2011-12-09 / Sports

It’s ‘Opening Night’ for area teams

Basketball, swimming, wrestling take center stage
BY GEORGE ALMASI Times Record Staff


Lights. Cameras. Action.

Although girls ice hockey has been skating for a couple of weeks, tonight marks “Opening Night” for many athletic teams, most notably basketball.

Hardcourts around the state will be flushed with presses, zones, fouls, violations and frenzied coaches.

But, just how important is opening night in terms of a team’s karma and goodwill? Is playing hard good enough, or is winning a byproduct and result of preseason scrimmages and hard practices?

“Obviously, its important to start the year off well. It sets the tone for your team, the fans, everyone involved that you are ready,” said Mt. Ararat boys coach Aaron Watson, whose charges host Edward Little. “With the short amount of time that we are given to get our teams ready for the first game, it’d be hard to believe that a team has everything in for the first night. We are focusing on making sure the team has the fundamentals fresh, and the basic concepts of what we are doing offensively and defensively. As the season progresses, it is easier to add and change stuff.”

Every team will have to go through opening-night jitters, and it’s the coaching staff ’s responsibility to help guide the players through murky waters.

“By recognizing who we are and what our strengths are,” added Watson. “How we can control the tempo and flow of the game. Make sure that we understand what our game plan is, and stick with it.”

For Mt. Ararat girls basketball coach Kelly LaFountain, an openingnight win is what every team strives for.

“Everyone wants to win on opening night,” said LaFountain, who Eagles head to Auburn and Edward Little. “It creates a positive outlook for the rest of the season and helps to build the players’ confidence. If the players have success early it is easier for them to buy into what the coaching staff has been preaching all preseason.”

The preseason is extremely important and helps set the tone for the first round of games.

“How much you put in before the first game depends on the makeup of your team,” offered LaFountain. “It’s a lot easier to do more with an experienced team, but I believe you need to be careful not to overwhelm them. I feel it’s better to put the basic principles and schemes in before opening night and build on them as the season goes along.”

And the ensuing jitters?

“You want them to be excited and pumped up on opening night but sometimes they are so pumped they make silly mistakes,” explained LaFountain. “We try to put pressure on them and emphasize being focused in practices and scrimmages so hopefully the actual games seem easy to them. Often times all it takes is getting them to take a few deep breaths and tell them it’s OK to just relax and play their game.

“We try to keep things simple the first night. The girls develop their pre-game routines during preseason and we as coaches only tweak things a little because we feel they all know what gets them ready to play at the top of their game.”

Ditto for Brunswick boys coach Todd Hanson, whose team is coming off a nose-to-nose preseason win over rival Morse, now competing in Class B.

“It’s very important for us to get off to a great start this season,” said Hanson. “Our schedule has changed (Morse and Messalonskee off) and we have picked up Bangor, Hampden and Mt. Blue, and play Lawrence twice. Those four teams were picked to finish numbers 1-4 in our preseason poll. We have to protect our home court and not let any slip away. Cony is a very formidable opponent, and we have to be ready to play.”

One thing on the Dragons’ side going into tonight’s home contest with Cony is experience.

“We return nine players from last year’s roster, so there is an established understanding of the system,” said Hanson. “We should have most of our offense sets and defensive packages available for opening night.”

The Morse scrimmage on Tuesday was held to help get the players in game-shape mode.

“We purposely scheduled a home exhibition game against Morse, with the intent that it enables the kids to work out the kinks and jitters, and be ready to fire on all cylinders Friday.”

And, not much will change today with regards to game tactics.

“What you’ll see Friday (today) is hopefully what you’ll get this season. As I said earlier, this is a veteran group of kids. They’ve been together for a few years, played in the off-season, and have religiously attended Team Camp in Rhode Island the past few summers. We work hard yearround in order to be ready to go in December,” said Hanson

The Morse boys have seen marked improvement over the last year and head coach Todd Flaherty hopes they’ll be ready come Tuesday when the Shipbuilders host Oak Hill.

“ The team has improved a tremendous amount in two weeks ... the coaches are very pleased with their progress so far, but we still have a long ways to go,” said Flaherty.

“We would like to get off to a good start, but at the same time not putting a tremendous amount of emphasis on game one. We have a young and inexperienced team that needs to make a commitment to steadily improve as the season progresses.

“ We want to be competitive in every game starting with game one, but we also have a goal of playing our best basketball at the end of the season.

“We do not do anything special regarding mental preparedness on game nights. Most of our players are multisport varsity athletes and deal with nervousness, etc., in their own way. In fact, we fully expect and encourage our players to be excited and nervous on game nights. The ‘jitters’ are a byproduct of enthusiasm.”

Richmond boys coach Phil Houdlette looks at opening night as being a confidence booster.

“I think that opening night is very important, you want your kids to play well even if it doesn’t result in a win, which hopefully translates into confidence,” said Houdlette. “I think how much you put in has to do with how veteran your group is. This year we are taking it as slow as possible because we are so young and inexperienced.

“ We have struggled in our two scrimmages, so we have tried to reinforce what we are attempting to do by simplifying each step. Also by preaching defense, rebounding, and limiting turnovers is the mind-set until the offense comes around. As young as we are jitters are going to happen, use positive encouragement to build confidence, there will be mistakes made. Learn from them and move on.”

Let the games begin!

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