University of Maine at Farmington players Kyle Donlin, right, and Jack Kane participate during a practice last fall in Farmington. Bob Bailie/Courtesy of UMF athletics

The University of Maine at Farmington men’s basketball team returned to campus this week, ready to get back to work in preparation for the possibility of a season against its normal North Atlantic Conference foes.

Within a day, those plans changed.

On Monday afternoon, the NAC announced that it will not hold a basketball season, or a conference championship. That same afternoon, however, UMF athletic director Julie Davis said in a statement that the school will move forward with a winter season against in-state competition. Thomas College and the University of Maine at Preque Isle  both fellow NAC opponents in Maine — announced the same intentions Monday afternoon.

“UMF plans to move forward with cautious optimism and great care to work toward scheduling and competing in some in-state men’s and women’s basketball games starting in February,” Davis said in her statement. “Additionally, we are continuing with our plans for snowsports (Alpine, Nordic and freeride/snowboard) and exploring some creative indoor track and field options.”

This is great news for the Beavers, who were quarantining on campus Monday, with the possibility of getting back on the hardwood Thursday for practice.

“Everyone is just coming back to campus now,” said junior center Jack Kane, one of the team’s three captains this season. “Hopefully, when we get our (COVID) test results back, hopefully by Thursday, we can start team practices again.”

UMF had roughly 50 practices during the fall semester, getting acclimated to new head coach Sam Leal. A former UMF player, Leal was hired in April, after Hall of Fame coach Dick Meader retired after 27 years and 353 wins with the Beavers (on top of an additional 17 years as a head coach at Thomas). This is Leal’s first head coaching position, after serving as an assistant at the University of Southern Maine, Springfield (Mass.) College and Bates College in Lewiston.

“Coach Leal has been more than great,” junior forward and captain Kyle Donlin said. “Coach had really done a good job, I think, of bringing in a lot of new people. Last year, we had a lot of veterans graduate. There’s just a lot to work with. We only have one senior this year. It’s a very hard time for a new coach to come in and deal with all this. I think everything that’s been thrown at him, he’s handled great.”

University of Maine at Farmington players Kyle Donlin (20) and Nathan Violette (40) talk during a practice during the fall. Bob Bailie/Courtesy of UMF athletics

“Coach Leal has been great,” said Messalonskee graduate Nathan Violette, the lone senior on the UMF roster and a team captain. “He’s shown up every day and given us his best, and he expects the best from us, too. I just love how his communication is 100 percent all the time. We know what to expect from him, and he tells us what he expects from us.”

Violette added that it helps that Leal has previous experience in the program.

“It’s definitely nice,” Violette said. “Since Coach Leal played here, he knows what it’s like to be a student-athlete at Farmington. He knows what we go through every day. I think Farmington has a lot of tradition, and Coach Meader helped preach that and keep that tradition going. By Coach Leal being a part of that as a player, he’s now able to carry that on as a coach.”

The fall practices  and ensuing in-state competition this winter — will also allow for a young roster (10 of UMF’s 16 players are either a freshman or sophomore) to get more acclimated to the everyday regimen of playing in a college program. Despite losing four of their top scorers to graduation, talent returns for the Beavers, including Kane, who averaged over 10 points and seven rebounds per game last season. Among UMF’s freshman class is point guard and Bonny Eagle standout Zach Maturo. Excelling in both the hardwood and the gridiron during his time with the Scots, Maturo was named a Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist last year in football and a Mr. Maine Basketball finalist. Maturo scored over 1,000 points during his high school career.

“We’re hopeful to get as many games in as possible, and we’re excited,” Kane said. “We’re a different-looking team than last year, we graduated a lot of guys. But we still have a lot of talent coming back, and a lot of guys that can step into bigger roles. We’re real excited and hopeful for as many games as we can get this season.”

 

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Former Brunswick standout Rosalie White returned to campus Monday for the University of Maine at Farmington women’s basketball team.

“We were tested as soon as we got back and have to shelter in place until we get our results back, White said.

White says she is hoping the team can get back into the gym together once the team gets their test results back. For now, the Beavers have been participating in other activities to stay engaged.

“During the time we’ve been sheltering in place, we’ve had the opportunity to connect with alumni via Zoom to hear more about the UMF experience,” White said. “It’s been a good thing to keep us involved and our mind off other things.”

The Beavers have one goal in mind during this unique season: To become closer as a team off the court.

“We just want to have a couple of games, and grow together as a team,” White said.

 

• • •

 

Count Husson University in Bangor among Maine colleges that will also be looking to participate in in-state competition this winter.

On Wednesday afternoon, the athletic department’s Twitter page showed video of the Husson women’s basketball team going through drills — with players wearing masks — saying the team was practicing in hopes for future competition.

This means four of the North Atlantic Conference’s five Maine schools (Husson, Thomas College, UMF and University of Maine at Presque Isle) have announced plans to move forward with some form of a winter sports season. Maine Maritime Academy issued a statement on its web site, saying it was moving forward with spring sports schedules, beginning in March.

The Times Record sports reporter Eli Canfield contributed to this report.


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