’t have to worry about damaging it. It’s incredible. Lacrosse, we probably won’t have a postponement if we play at home. So it’s a huge impact for the future.
The pitches could impact other teams as the season progresses. Wet weather tends to linger well into mid-spring, often forcing teams with waterlogged grass pitches to seek grass facilities where they can relocate their games. Messalonskee, Lewiston, and Kents Hill were often the options in central Maine; now at Augusta and Gardiner, there are two other potential solutions.
“It’s definitely a possibility, of course,” Stubbert said. “We prioritize our school teams first, and it’s a busy spring…but we’re certainly available to rent field space to other organizations.”
Fields began providing service even before the start of the season. Lacrosse participation increased this year at both schools as returning players and new players were attracted to the new facilities.
“It’s one of the best recruiting tools I’ve had in a long time,” said Gardiner boys’ lacrosse coach KC Johnson. “That’s pretty cool. I always complained that there was a bit of apathy in the schools, the children no longer wanted to play sports. They were burned. I think we’re rounding the corner.
Cony boys’ lacrosse coach Kyle Gleason noticed the same trend.
“We even had new kids this year, just because we had a grass pitch,” he said. “It’s a nice surface. Everyone is happy to use it.
Teams that in previous years lined up for gym space and then were limited by what they could do indoors have now been able to take a full spring leap. Cony’s boys’ and girls’ lacrosse and track teams have been away all week. Gardiner’s lacrosse teams did the same, while baseball and softball, whose fields were not yet ready for play, were also able to take to the field for some of their practices.
“It’s a huge advantage. We’re able to take balls on the ground and it acts like we’re outside on the dirt,” said Gardiner softball coach Ryan Gero, whose team was on the field Monday through Thursday. . “You can make an entire field out of this grass pitch if you put it corner to corner. It occupies about three quarters of this field. We could play a game on that if we had to.
For the teams that will play their matches there, having the pitch has allowed them to start the season with practices that they might not have been able to try for weeks in previous years.
“Given the number of grass pitches that are now in the conference and the opponents that have them, we have always been at a disadvantage of not stepping on a lined pitch at home before the April break,” said the Cony girls’ lacrosse coach, Gretchen Livingston. “We would be tripping over cones (inside) so it was just amazing to run a nice 7v7 set already.
“I have my week 1 workout plan files on my Google Drive. I look at them like, ‘No, get rid of this. Let’s put this in.'”
Johnson said being outdoors allows the concepts he teaches, which he can then demonstrate on the field, to sink in better.
“Right away we reduced the spacing,” he said. “We can talk about these things, and the kids take it all in, and they learn and they can see it right away. We can talk about it in a gym and it doesn’t take the size.
Champs resulted in a quick start, and now the hope is that the quick start will result in a strong season.
“I’m sure it gives them a head start,” Millett said. “Playing on the grass speeds up the game, so when you go on the grass it really helps you. That’s a big advantage. The balls go a lot faster on the grass, you have to learn to play fast.
“Hopefully the side effect of having this field is that it’s going to make our teams better, because the kids are working on their own,” Stubbert said. “It’s the hope that we’re out earlier than the teams we’re playing against and that gives us an advantage.”
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