As the winter sports season begins, some central Maine athletes are adjusting to a quick turnaround

FAIRFIELD — After a hard-hitting fall season, Gavin Lunt was offered a break — not that he wanted one.

On Saturday, Lunt caught passes and tackled in the Class B state championship football game as a wide receiver and defensive back for Lawrence. On Monday, he wore a much different outfit as the Lawrence boys basketball team held its first practice.

“(The school) has offered us a week off if we need it, but we’re not going to let a little pain keep us away from basketball,” Lunt said. “We have a tournament this weekend that we want to be in, so coming 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 situation as the first week of the new season begins across the state. The first races and preseason tournaments are now just days away, forcing some athletes whose minds were focused on different sports just a week ago to quickly turn the page.

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

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

“We suggested 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’ll probably say, ‘hey, just relax for a day or two; we know you want to be here, but we need you here too, mind and body.”

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

With the exception of one player who came home sick earlier in the day, the Lawrence football-basketball squad elected to participate in the first day of practice. Michael Hamlin said the desire to move on from a 40-20 loss to Kennebunk in Saturday’s football game played a role in the decision.

“I feel the loss of state can help us; we’re still hungry for wins and we can do that in another sport to help get our minds off it,” said Hamlin, a Lawrence defenseman. “(Basketball) is physical, but it’s definitely a different type of physicality. The first few weeks might be quite difficult with a lot of fouls, but I think we will be ready.”

It’s not just the players who have to adapt quickly; those who practice fall and winter sports should do so as well. Pellerin is the football team’s defensive coordinator, which means he, too, was in a football mindset, not a basketball one, until 48 hours before Monday’s hoops practice.

The return to basketball means a change in responsibilities for Pellerin. As the defensive coordinator this fall, he was tasked with drawing up coverage schemes and blitz packages, but as the head basketball coach, he now has more responsibility in a much different sport.

“Sometimes I wake up at 2:30 or 4 in the morning and find a different set, a different out-of-bounds play or a drill that fits something I want to do,” Pellerin said. “Basically, basketball is on my mind a lot, but during 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, shares a laugh with his team during practice just days after Monday’s Class B football game in Fairfield. Anna Chadwick/Morning Watch

About 37 miles from Fairfield, the Monmouth Academy boys basketball team took the floor at Foster Gym for its first practice of the season. Several basketball players also competed on the football team that defeated 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 practicing on the floor under the watchful eye of head coach Wade Morrill.

“It feels great to be back (in basketball), just to be back in it with all the guys,” Monmouth senior Sam Calder said.

“It’s a lot of fun (to start the winter),” senior Kyle Paleski added. “It’s a quick transition. We are still fit (from football), we haven’t lost anything. We haven’t lost a step (athletically), so that’s good. 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’ve just got a win so it’s good in that respect. If we come off a loss, it might look different.

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

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

While the transition may have been relatively easy, Monmouth’s players were also aware of the struggles a basketball season can bring.

“A big thing for me is recovery; I take recovery super seriously,” Paleski said. “I have two massage guns and foam rollers (at home). That’s a big thing for me, so it definitely plays a part. But as long as you keep your body loose and stretched, just keep treating it right (not) by eating junk food and sitting around doing nothing and letting it tighten up.”

Madison junior Reagan Cowan is coming off a historic season, scoring 58 goals to lead the Bulldogs to an eight-man girls state championship, a 3-1 victory over Penkees Valley on Nov. 11 at Coney High School in Augusta. On Monday, Cowan had to put the Ballon d’Or off his mind to focus on the hardwood.

“Honestly, I didn’t realize the fact that I was going to play basketball until (Monday),” Cowan laughed. “I still think a lot about football and our state championship. I just wish I could (experience it) every day.”

Cowan and his teammates quickly got to work on the basketball season.

“Me and a couple of my teammates went to the gym, we started right after the (football) season ended,” Cowan said. “We put some shots down and started picking up. There really is no rest for us. … It is difficult to differentiate (training) between the two sports. Going from football to basketball is completely different. Different conditions, different everything. But we’re just trying to get in the right mindset and focus on basketball this time.”

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