Bates’ Delaney Nwachukwu, left, is fouled by University of Maine at Farmington’s Cassidy Delano during the first half of a Nov. 16 game in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The pandemic is forcing basketball coaches at Central Maine Community College, the University of Maine at Farmington and Bates College to frequently shuffle starting lineups.

But coaches have also been impressed with their recruits and their teams’ ability to be flexible in the face of COVID-19.

CMCC Mustangs

Men’s basketball coach Dave Gonyea is confronting the constant effects of the coronavirus on his team, but he remains hopeful for the second half of the season.

“We are coming back next week. Academically, we lost no guys, so we are looking pretty good,” Gonyea said. “We finished this semester out with a loss, which was a tough one to Southern Maine (Community College). But we are looking to forward to …. a three- or four-day mini training camp early on and then we hit the road for a few games that start our conference schedule when school starts.” 

Gonyea has been impressed with the Mustangs’ (7-6) chemistry and how they play and get along with each other on and off the court.

“Those three things are really keys to their success,” Gonyea said. “I wish they had a few more wins, but I am content with our team as we move forward, and our kids are getting better.”

CMCC’s DeMarco McKissic makes a basket during a Dec. 4 game in Auburn against Berkley College. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Gonyea said the Mustangs are adding a few more defenses and will be playing smarter basketball.

“The first half (of the season) is more of a run — give kids a chance to get up and down and find out where they fit in,” Gonyea said. “… The second half, you’ve got that all figured out, the rules figured out. Now it is time to focus and zero in on what everybody does right and try to get on the same page of taking advantage of their skills.”

Women’s coach Andrew Morong says his Mustangs (10-2) are ahead in some areas of the game but need improvement in other areas at this juncture.

Morong is well aware that the Mustangs are a young team consisting of one returner, two transfers and 13 “true” freshmen.

“So, we are incredibly inexperienced. I think that comes with a lot of peaks and valleys,” Morong said.

But Morong remains impressed with the players’ willingness to learn the game as well as step out of their comfort zones. He also wants his athletes to play with more intensity at practices, which he believes will translate into more competitiveness in games.

“I think their basketball IQ is incredibly high,” Morong said. “We just need the inexperienced to cement the rest of our foundation.”

He added that COVID-19 continues to dog his Mustangs and the rest of the Yankee Small College Conference.

“I think we’ve started 12 different players already this year,” he said. “Beyond missing games with COVID, we missed players with COVID so that shook up our starting lineups at times. … Honestly, they are just happy to be playing basketball.”

Bates Bobcats

Men’s coach Jon Furbush sees the Bobcats (5-3) in sort of a developmental stage as the team continues to make progress.

“We’ve battled some injuries and illness in the first semester,” he said. “So, a lot of guys had opportunities to play and step up, and I thought a lot of guys did do that. 

“So, I think our depth is definitely going to be a strength of ours as we head into the bulk of our season in January.”

Furbush is impressed with Bates’ consistency on defense, which is also a promising sign of things to come for the rest of the season.

“I think we are like No. 14 in the country in defensive field-goal percentage, and I think that if we didn’t foul so much, that we’d be in the top 10 in points-allowed per game,” he explained. “But we have been fouling teams a lot.

“You can’t guard the foul line, but I think we are guarding the (3-pointer) really well, which is an important piece of basketball right now. We are rebounding well. The defensive side has been a plus, and I think we have come a long way on offense since Day 1.

“I feel really confident that as we move forward here, we can beat anybody we play as long as we do what we are supposed to do.”

Women’s coach Alison Montgomery also said the coronavirus continues to play a disrupting role in the Bobcats’ (7-3) season.

Bates was missing several key players when it lost to Worcester Polytechnic Institute several days ago.

“It is what it is, and obviously it is something that everybody is going to have to deal with at some point,” she said. “This season (has been) a whole sort of (different) take on adversity and kind of different challenges that we haven’t had to face before.”

Montgomery said it has been a pleasure watching the Bobcats flourish as a balanced team, which allows Bates to spread responsibility up and down the roster.

“It has been really nice to watch them have different opportunities to shine. That has been one of the more enjoyable things for me,” she said. “I have been really happy with our sophomore class.”

She said her sophomores didn’t really have a freshman season and missed out on “experiencing the growing pains of being a freshman.”

UMF Beavers

Men’s coach Sam Leal said it is still a learning process for his young Beavers (6-2), who will proceed to the second half of the season with COVID-19 lurking in the shadows.

“It is going to be one month of craziness right now and hopefully we will get through it,” Leal said.

But he has been impressed by the team’s devotion to the game.

“It is a young, talented group that has a long ways to go, but I love their energy. I love their chemistry amongst each other,” he said. “They are so willing to do all the little things that it can take to be a great team.

“What’s funny is that it is a rebuilding, but our record and our team talent-wise is still sky high. It is not like a rebuilding year normally is. These guys are gaining experience every single day they practice and gaining experience every single time they compete on game night.”

Leal is impressed with the leadership of the team, composed of players like Kyle Donlin, Jack Kane and Terion Moss.

“They are becoming more confident and more comfortable for our guys to look up to,” Leal said. “Our young guys, who are gaining experience, have all stepped up. One in particular is (freshman) Will Harriman, (who) on our last game before break had 23 points and he hadn’t played many minutes in the previous games.

“We have a good depth of talent so when one person is out, the next player can step up and perform very, very well. I am learning, too. You know how brand-new I am. I have 12 games under my belt. I’m learning with these guys, too.”

Leal wants to see his Beavers continue making those self-sacrifices for the betterment of the team.

“It is just fun to be back on the court competing,” he said. “It is so much fun to watch these guys show off their talents.”

Women’s coach Nate Carson said he is pleased with the Beavers’ (6-4) efforts overall despite two tough losses heading into the break.

“I like our defense,” he said. “I think that has been (what) really carries us. We don’t shoot the ball particularly well, and if we are not getting to the rim, we are not putting points up. 

“If we don’t shoot the ball, it will have to come from the defense — turn them over or get them out in the open court and give us more space to get to the rim because it is not our shooting that is giving us that space.”

But he said the team’s devotion, chemistry and the way they look out for each other’s best interests on the court has been crucial to winning games.

Carson wants his Beavers to put in a stronger and more consistent effort each game in the second half.

“We know where our strengths and weaknesses are,” he said. “We have to stare them in the face and actualize them. If we get there, then our 10-point wins turn into 20 and our losses get a little bit closer in the margins.”

But Carson said it has been a fun and exciting journey as a first-year coach.

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