University of Maine at Farmington athletes received an early Christmas gift, albeit one they can’t have until after the new year.

And they still aren’t sure exactly what it will look like.

However, they still get to put the “athlete” in student-athlete, thanks to a plan announced Wednesday by the university to have winter sports teams return to participation on Jan. 11.

“The wellbeing of our student-athletes, staff, our campus, and the community at large is our number one priority, and all decisions and plans are made with that in mind,” UMF President Edward Serna said in a news release Wednesday. “Our athletics department has worked incredibly hard this fall to follow health and safety protocol so that teams could practice and train with the ultimate goal of providing a quality educational and developmental experience.”

The release further stated that the UMF Athletics Action Team — comprised of health, coaching, facilities and administrative professionals — continues to navigate the changing landscape with guarded optimism, and plans for a limited competitive season in the coming months, beginning as early as February.

UMaine-Farmington athletic director Julie Davis, who is part of the Action Team, said Thursday that much of the plan is still in the works.

“We felt we had enough in place to let our student-athletes and staff know a return date and intentions so they could plan accordingly while we continue to develop and navigate details in a changing context. We all needed some lead time to be ready for whatever date we landed on,” Davis said. “We are focused on what opportunities can we create and preserve that makes the most sense for our student-athlete development and campus and community needs.”

UMF’s winter sports include men’s and women’s basketball, indoor track and field and snowsports — which is comprised of Alpine and Nordic skiing and snowboard/freeride. Davis stressed that each sport is different, and that will be reflected in what each team’s winter season ends up looking.

The North Atlantic Conference, in which the basketball teams compete, has indicated that its member presidents will make a decision by Jan. 11 regarding a conference schedule. The snowsports teams are hoping to know by Jan. 4 if there is enough competition for the United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association.

“As long as resorts/mountains are open and (U.S. Ski & Snowboard) racing is available — and campus/UMS has not made any other decision that makes it moot — we anticipate there will be something,” Davis said.

University of Maine-Farmington’s Simon Kern takes part in the Rail Jam snowboarding event at the USCSA Nationals in Lake Placid, New York, in March 2020. University of Maine-Farmington Athletics

The indoor track team will use the winter season to prepare for a spring outdoor season that didn’t happen in 2020.

“Once they are cleared (from COVID-19 testing), we’re going to get back to training hard in hopes of having our conference championship outdoors,” indoor track coach Sean Cabaniss said. “It will have been a long break with the athletes away from the team, so refocusing on our culture and team goals will be important.”

“I am an optimistic person at heart, so, naturally, I am hopeful we will have some competitions,” Cabaniss added. “We will need to see what the climate is like in regards to COVID and if facilities will be able to host competitions.”

Andrew Willihan, UMF’s assistant director of snowsports and the head Alpine ski coach, is also focusing on the optimistic side of the return plan.

“It is easy to compare what each college is doing with their athletics. I think it is important to recognize what we can do with our athletes and not focus too much on what we cannot do,” he said. “Gratitude is a big part of our program and we are grateful for the opportunity.”

“UMF athletics is doing everything we can to keep the athletes safe and have a safe environment. We also are doing what we can to still give them the competitive feel moving forward,” Snowsports Director Scott Hoisington said.

Women’s basketball coach Jamie Beaudoin, who is also part of the Action Team, said his players have been hoping for a January return since practices and in-person learning ended prior to Thanksgiving.

“Our team is excited to return to campus on Jan. 11 and follow the protocols that UMF will have in place to give us the best chance to play a game hopefully in February,” Beaudoin said. “Knowing what their spring and fall sports peers went through in the past year has given them the perspective of finding the little things to celebrate.”

UMF women’s basketball coach Jamie Beaudoin watches his team play during a game in Farmington during the 2018-19 season. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

UMF student-athletes have been in regular contact with coaches regarding their desires, concerns and hopes, according to Davis.

“My assessment from what they share is that they trust us to navigate the details and try to create the best opportunity/experience for them possible, including some competition if feasible,” Davis said. “Coaches have been taking that pulse routinely and reporting back. The feedback clearly indicates that they would love to have some competition, but they understand it would be modified/limited and different.”

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