James Olivier, an Augusta native and Cony High School graduate, enjoyed a standout season at the University of Maine last season. He capped his dominant year by winning the 800-meter race at the United States Track and Field under-20 national championships in Miramar, Florida. Contributed photo/University of Maine athletics

Ever since his breakthrough last summer, James Olivier has been waiting for a chance to write the follow-up story. The University of Maine runner and Cony High School alum won a USA Under-20 national title last June, but in the fall and winter had battled sprains and swelling in his feet that limited his performance.

Spring track was his chance to shine again, but the coronavirus denied him that opportunity. And this fall, for cross country, the pandemic was at it again.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” Olivier said. “Just when things were starting to kind of get better, they pulled the spring season out from under me. At this point, I’ve just kind of come to accept that I can only control my own performance on the day. I can’t control when I’m going to have my next race.”

It won’t be this fall, as Maine announced last week that it won’t be playing sports this fall, and the America East conference confirmed that it is postponing fall sports to 2021. It was a move that, given the wave of schools and conferences already calling off their sports action, was seen coming from miles away, and therefore wasn’t a shock to the athletes affected by it.

“I’m definitely not surprised, by any means,” said Travis Nickerson, a teammate of Olivier’s and another Cony graduate. “It definitely is a logical step. I think it’s cool that we can at least practice for the most part, and still have access to the facilities. … Overall, definitely kind of upsetting, but in my opinion, definitely needed.”

Able to see the decision coming, several athletes had already begun focusing on the positives of the move.

“We have a lot of time, and time in this sport is your best friend,” Olivier said. “The more time you can develop your endurance and strength is definitely going to save you in a race.

“A lot of guys are definitely going to take this as a positive time, to work on themselves. … It’s still going to be tough, but there are still positives in it.”

Not everyone saw the silver lining as easily.

“I had a feeling it was coming, but it’s always that gut feeling when it sinks to the bottom of your stomach and it just sits there, and you finally hear it and you’re like ‘Oh my God,’ ” runner and Erskine graduate Kaylee Porter said  “And watching how my friends reacted … watching them cry, that was hard to do.”

Most athletes, however, were making plans on how to use the time away from competition to their advantage to be ready for when the season does resume. Bhreagh Kennedy, who was named Miss Maine Field Hockey for Skowhegan last season, was getting ready for her first taste of Division I college competition with the Black Bears, but said an extra few months to prepare and get in shape for the next level was good consolation.

“Obviously I was disappointed, but I have more time now to get ready and get stronger for when we do finally have the chance to get on the field,” she said. “We’ve been training all summer, and now I just have more time to get in shape, get faster, be more ready.”

Kennedy said she was encouraged that America East emphasized that the season was postponed, rather than canceled, and that the team would be motivated by a chance to play the season eventually.

“I think it was good to know that they were going to do whatever possible to try to have a safe season at some point,” she said. “I think it gave our whole team hope, and just a drive to be better for when that season finally does come.”

Porter acknowledged that it could be hard to train as hard without an imminent season, but that the hunger would kick in for the athletes soon enough.

“It’s a little bit tougher, just because all the people I normally run with are now really sad about their seasons, so the motivation’s kind of down,” she said. “But I feel like it’s going to pick right back up as soon as we start avidly running again in groups.”

There are still question marks regarding 2021 as the pandemic continues, but athletes aren’t letting themselves get too worried even after a spring and fall were lost.

“We’re just going to try to stay optimistic about it,” Nickerson said. “I like to know we have at least three, four, five months to get in strictly practices, and really focus and nail down and try to prepare for whether cross country comes back or track and field resumes.”

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