Thomas College’s Mackenzie Burrows looks for a shot during a game last year in Waterville. Burrows, a Brunswick High School graduate, is one of several Maine college athletes waiting on the fate of their winter sports season. Contributed photo/Thomas College athletics

On the surface, it would seem a canceled conference season could be a momentum stopper for the Thomas College women’s basketball team.

Last year, the Terriers finished the year with an 11-15 record, their best season — and first with double-digit victories — since 2008. Thomas also finished with a 9-5 record in North Atlantic Conference play, and made it to the quarterfinal round of the NAC playoffs before being knocked out by Northern Vermont-Lyndon. Any chance of a repeat in conference success ended on Jan. 11, when the NAC canceled conference play. Thomas athletic director Christopher Parsons immediately followed that news announcing, just like with fall teams, Thomas would be open to games against fellow Maine schools. The University of Maine at Farmington and the University of Maine at Presque Isle made similar announcements in the following days.

“It’s kind of like a roller-coaster to me, because it’s a day-by-day thing,” Thomas women’s basketball coach Emily Cummins said. “And not knowing, really, the certainty of the situation. Are we going to be guaranteed these games? Or what happens if one of our kids test positive? It’s just kind of very uncertain thing that we have to take on day by day. Our kids have really bought in, and they want to play, and I hope we can get a couple games in. Just one day at a time.”

Despite that uncertainty, the Terriers have found a silver lining.

Thomas is young this season. Very young. The Terriers are currently carrying eight freshmen on the roster. Cummins said this season can be used as something of a red-shirt season, where players can learn the Terriers’ system and get acclimated to college basketball.

“I kind of feel it’s a bittersweet situation,” Cummins said. “Bitter in the fact that we were coming strong (last season). We hosted the first round of the (NAC) tournament for the first time in program history. Things just seemed to be going up. Then we got some really key recruits in that can really play. Just to not be able to compete and see how we would have done, because it’s an entirely new team. It’s kind of bitter there, but kind of sweet… There’s eight (freshmen) out of the 12 I have on my team. It’s kind of that sweet part, where I can work on skills and drills and really get them up to the college speed of things. Develop them this year, and get them back in competition next year.”

The Terriers managed to practice in the fall, and Cummins said she was proud of how quickly the team acclimated, not only with the veterans meshing with the new freshmen, but how the team was able to practice and adhere to COVID guidelines.

“The fall was great,” Cummins said. “Of course, it wasn’t normal looking. We had to phase in and do all of that stuff. But once we got out of Phase II and entered Phase III where we could scrimmage and do that stuff, I was extremely pleased with our team and how they were catching onto things, how they were executing. Their chemistry was very good on the court. In that Phase I and Phase II, we really had to work a lot on chemistry, because our team is so young. But I wish we didn’t have to take that huge gap of Christmas break off, because we’re going to be starting at square one again. I was extremely proud of them and how hard they worked and how much they bought in. They’re a very smart team, so I can’t say enough good things about them and their dedication to our program.”

Two immediate standouts among the freshmen players, according to Cummins, are forward Alydia Brilliant and point guard Bri Benecke. Brilliant had a standout high school career at Hampden Academy. Same for Benecke, a Messalonskee graduate, who is following her mother’s footsteps with the Terriers. Julia Benecke is a member of the Thomas College Athletic Hall of Fame, both as a basketball and softball standout. Julia Benecke scored over 1,000 points during her career.

“(Brilliant) is by far our most talented post player,” Cummins said. “I think she needs to get a little bit stronger, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what she can do. Bri is a challenging one, because she just does not speak yet. But she handles the show, she runs the point guard for us, and is really in command when she steps on the floor. She feels comfortable, so I’m looking forward to see what she can do.”

 

• • •

 

The New England Small College Athletic Conference is already bracing for the possibility of another lost season.

On Wednesday, a statement, addressed from the presidents of each school within the NESCAC, read that conditions “will need to improve significantly to conduct conference competition this spring.”

No decision has yet been made on whether there will or will not be a season as of press time. The statement went on to say that if there were to be a spring season, it would not start until late March or early April and “would necessarily be limited in scope and duration.”

If the season were to be canceled, it would be two consecutive spring seasons ended by the coronavirus pandemic. Only a few games were played by NESCAC spring teams before the season was terminated last March.

“We recognize how important athletic competition is to many of our students and our communities, and we understand the dismay many of you feel at the possibility that spring conference competition might be canceled two years in a row,” the statement read. “The Presidents will take this into consideration when making a final decision in late February or early March.”

Three Maine schools — Colby College in Waterville, Bates College in Lewiston and Bowdoin College in Brunswick — are linked to the NESCAC.

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.