For high school track and field athletes who hope to compete at the collegiate level, their junior season is arguably the most important year. It's the year college coaches can make in-person contact, and it's often a time where the athlete starts to mature and blossom into stars.
But with spring sports canceled in Maine due to the coronavirus pandemic, the junior class is now left without an outdoor season that's so important in their development.
It hurts even more for Falmouth junior Ben Greene, who had his indoor season cut short after injuring his ankle two weeks before the Class A championships.
"I was mostly upset because I didn't have the end of the indoor season," Greene said. "So I was really counting on having a big outdoor season and just killing it."
All signs pointed to Greene "killing it" this outdoor season. The junior ran to state leading times in the 800 meters (1:56.73) and mile (4:20.07), and had the fourth-fastest time in the 2-mile (9:42.88) this winter before hurting his ankle.
Adding to Greene's misfortunes, at last year's Class A outdoor meet, he was disqualified in the 1,600 after finishing second to Mt. Ararat's Lisandro Berry-Gaviria in just a shade over 4:22. The disqualification took away a PR and a chance to race at the New England Championships, which would have provided a chance to show out against the best middle-distance runners in New England.
"I just felt like I couldn't catch a break," Greene said of the year-long mishaps. "But I've definitely taken the positive out of the indoor season ... I ran great times for pretty much half of the (indoor) season without any championship races so I'm happy about that."
Speaking of his indoor season, when Greene ran his personal best in the 800, he took down the state record holder in the event and Class A champion Mahamed Sharif of Westbrook, who's heading to UConn in the fall. And at the Dartmouth Relays in January, he beat Brunswick's Will Shaughnessy in the mile, finishing fourth in 4:23.78 (Greene was the top junior in the field). Shaughnessy finished with the fastest 2-mile in the state this winter, and will attend Penn University.
Like all juniors, Greene is adapting to the "new normal" of being recruited and reaching out to schools. Instead of recruiting trips, and talking shop with coaches, Greene is filling out questionnaires to colleges online and has been talking to coaches over the phone. He's also considered doing some virtual time trials to show his fitness
And even though the outdoor season has been canceled, Greene continues to put the work in with the hope of competing at New Balance Outdoor Nationals, which got postponed to mid-July. He's currently putting in 45 to 50 miles a week along with a speed session to stay fit to compete in the mile.
One athlete who was already a star when she entered high school is Cheverus junior Victoria Bossong. And even though she competed at the Class A indoor state meet, and New England Championships, Bossong's winter season was also cut short like Greene's.
Bossong hoped to earn an All-American finish in the 400 at New Balance Indoor Nationals, but the meet ended up getting canceled due to the pandemic. She was hoping to earn All-American status in the event this spring as well, along with breaking her own state records in the 100, 200 and 400, and expand her range in the 800.
When news first broke about the canceled season, Bossong was concerned about the upperclassmen on her team.
"When I first heard the season was canceled, my first thought went out to the seniors," Bossong said. "They have sacrificed so much for this sport and we were really looking forward to their last season to compete and spend time with the team."
Bossong's college recruitment is slightly different than Greene's. While Greene was looking to set fire to the track this season to attract suitors, Bossong was already doing so as a freshman and sophomore. If anything, Bossong said, the cancellation has expedited her college decision and will commit to a school in the next few months.
"Communication with college coaches/recruiters has actually sped up since the cancellation," Bossong said. "This spring season would've been the last chance for (college coaches) to watch me perform, but now that is no longer the case, there's nothing left to wait for."
Along with lifting, doing her acceleration work and practicing her block starts, Bossong's training hasn't changed much during this time.
However, the same can't be said for Bangor junior Alyssa Elliott. The Class A indoor champion in the long jump and triple jump has found alternative ways to workout.
"Since the stay at home order, I've had to be creative with my training," Elliott said. "Such as lifting in the basement and running on the road. I've continued working with my personal trainer weekly over zoom."
At the Class A championships last spring, Elliott won the high jump clearing 17-6, then finished sixth in the triple jump at New England's with a personal best of 37-02 ¾. After winning the long jump and triple jump at the state championships this winter, she followed with a sixth-place finish in the triple at New England's.
Elliott was hopeful there still could be a season when it initially got postponed to the end of April, but after seeing the national trends in the pandemic increase, she prepared for the worst. Like all junior's, Elliott is adapting to the new world of recruiting.
"With the extra time, I've been able to focus a lot on communicating with college coaches to discuss there athletic and academic programs," Elliott said. "I have emailed numerous college coaches and have set up Zoom calls and virtual tours instead of visiting the campus."
While these three outstanding juniors miss an important season in their development, the cancellation also takes away another opportunity to create memories and bond with their respective teammates. That certainly holds true for Bossong.
"Honestly, the biggest difference is that I miss my girls," she said. "Having teammates there to cheer each other on and push each other during practice is something that cannot be mimicked, and until we are able to see one another, it just won't be the same."