Chris Poe left a Fort Lauderdale, Florida vacation a few days early so he could be back in time for the first day of varsity baseball practice at Century High School.
Poe returned ahead of time, in fact.
“Got back [Saturday] morning at 2 o’clock. I’ve been out here since 6 o’clock getting the field ready,” the Knights coach said as he stood near the dugout a few minutes before 10 a.m. “We could have stayed until Sunday. My girlfriend ... she was not happy with me. Hey, baseball comes first.”
Poe smiled as he told that story, but the pleasure he took in seeing his players stroll up to the field ahead of Century’s first practice in more than a year was evident.
Like many spring sports teams across Carroll County, Century took part in two scrimmages last March before the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close and wiped out the 2020 spring season. High school athletics were altered and later modified to allow for games to resume, but the spring athletes missed an entire season compared to their fall and winter counterparts.
Poe, who led Century to the 2019 county championship in his first season as coach, said he watched many of his players in summer tournament settings last year and was able to stay in touch with them amid the pandemic. He felt for his five seniors ― one of them being his son Jeremy ― who didn’t get a chance last spring to finish their high school careers on the diamond. But Poe said Saturday morning felt somewhat cathartic.
“I’m just happy to be back out here and see the boys,” Poe said. “They’re ready, they’re pumped. All last summer when I was watching them, I talked to them after their games and stuff, and they were like, ‘Can’t wait to get back, can’t wait to get back.’”
The Carroll-only spring season for baseball, softball, lacrosse, track and field, and tennis is set to begin May 7.
Three lacrosse teams won state championships in the county’s most recent spring campaign. South Carroll girls won a Class 2A state title in 2019, the first in program history, while Westminster boys and girls repeated as 3A champs.
John Brown was ready for his first season as Owls girls lacrosse coach in 2020 before the season went on hold March 13, and then canceled April 28. Brown counted 400 days between Saturday and Westminster’s last meaningful lacrosse gathering ― a long time coming, he said.
“I don’t get up early, but I was up at 5 o’clock today for a 10 o’clock practice,” Brown said. “It means something to us. Our seniors want to finish their careers.”
One of those seniors is Lauren Saltz, a four-year varsity player bound for Penn State next year, who said she’s grateful for a chance to compete in whatever sort of varsity season she can.
“I’m excited, because I’m finally ... an upperclassman and everything, stepping into that role as a leader and being able to teach what I know from being on the team since freshman year,” Saltz said. “I think we have a lot of young talent.”
Westminster goes after its first outright county crown since 2011, with Century the reigning champ heading into 2021. Westminster has the last three boys lacrosse county titles, and the Owls have won 37 consecutive games.
Manchester Valley won a softball county crown in 2019, along with Liberty in boys tennis and girls tennis, Century in boys track, and South Carroll in girls track.
Century also has three consecutive baseball county championships, a source of pride for the Knights’ veterans on this year’s team. Hunter Rose, one of Century’s seniors, said adding a fourth title is the expectation this spring.
Fellow seniors Conner Breitenbach and Matt Guyer didn’t disagree as they got ready for Saturday morning’s practice.
“I really missed it. It’s a good feeling,” Guyer said. “Baseball is the only sport I play, so I was really bummed last year with that whole thing. It has definitely made things a lot better now that it’s back.”