Franklin Pierce guard Sophie Holmes dribbles up the court during a game against Assumption last season. Holmes, a senior, won’t have a season this winter after the Northeast-10 Conference canceled athletics because of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo provided by Matthew Cerullo

Another college conference fell victim to the pandemic Tuesday, as the Northeast-10 announced that it was canceling its already-delayed winter season.

The decision was particularly tough news for Messalonskee graduate Sophie Holmes, a high-scoring senior on the Division II Franklin Pierce University (Rindge, New Hampshire) women’s basketball team.

“Obviously, (I’m) disappointed. I tried to be wishful thinking throughout the duration of our preseason,” she said. “For the situation now, it’s probably the best, safest way to do it. … I was always hopeful to have a season, but I couldn’t see it actually following through.”

Franklin Pierce’s season was scheduled to start Jan. 19 before the announcement Tuesday. Holmes, who was second on the team in scoring at 15.5 points per game last season, took an optimistic look at the decision.

“I think everything does happen for a reason, and over the last four years our team has just grown tremendously,” she said. “We have a new coach, a new program. I think this will only benefit us long-term.”

Holmes got word from her coach, and helped spread the message to her teammates. A captain, Holmes knew her attitude could rub off on younger players.

“I think it’s important to embrace this situation head-on,” she said. “I think how I react to it does affect how the team does. We’re just trying to keep that morale and that motivation, and work toward next year.”

Holmes said Franklin Pierce is considering filling the time with scrimmages with other New Hampshire schools. She said the NCAA is enabling athletes to get their lost year back, and that she’ll return for her fourth year on the court next year as a graduate student.

“I’m definitely very grateful for the opportunity,” she said. “Coach and I are pretty close, and I’m lucky enough to have another year and be able to play again and have a real season, a championship season. Hopefully, our team does well and I can end my college career on a high.”

Holmes said there was comfort in knowing the final decision, instead of having to go through the season bracing for bad news.

“One day it’s yes, one day it’s no,” she said. “To finally come to a final decision, I think it is relieving. You don’t have to wonder anymore. Not knowing was the hardest part.”

 

• • •

 

The New England Small College Athletic Conference was one of the first conferences to pull the plug on winter sports, making its call on Oct. 8.

Cony graduate Simon McCormick was set to begin his freshman season at Bates, and while he said the announcement wasn’t surprising, the finality of the decision was still a blow.

“We were all shocked, kind of heartbroken at first,” he said. “But we all get a year back, so it’s not a total loss.”

With games called off, McCormick said he’s using the facilities on campus to keep his skills as sharp as possible.

“We’ll be able to get into the gym (after break), get shots up,” he said. “We’ll be able to lift and stuff, so it’s not like we’re totally without basketball, we’re still practicing. … It being more skills and drills-type things, there are a lot of ways I can still work on my game.”

It’s easier to maintain skill level without competition, McCormick said, than it is to improve.

“The only thing that is the tough part is getting to that next level,” he said. “I got to gauge what it’s like, and the physicality and the skill level. But I still don’t know the full experience. That’s the only problem.”

 

• • •

 

The North Atlantic Conference has a vote coming up in January on whether or not to continue with the winter season, which means Year 1 is a wait-and-see process for Winslow’s Colby Pomeroy, now a freshman on the University of Maine Farmington men’s basketball team.

“As of right now there’s still hopes for a season,” he said, “but we’re not positive yet.”

Students haven’t been back on campus since Thanksgiving break, which brought a halt to team practices.

“We started practicing a couple of months ago, and we got in a good routine,” he said. “We were practicing five, six days a week with the whole team, able to do competitive drills, so it was good from that aspect. I got to see how much bigger, faster, stronger people are.

“They came to a halt, a couple of weeks ago, which is unfortunate. We got sent home and now we’re without a team, we’re working by ourselves again. It’s like we’re doing summer workouts again. … It’s kind of unfortunate. You go into your freshman year, you’re ready to give everything you’ve got and prove yourself.”

Bowdoin women’s basketball players Anika Helmke, right, and Maddie Hasson position themselves for a rebound during a game against MIT last season. Photo provided by Brian Beard/CIPhotography

Pomeroy said the practices they did have gave him a sense for where he needs to improve his game.

“I’ve taken a different role. I’m not so much bringing the ball up, I’m not so much playing the 2,” he said. “I’m a small forward, so I definitely see my weaknesses, playing against guys that are just a higher skill level overall. … (Practice) really exposed some holes that … I’m more knowledgeable on how to fill.”

 

• • •

 

The Thomas College women’s basketball team continues to practice as it awaits an update from the NAC.

Thomas junior Mackenzie Burrows, a former Brunswick standout forward, said she’s adjusted to the COVID-19 safety protocols.

“We have 12 freshmen this season,” she said. “I know how hard it is to be a freshman, and I can’t even imagine what it’s like for them during this time. We’ve done our best to help them get comfortable and have fun as a group.

“This season has given me an opportunity to step up as a leader and take initiative as an upperclassman, to shape how the next two seasons will look like for myself and the team as whole.”

Burrows added that she is hopeful a season can be played.

“Everyone involved in winter athletics at Thomas remains cautiously optimistic that games will be played,” she said. “It will likely be without fans which will be a change, but the team is ready to play with or without spectators.”

• • •

Former Richmond basketball standout Destiny Anair is competing on the Husson University indoor track team. The Eagles are training and practicing with the hopes of having some competition in the next few months.

“Our coaches have come up with creative ways to keep us motivated,” said Anair. “We were able to start some intrasquad competitions before the break, which was a great way for us to get our legs back under us. … Our coaches have told us not to worry about what we can’t control. I do know that if we get the go ahead to compete, the team will be ready and will be competitive.”

• • •

While the NESCAC canceled conference competition this winter, the Bowdoin women’s basketball team is still practicing.

“We hold our teammates to the same high standard whether they are on or off campus,” said Bowdoin junior forward Anika Helmke said. “Everyone has been doing their part to stay in shape and work on their game.”

The Polar Bears have been holding virtual Zoom meetings once every two weeks, and the players keep in contact every day.

“Keeping in contact with our teammates are important to the program, and we’ve been keeping a positive attitude,” Helmke added. “The NESCAC canceling games this season is a bummer, but we are continuing to work hard to ensure we are successful when we are able to get back on the court.”

 

• • •

 

UMF’s athletic department participated in the Gerry Wiles Holiday Food Basket Program, which for seven years has raised money for the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce that are then used to provide meals for local families.

All of UMF’s teams across the seasons participated, with funds being raised by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. SAAC raised $300 and UMF staff members raised $818, according to SAAC member and senior Nate Violette, who led the fundraising effort on the men’s basketball team.

“Even though the holidays are kind of a joyous time for a lot of people in the area, some people don’t have the funds or the means to make it that way,” said Violette, a former Messalonskee standout. “I think this year, it was even more prominent. Especially in the state that everybody is in, just having this little bit of extra help definitely went a long way.”

Violette has been with SAAC since his freshman season.

“Being a member of the University of Maine Farmington athletics program is more than just playing our sport,” he said. “We’re willing to really make more of a difference in that community.”

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