Mikayla Bourassa can’t remember the last time she went through a fall without field hockey.

For the University of Southern Maine midfielder, and the rest of the school’s fall athletes, that will be the reality this season. USM announced Wednesday that it was canceling sports up until January in response to the continuing coronavirus pandemic, wiping out the entire fall slate and the start of winter competition.

“I heard a couple of schools around canceling fall sports, so I had a feeling it was going to happen,” said Bourassa, a junior from Gardiner. “I wasn’t too surprised to hear that (Wednesday). I knew it was going to come eventually, and it had to be soon.”

Unlike in March, when cancellations at the end of the winter season and entirety of the spring season left athletes reeling at the loss of their sports, the decision this time was expected.

“It’s definitely not surprising,” Bourassa said. “I knew we were kind of beating around the bush for a while, so getting the final word was kind of shocking, but also ‘OK, there it is.’ ”

The earlier decisions from other schools and conferences to cancel or delay their fall seasons added a sense of inevitability to USM’s announcement. But for athletes who train year-round to play a sport they’ve worked at their whole lives, that didn’t make the news any easier.

“When I first heard the decision, it was heartbreaking,” said Julia Nicol, a Cony graduate and senior back on the field hockey team. “We all look forward to this time of year every year. I’ve been playing field hockey since middle school, so when it turns into fall, you (get) ready to go and it’s super exciting.”

“It wasn’t surprising, but every day that things were being talked about, you were holding out for maybe they’ll say yes, we’ll still have a season,” said Peter Mayhorn, a senior forward soccer player out of Waterville. “When they said we weren’t going to have a season, I was like ‘Dang, that really does suck.’

“But at the end of the day, I understand and respect the decision. It’s tough. There are so many people you have to take into consideration.”

Fall sports are the most heavily affected by the decision, but winter sports weren’t spared either. USM’s wrestling team, for example, had seven competitions last season during the 2018 portion of the schedule, and losing that early part of the schedule will likely have a ripple effect on the season.

“You can be in shape in the offseason, but until you are in a full wrestling season, you can never really be in wrestling shape,” said Jake Peavey, an Erskine graduate who will be a junior for USM this season. “That’s definitely a big thing, that physical fitness is tough. … It’ll definitely make it tough on some of our lighter guys who have a tough time as it is when we start in November and December. Now they’re going to have to cut that weight on a shorter notice and kind of in their own homes.”

Peavey, however, said he was grateful to know the bulk of the season, including postseason tournament competition, is still intact.

“We’re trying to stay positive,” he said. “We feel bad for the fall athletes, who are 100 percent done. … Even though we have a shortened season, we’re hanging on to the hope that we can have a season at all.”

For the fall athletes, the bright side is in knowing what the plan for the season is, and no longer having to prepare for an autumn with or without their sport.

“I think half the stress from the team was in not knowing,” Bourassa said. “I think it was a lot of stress relief, knowing a final answer.”

With the decision being made, athletes can make plans. The NCAA allowed spring athletes to regain their lost season of eligibility, and a similar decision this time would give fall athletes the chance to play all four years. Some chose a different route; Nicol changed her major from health science to linguistics in February — before the pandemic began — and in so doing got the ability to play next fall instead of this season.

“Back probably around May, when we weren’t really sure what was going on, I kind of decided that I wasn’t going to play this year if it was going to be like this,” she said. “Knowing that we wouldn’t even be able to go south to play … those big games that we all really love to play, it wasn’t something I was really interested in doing. I was planning to come back next year so I could have a really good senior season.”

Others may be done.

“I’m taking everything day by day. If the opportunity does show itself, I may take it,” Mayhorn said. “But also, if I graduate and I get a job after and it’s really something I’m passionate about and I want to continue with that, I may just say I loved playing college soccer while I could, but it’s time to take that next step into my life.”


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