HAMPDEN, Maine — From a coach’s perspective, the first day of tryouts or practice can be like Christmas.
In this case, the “gift” is a hungry group of athletes geared up for more than three months of hard work and a shot at the ultimate prize — a state championship.
The drive towards that glory shifted into first gear in gymnasiums, rinks and swimming pools from Kittery to Fort Kent on Monday, the first day of tryouts and practices in basketball, cheerleading, ice hockey, track and field, swimming and diving and wrestling throughout the state.
The first countable games can be played after 3 p.m. Dec. 7.
For most coaches, tryouts are a chance to evaluate incoming talent while providing veterans a chance to shake off any potential cobwebs.
“The tryouts, you kind of feel like you’re spinning your wheels for three nights,” said Hampden Academy boys coach Russ Bartlett, who expects to have 48 players try out. “You’ve got to make those tough decisions.”
Those tough decisions may be easier for coaches at smaller schools, however.
“Anywhere between 10 to 15 would be my guess,” said Van Buren girls coach Matt Rossignol of his prospective numbers.
Even though Rossignol’s Crusaders don’t have a lot of depth, they boast one of the state’s top players in junior Parise Rossignol, Matt’s daughter, who helped lead the team into the Eastern Maine Class D semifinals last winter.
Having graduated two starters, Matt Rossignol plans on using the first couple weeks of camp to see where his players are physically.
“I just try to see what people’s roles are going to be,” he said, “and how they’re going to fit into the system that I want them to use that gives us the best chance of being good.”
That’s typically the plan of action over the early stages of the preseason.
“I’m ready to go,” said Bartlett. “Conditioning is obviously a big factor, then pounding the fundamentals.”
The 2012-13 season marks the dawn of a new era of sorts for Bartlett’s Broncos, as they’ll be playing home games in the comfy confines of their new school.
And not only that, Hampden is the defending Eastern Maine Class A champion.
“It’s exciting that we get to play in a new gym,” Bartlett said.
Even though Hampden graduated three starters, the Broncos will still field a talented influx of horses led by junior Zach Gilpin, an all-conference selection as a sophomore, classmate Cam Scott, and seniors Tyler Norris, Matt Palmer and Brian Fickett.
“They know what’s expected, they do a nice job of funneling that information to the younger players,” Bartlett said.
This high school basketball season also will mark the end of an era with the last regional tournaments to be contested in the Bangor Auditorium. The new Cross Insurance Center is slated to open in September.
“That’s another incentive to get down there [this year],” said Rossignol, who had many outstanding games in the old building as a player for Van Buren and the University of Maine.
Parise Rossignol, who has committed to play collegiately at her father’s alma mater, has come into preseason in excellent shape, Matt said.
“It might be more different this year having lost those two [starters],” he said. “She’s anxious for the challenge.”
It’s a challenge the coach is looking forward to, coming off a 17-3 season, with two of the defeats coming at the hands of state champion Washburn.
“We went in number four last year,” Rossignol said. “Can we this year? I don’t know.”
Bartlett noted that it will feel strange not seeing a familiar face on the opposing bench when his Broncos play at Bangor on opening night Dec. 7, with Ed Kohtala succeeding the legendary Roger Reed.
“I’ll miss him,” Bartlett said. “He’s somebody as a younger coach I looked up to and aspired to be like.”