Every college athlete is feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. In Maine, the impact has been felt at all schools in the form of canceled seasons during the spring and fall.

For four athletes from Maine who compete at colleges from Delaware to Florida, the virus has created uncertainty, confusion, a general sense of weirdness and dissatisfaction. Those emotions have been mixed with gratitude for being able to take part in team activities, and optimism for better days ahead.

Lily Posternak, a 2017 graduate of York High, has been a starter on the Duke University field hockey team for four years. Nat LeDonne photo/Courtesy of Duke University athletics

Confusing is the word that Lily Posternak, a 2017 York High grad and two-time Female Athlete of the Year at the Varsity Maine Awards, chooses to describe what’s happening in NCAA Division I field hockey this year.

Lily Posternak

A senior four-year starter at Duke University, Posternak said she’s not really sure what the plan is for her sport, “because I swear it changes every day. At the beginning, it was mayhem.”

The Atlantic Coast Conference, which includes Duke and two-time defending national champion North Carolina, is the only Division I conference playing field hockey this fall. The NCAA has shifted the competitive season to run from Feb. 12 to April 23, with the Final Four set for May 7-9.

Duke, normally a top-tier program, is a young team this fall and off to an 0-6 start. Three games have already been canceled because opponents had COVID-19 outbreaks. One of those was made up at a neutral site. The ACC does plan to hold a conference championship, but Posternak said it’s unclear whether that will serve as an automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament. And, she thinks Duke and other ACC schools will have a spring season but …  “Who knows? There’s no real schedule right now.”

But for all the confusion, Posternak is sure about a couple of things: Duke is trying keeping its athletes as safe as possible with daily tests for COVID-19, and that she is likely to take advantage of another year of NCAA eligibility because of the pandemic.

“Fortunately we get another year of eligibility. I think right now my plan is to apply to graduate school at Duke and hopefully get an MBA while finishing out my field hockey career,” Posternak said. “Though we’re very fortunate to play right now, it’s not the same and I can’t imagine ending my lifetime commitment to the sport like this.”

Cole Anderson of Camden is a redshirt sophomore on the Florida State men’s golf team. The team is limited to practices this fall, but Anderson is confident they will have a spring season. Ross Obley photo/Courtesy of Florida State athletics

Cole Anderson, 19, said he wasn’t sure it was worth returning to Florida State University this fall until days before he arrived. Anderson, a 2019 graduate of Camden Hills Regional High and a two-time champion of the Maine Amateur golf tournament, was full of uncertainty about the months ahead.

He already knew the Atlantic Coast Conference and Florida State had scrapped any travel or matches for the golf team. But would the school’s golf courses be open? Would the team be able to practice together? Would he be stuck in Tallahassee taking all his courses online without a golf outlet?

“I really didn’t know when I would go back until right before I went back,” said Anderson, a redshirt sophomore. “It was kind of a challenging situation because nobody really had answers for awhile.”

As it turns out, Anderson is essentially stuck in Tallahassee and he is taking all his courses online. But the golf team is able to practice – while social distancing on the driving range, of course – and that provides needed structure and an outlet. While he and his teammates are missing a fall travel schedule that last year included competitions in Arizona, Illinois and at the famed Muirfield course in Ohio, they can still look forward to college golf’s spring season, when conference and NCAA championships are at stake.

“Practices and workouts are pretty similar, if anything a little more intensive than the year before, just because everybody has so much free time,” Anderson said.

Added free time means Anderson has to be self-disciplined with his studies. Anderson said the library and other study areas on the huge campus that supports 50,000 undergraduates are open, but “everything looks like a jail, with plastic shields and dividers.” So he does his work in his apartment, trying to ignore the TV remote.

Anderson said he feels safe at the school, noting most of his closest friends are members of the golf team. And, he’s confident the spring season will be held.

“With something like this, it’s difficult to project, but it seems like, from what I’ve seen, the schools that are playing competitive golf right now, it’s going well. There are enough precautions in place to make it work.”

Malia Cryan of York is hoping to lead Flagler College, an NCAA Division II school in Florida, to a third consecutive conference cross country championship this fall. Courtesy of Flager College athletics

Three hours east of Tallahassee, York’s Malia Cryan is starting her senior season of cross country at NCAA Division II Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida.

Malia Cryan

At first blush, Cryan’s season looks relatively normal, though it did get started a month late because of pandemic precautions. Flagler has only one fewer regular-season meet than last year. Cryan can still attain her goals of winning the Peach Belt Conference individual title in November (she was second last season), leading Flagler to a third straight conference title, and getting her personal-best 5K time under 18 minutes.

“I definitely feel we’re lucky to be able to do that,” said Cryan, 21, a classmate of Posternak at York High. “I know so many people, especially from my high school, who got their sports completely canceled.”

An above-average runner in high school (she qualified for New Englands in the 3,200 meters), Cryan has improved dramatically at Flagler. Her personal best 5K time of 18 minutes, 15 seconds is already fourth-best in school history and she’s targeting 17:30 “or at least to break 18” minutes this season.

But, a third straight trip to the NCAA championships for Flagler won’t happen. The Division II regional and national championships have been canceled.

“We definitely would have made it again this year, but sadly that got taken away,” said Cryan,

Like other college athletes, Cryan will be granted another year of eligibility because of the pandemic. She’ll also have, she hopes, the indoor and outdoor track seasons during the remainder of this academic year. The virus already wiped out her junior outdoor season and eliminated the chance to race on the roads when she was home in Maine this spring and summer.

“What we have this year brings some normalcy to our lives,” Cryan said. “As runners, we do all three seasons, so I’m used to competing all year, and going that long, that many months, without competition up until our first cross country race just felt so weird.”

Sara D’Appolonia of Yarmouth led the University of Delaware women’s soccer team in scoring last year. The team is not playing games during the pandemic this fall, and D’Appolonia decided to opt of practices in order to return home and study remotely. Courtesy of University of Delaware athletics

Yarmouth High 2018 grad Sara D’Appolonia knew when she went back to the University of Delaware campus this year that there would be no women’s soccer fall season. The Colonial Athletic Association made the decision to suspend all fall sports back in mid-July.

Sara D’Appolonia

But the 20-year-old junior, a returning all-conference player who led the Blue Hens in scoring (7 goals, 4 assists) in a 12-win season in 2019, figured it was worth returning to campus for practice opportunities and the social interaction.

D’Appolonia said Delaware adopted a phased approach to athletic practices. At first, it was just two days of conditioning, then three days of socially distanced soccer activity. By October, the team began playing full-sided during practices, while “still wearing masks all the time,” she said.

The university also issued instructions that teammates should not get together outside of practice. “We had to sign a code of conduct and had to promise not to partake of certain activities, including socializing. I think they were concerned about spreading the virus from team to team since athletes tend to hang out together,” D’Appolonia said.

It all added up to an unsatisfactory situation, one D’Appolonia decided was not good for her.

In mid-October, D’Appolonia said she “certified to opt out” of athletic participation this fall and decided to return home to Yarmouth. She plans to continue with her remote classes and aims to return to campus for the spring semester. The NCAA is planning on the Division I soccer regular-season running from Feb. 3 to April 17.

“I was skeptical coming back at all, and I guess you could say I felt like I was stuck in my house (at school), almost in jail,” she said. “Seeing only the same people all the time, but not allowed to see my nonathlete friends, and my days are the same. I feel like I’m on a merry-go-round.

“And, I miss my family. I feel family time is really important,” D’Appolonia added.

“There were some silver linings, though,” D’Appolonia said. “Even though I was just there temporarily, it was still great catching up with my teammates and meeting the freshmen and trying to build our culture and to get back on the field with everybody.”


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