Ashland girls kicking season into gear early

Posted July 29, 2008, at 12 a.m.

A look at the calendar shows a good solid month or so of summer vacation time remaining for many of the state’s high school athletes.

Plenty of time left to hit the beaches, state fairs and family camps.

However, take a drive up to Aroostook County and it’ s a safe bet high school athletes will be kicking balls and doing conditioning drills and calisthenics.

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Yes, preseason practices are under way for high school soccer athletes in Aroostook County, whose teams generally start early to accommodate the annual midseason potato harvest break.

Many teams kicked off practices Monday while the rest of the state can get going on Aug. 18.

The first varsity games will be sooner than in years past, with the Washburn boys and girls traveling to St. Agatha to take on Wisdom on Aug. 11, while the defending Eastern Maine Class D champion Ashland girls will kick off their season a day later against Central Aroostook of Mars Hill at Presque Isle.

Coach Peter Belskis’ Hornets, who graduated only three starters from the team which fell to Richmond in the state final last fall, will play all their home games on Presque Isle’ s synthetic surface field this fall due to the construction of a new pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school on the location of Ashland’ s fields.

“We’ re expecting to have the field dug up in the next month. The new school will be sitting right on the field,” said Belskis.

Not only will Ashland get to play on the only artificial surface north of Bangor, but it’ ll have occasional games under the lights as well.

“We got the best of what we could hope for in the turf field, which is an outstanding field,” said Belskis. “I think this makes us a better team. You have to play a [more] skilled game on the turf.”

However, the Hornets will be hard-pressed to find a regulation field to practice on once theirs is dug up next month.

“We’ ve got a few kick-around fields here, but [they’ re] not regulation,” said Belskis. “It’ s going to be interesting this year how the kids will adapt to that.”

The Hornets have a solid corps of veteran returnees, including junior goaltender Taylor Baker, senior back Autumn Condon, versatile midfielder Suzanne Poulin and forwards Jessica Jimmo, a junior, and seniors Crystal Cook and Jackie D’ Ozier.

“We are excited about the season. I think we should be right in the mix of it,” Belskis said.

Joining that mix will be freshman Brooke Lebelle up front and sophomores Rylee Graham and Whitney Donovan on defense.

With that solid core group coming back, particularly defensively, the Hornets should be poised to make another deep postseason run this fall.

“Anytime you get to the states and get that kind of experience and got some quality players coming back, it should bode well for making another run, but that script still hasn’ t been written yet,” Belskis said.

“Our defense is going to be a year older, it should be stronger this year, that’ ll be a big key for us.”

Many of Belskis’ players have played in voluntary summer leagues over the course of the summer — he said there are games “a couple days a week” — and having been in soccer mode throughout the summer should be beneficial.

“They’ ve already played 6-8 games this summer [and] to me it’ s an easier transition. [The way it] used to be we didn’ t do anything in the summer, and it would take them 3-4 weeks to get them going,” he explained.

“Nowadays, they’ re in so much better shape, they’ re so much farther ahead.”

Belskis added that County foes Fort Fairfield, Katahdin of Stacyville and Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook, along with Bangor Christian, will be among the Hornets’ challengers.

Leonardi wins national title

Abbey Leonardi, who will be a freshman at Kennebunk High this fall, is tearing up the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic circuit this summer.

Leonardi, who competes for the Kennebunk Track Club during the summer, recently won the USATF Junior Olympic national championship at 1,500 meters.

Leonardi posted an impressive clocking of 4 minutes, 40.30 seconds, surging away from runner-up Amy-Eloise Neale down the homestretch to hold on for the victory.

Leonardi’ s time is equivalent to roughly a 4:55 mile.

Also in this meet, recent Brunswick High graduate David Slovenski finished eighth in the young men’ s pole vault, clearing 15 feet, 9 inches while his brother Michael was 14th in the intermediate boys competition with a height of 12-3?.

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