UMF women’s basketball coach Jamie Beaudoin watches his team play during a game last season in Farmington. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — The North Atlantic Conference announced Friday it was delaying any decision on winter sports conference competition until January as concerns over the coronavirus mount.

University of Maine at Presque Isle president Ray Rice, who also chairs the NAC Presidents’ Council, said in a news release the conference is hopeful a winter sports season can be played during a pandemic, but acknowledged there is still a lot of uncertainty.

“We are committed to providing student-athletes with an opportunity to play their sport if it is safe for them and our campuses and wider communities to do so,” Rice said. “The coronavirus will ultimately determine the fate of winter sports in the NAC, and we are cautiously optimistic that the worrisome trend we are seeing nationally right now will change course in a way that allows for safe athletic competition.”

The 13-member NAC offers basketball and swimming and diving in the winter. Five Maine colleges — Thomas, Maine Maritime, Husson, UMPI and UMaine-Farmington — compete in the NAC.

The NAC announced that its basketball season — scheduled for Jan. 29 — is on hold. The first swimming and diving event for the conference is set for March 13-14.

UMF senior forward McKenna Brodeur is holding out hope a basketball season can be played. A two-sport standout at UMF, Brodeur already lost her soccer season last fall.

“I think I’m just really glad they’re not making a decision now, because there’s conferences already making decisions, and there’s still two months until we were going to have a season anyway,” Brodeur said. “I’m glad that they’re pushing it off, deciding when it really matters. We’re not going to play in December, anyway, so why make the decision now? And obviously, with COVID, it’s really not predictable. I’m super happy that we might have a season — or any sort of season — I’ll take 10 games at this point, or five, whatever we can get.”

Added UMF athletic director Julie Davis: “When the date came out, I think it was a little later than we were thinking. But, cautious optimism, it kept the door open. We want to keep exploring and try, as we should. We all know that something could happen that can make us pivot and go ‘No, we just can’t do it.’ But right now, it’s worth turning over every stone and seeing if we can pull it off.”

UMF women’s basketball coach Jamie Beaudoin, who is also an assistant athletic director at UMF, agreed, saying a wait-and-see approach is better than canceling.

“We understand that our student-athletes want to be able to compete,” Beaudoin said. “I think we’re willing to wait and see where we’re at with this situation in January to possibly be able to compete. We’re also waiting as well to see what happens with the University of Maine, as we are obviously part of the (UMaine) system. Because we need to be able to figure out, is it safe to play games, but also transportation and getting to those games. We’re still trying to figure things out within our system, and the University of Maine will be the first ones to see how that plays out. But I’m definitely glad that we did not receive the other news, which a lot of other institutions throughout the state of Maine and around the country have received. And I know our president, Edward Serna, wants to try to find a way for us to compete, even if it’s just a few games within Maine schools.”

Thomas College forward Addie Brinkman looks for a pass while University of Maine at Farmington forward McKenna Brodeur defends during a game last season in Waterville. Contributed photo/Thomas College Athletics

The NAC halted all conference competition in the spring and fall seasons. However, it left open the option for schools to compete in non-conference events this fall. Thomas and the University of Maine at Presue Isle reached an agreement to play each other in soccer, golf and cross country in October.

Brodeur, the top returning scorer on the UMF women’s basketball team, said she’d welcome a similar arrangement in the winter, should the NAC cancel conference games.

“I’m definitely open to whatever is brought to us,” Brodeur said. “I think, if our school can come up with a plan to give us some kind of game, I’ll take it at this point. Especially going a whole season without any games. I never really appreciated that. It was super cool but super weird to go an entire season just practicing. I’ve never had that option in my entire life. I got a lot out of it, but I’d love to have one or two games, like Thomas did, just to play other people. It definitely gets tiring, and kind of boring, playing the same people every day.”

Thomas indoor track and field coach Ian Wilson said his team of 50 athletes is practicing, with hopes the season will be able to begin in January.

“I kind of knew (the decision) was coming. Everybody is disappointed, but everybody is realistic. This (COVID-19) is something we have to deal with,” Wilson said. “I think we’re all glad it’s not an outright cancellation.”

With no meets on the immediate horizon, Wilson has adjusted his practices.

“I’m making things lighter than I normally would,” Wilson said. “This is the first time in my life I haven’t done Saturday practices.”

 

Staff writer Dave Dyer contributed to this report.

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