WATERVILLE — Game 1 of the Thomas College men’s soccer season is in the books. The season is now half over.

The Terriers defeated the University of Maine at Presque Isle, 3-0, Saturday afternoon at Smith Field. Despite being well into fall, Mother Nature dialed up a late summer day, with temperatures in the low 70s when the game began. It felt like the late August or early September kind of day on which the season would normally start.

We know there’s nothing normal about the 2020 season, though. That’s why all the pieces of normal that accompanied this college soccer game are important. Honoring seniors before the game. The introduction of starters. The national anthem. The heckling of players by student fans who won a ticket lottery in order to be in the sparse crowd. A mask does not muffle a well-timed zinger.

“It feels good. From the start of practicing, we couldn’t really touch each other. We couldn’t make contact. It’s kind of hard, but to just play different competition, it feels good,” Thomas senior Zenawi Bowen said.

Bowen scored the Terriers first goal of the season, with 9:53 left in the first half. John Snowman scored on a rebound of his own penalty shot with 2:20 left in the first half, and Messalonskee High School graduate Hunter Smith, playing on the field named after his family, scored his first college goal with 33:18 left in the game to close the scoring for the Terriers. The Terriers looked sharp. Throughout much of the game, they looked in midseason form, which any other season would be perfect right about now.

“Everyone just wants to play. You can see it in everyone every day. They just want to play,” Thomas senior Hayden Elwell, a Maranacook graduate, said. “We know we have a limited season, and we still show up and keep doing what we’re doing.”

Calling it a limited season is a kind gesture on Elwell’s part. Thomas and UMPI are the only two colleges currently playing fall sports in Maine. With out-of-state travel and competition on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, these North Atlantic Conference rivals can only play each other.

Thomas College’s Princiel Kunieki (8) is tripped by Presque Isle’s Paul Kalan (24) on Saturday in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The Thomas women’s soccer team won at UMPI on Saturday, 1-0 in overtime. Next Saturday, Oct. 17, the men are scheduled to play in Presque Isle while the women play in Waterville. But these days, schedules aren’t as sturdy as they used to be. Everything is tentative. Schedules are being written in pencil and chalk.

“I think we’re all happy to get one game. Two is better. I mean, we’re one of the only colleges to be playing in New England, which is amazing,” Elwell said.

Before the coronavirus sent the world sideways, the 2020 goal for the Thomas men’s soccer team was the threepeat. The Terriers won the NAC title in 2018 and 2019, earning trips to the NCAA Division III tournament. That goal is still out there, but it’s on pause.

“The goal was to even have a season. Three (NCAA tournaments) in a row, that hasn’t been done before at Thomas. Now we have the opportunity next season to still do it as well. That’s the goal. Get better, learn each other so we can play together and win another championship,” Bowen said.

“Have fun. Enjoy it. We always want to work towards next season. We always have the future ahead of us. We kind of look at this as a developmental season,” Elwell said. “We have six or seven seniors, but the majority of players are juniors and sophomores. Getting this playing time still helps them focus for next year.”

The NCAA already granted fall 2020 athletes another year of eligibility. Thomas’ seniors can play this truncated two game season against UMPI and come back in 2021 to make a run at a third straight conference title if they wish. Elwell, who is considering pursuing a master’s degree in Criminal Justice, is thinking about it.

For now, the goal is just playing the game. Let’s call this two-game series between Thomas and UMPI the state championship. With nobody else playing games, we may as well.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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