From left, Liberty High School football players Nate Kent and McClain Butler talk about the first day of practice for the 2019 season.

Nate Kent beat McClain Butler, his Liberty High School football teammate, by 30 minutes early Wednesday morning.

Butler said he got out of bed around 6:30 to get ready for the first day of practice — Wednesday marked the beginning of fall sports for Maryland public schools — and start up his senior season. Kent did Butler one better, however.

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“I got up at 6," Kent said. “I couldn’t sleep last night at all.”

Added Butler: “Christmas morning this morning, exactly.”

Butler, Kent, and the rest of the Lions seemed in good spirits as they wrapped up a three-hour morning practice on their lower stadium field. Liberty, coming off the program’s first 10-0 regular season, won a Carroll County Athletic League title and played in the Class 2A West Region playoffs.

“It sucks that it’s our last season,” Butler said. “But we’ve just got to make the best of it. Try to [go] 10-0, hopefully 14-0 and get the [state championship] ring.”

Carroll schools were busy Wednesday, with hundreds of athletes attending tryouts for boys and girls cross country, field hockey, football, golf, boys and girls soccer, and volleyball. And expectations are high for several teams around the county.

Last fall, Century, Liberty, and Westminster all played in the football postseason. Liberty’s boys cross country team won its fourth consecutive Class 2A state title, and the Lions’ field hockey squad won a second championship in three seasons.

South Carroll won a field hockey state crown as well, while Westminster volleyball made a second straight trip to the state semifinals.

“I think everyone’s always going to be a little nervous,” said Liberty’s Meghan Huey, an incoming senior on the Lions’ field hockey team. “But I think we’re really excited for this year. We’re just really excited knowing how it ended my freshman year and junior year. That was just crazy for all of us, and it’s the best thing and best feeling.”

Kayleigh Ward, Huey’s teammate and an incoming junior, said the first day of practice carries mixed feelings.

“You know you’re going to have to run, you know you’re going to have to put in all this effort,” Ward said. “But you know that overall, that will determine who should go where. You know that’s how you’re going to get the best team.”

From left, Westminster High School football players Tre Price and Ethan Zepp talk about the first day of practice for the 2019 season.

A large group of Westminster football players were split into separate groups based on positions to practice various drills. Junior varsity players wore blue practice jerseys and varsity players donned black ones as each group ran through mock plays and other exercises.

It was an overcast but humid morning at the Owls’ practice field, and players gathered by the water coolers every so often to drink and stay hydrated. The fall sports season is nearly here, and Carroll athletes are already anticipating what’s to come for 2019.

Lineman Tre Price said the environment on the first day is “exciting,” and he is one of the team’s returning seniors looking to make strides with the Owls once again.

“Freshman year there was a core group of guys that made their way up to varsity and we put a lot of work in,” Price said. “I think this core group of seniors is really going to bring it on Friday nights.”

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The Owls advanced to the 3A West final for a second consecutive year last fall and finished with an 8-4 record. Former Francis Scott Key standout Chris Bassler is the program’s new coach.

Bassler brought a few new members of the coaching staff as well. Together, the group looks to build off of the foundation that was previously set by the former staff.

“Obviously, this program has a great tradition and it’s a big part of why I wanted this job,” Bassler said. “We

weren’t starting from square one, it’s about trying to get together as a program to take the next step so we can put our seniors in the best position to be successful while building for future success at the same time.”

Getting practices underway gives Bassler the chance to see how much work the players completed during the offseason. Westminster’s season opener against South River is still a few weeks away and Bassler hopes to have established a focus for when that first game does arrive.

“For me, it’s a crescendo of the work,” the coach said. “We started last April with lifting, spring practices, 7-on-7s, and the work these guys did in the weight room. Now we’re starting to see all that hard work pay off as we start to narrow our focus to get ready for our first game.”

Manchester Valley’s boys soccer team went undefeated in county play last fall to win the program’s first county title. The Mavericks opened their first day of practice at Manchester Elementary School, and coach Andrew Harrell spoke to a group of about 60 players about what it takes to be a part of the program.

You don’t necessarily need to be the best soccer player as long as you come to work hard with heart and hustle, Harrell told the kids before they started fitness testing.

“I like that every year is a different year,” Harrell said. “You’re dealing with different kids and I have I think seven or eight returning guys so the team is going to be smaller and young so it’s a new group every year. Last year we were able to work on some things because that’s who they were, but we’re a completely different group.

“It’s exciting that you kind of start fresh on Day One with a new group and you get to experience new challenges and new successes so I’m loo

king forward to getting out there and seeing what these guys are made of.”

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