Central Maine Community College’s Eliza Brault, right, and Kristen Huntress center, steal the ball from Bryant & Stratton’s Madison Perez during a November 2019 game in Auburn. Brault is the only returning player on the CMCC women’s basketball team. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Students will be back on campus a Central Maine Community College this fall. And, after more than a year without competition, so will athletics.

CMCC athletic director and men’s basketball coach David Gonyea said the school came to the decision after watching the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination and how other colleges and high school sports handled returning to competition.

“We have been slowly getting there. We have been watching the COVID situation, and we reacted accordingly,” Gonyea said. “I think everybody we have talked to, whether its elementary, high school, college or the pros, everybody wants to play and they want to do it safely. We watched everything closely and our (Maine Community College) System has deemed that we can do this in a safe manner. We will follow COVID protocols to the bitter end to keep everybody safe, but we will be back in the fall.”

CMCC women’s basketball coach Andrew Morong, who also is the director of admissions and high school relations, is excited to see the school’s athletes back at school in the fall.

“We are extremely excited that we will be returning to campus and all of our athletics will be returning to normal at the college,” Morong said. “Overall, we are just thrilled to have students back on campus. … To have all the teams back on campus is incredibly exciting, and we are counting down the days, especially women’s basketball. We had a wrench thrown at us in a historic run, four straight national championship game appearances and four straight Yankee Conference championships.”

Morong said Eliza Brault of Ossipee, New Hampshire, is the only returning player who was on the women’s basketball team that lost in the national championship game in March 2020. The Mustangs have 15 freshmen this year and will be the youngest team in the program’s history.

Brault said she has had to work to keep herself motivated during the past year with no competition.

“I am extremely excited. I have been playing basketball since I was 5 years old,” Breault said. “Having one year off because of COVID was definitely out of the ordinary. And I have played AAU my whole life, too. I never had a full year off, so I had to stay self-disciplined and whatnot.”

Reid Cote of Wales, a returning first baseman and pitcher for the CMCC baseball team, did personal training with Edward Little coach Dave Jordan to keep his skills sharp.

“I do a lot of one-on-one stuff with Dave Jordan, and I’ve done a lot of work with him since I was in the first grade,” Cote, who played at Oak Hill School, said.

Following the initial shutdown in March 2020, last July CMCC sports were then postponed until January 2021. In November, The Yankee Small College Conference, in which most of CMCC’s teams compete, canceled the winter sports season. Then, earlier this  year, the conference called off the spring season.

The sports most affected by the COVID-19 shutdown have been baseball and softball because those teams play fall and spring schedules.

Mustangs baseball coach Ryan Palmer is ready to get back on the diamond.

“Technically, with baseball, you can say (we lost) three seasons — we play in the fall too,” Palmer said. “We missed that first spring season when COVID hit, then we missed (last fall’s) season and this past spring season — if you want to get technical, that’s three seasons.”

The Maine Community College System, which also includes Southern Maine Community College and York County Community College, is requiring all athletes to be vaccinated in order to play. Gonyea, who is also CMCC’s Director of Housing and Security, played a role in that decision.

“Our Maine Community College System has decided that if you are going to play sports through (one of the three schools), you need to be safe and vaccinated,” Gonyea said. “I am in total support of that. In fact, I recommend that for no other reason than why expose yourself and have that hanging over your head. Are you playing teams that are vaccinated, what are their rules on it? I think just take care of yourself, keep your kids safe, get them vaccinated and move forward. That’s what we are doing.”

The Yankee Small College Conference is recommending but not requiring that all athletes at member schools be vaccinated.

Palmer understands why CMCC didn’t have the green light to return this spring like other colleges in Maine.

“Kind of the reason why we didn’t have a spring season, which was different than the (Division III) schools in Maine, is they were all (COVID) testing and we weren’t,” Palmer said. “We were behind the eight-ball as far as that stuff goes.”

The baseball team was able to do drills in small groups in which about 10 players participated.

The baseball team was able to do drills, and had 10 players participate in small groups.

Still, it was frustrating for Cote to see his former Oak Hill teammates competing this past spring.

“I have many friends that are on the high school team (from) when they were freshmen and I was a senior in high school,” Cote said. “High school was playing baseball two or three times a week with no problems, just like normal. I am sitting at college with my teammates and coaches, and if we are lucky, we are having two practices a week because we are trying to follow guidelines. While the high school kids wearing masks and social distancing but they are still playing baseball.

Morong said that CMCC has handled the COVID-19 pandemic well.

“I have complete trust in our leadership at the institution, and I work there full-time as an administrator myself, outside of being a basketball coach,” Morong said. “Knowing the leadership team we have at the institution quite well, I had full confidence in them to make a decision they felt best for our students, for our facility and staff. I am glad how they handled things going into COVID, through COVID, and now as we are tip-toeing away from it, I think they handled it flawlessly and they built a lot of excitement at the college.”

Breault was confident that there would be a 2021-22 season when vaccinations started opening up to more age groups.

“I think things were winding down once the vaccine came out, and people are getting that,” Brault said. “I was really hoping that (the school) would announce there would be a season. I don’t know what I would do if we didn’t.”

Gonyea, who is in charge of 12 varsity athletic teams, said putting schedules together has more difficult than normal, especially for fall sports.

“It was challenging because (schedules are made) a year out, and you have to deal with other (schools’) restrictions, and we play (schools) in five, six states,” Gonyea said. “Some of those states, New York especially, might not be ready to travel yet out of state, or their administration is telling them, ‘Listen, keep out-of-state travel to a minimal, please.’ Everyone has different rules. We had to rework our travel to make it work for everybody.”

Athletes return to school in late August and games start in early September.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Daily Headlines

  • Sign up and get the top stories to begin the day delivered to your inbox at 6 a.m.