Bowdoin College senior point guard Sam Roy (1) dribbles the ball against New York University in a women’s NCAA Division III Second Round contest inside Morrell Gymnasium in Brunswick on Saturday. The NCAA announced that the Division III tournament was canceled due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. The Polar Bears, who had advanced to the Division III national championship game the past two seasons, were slated to host Trine on Friday in a “Sweet Sixteen” contest in Brunswick. (Brian Beard / CiPhotography.com)

BRUNSWICK — For Bowdoin College women’s basketball coach Adrienne Shibles and her Polar Bears, playing inside an empty Morrell Gymnasium this weekend was sad, but not devastating.

On Thursday, sad went straight to devastating as the NCAA announced it was canceling not only March Madness but “all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships” because of concerns over coronavirus.

That announcement brought an end to Bowdoin’s chance at hosting this weekend’s Division III sectional, with the Polar Bears slated to entertain Trine out of Indiana along with Oglethorpe from Georgia and Whitman from Washington state, as well as squashing the team’s opportunity for a third straight appearance in the national championship game in Columbus, Ohio.

“While we understand the reasoning, this is definitely not the way we wanted this season to end,” tweeted a statement from the Bowdoin College women’s basketball team. “(Seniors) Olivia (Ware), Sam (Roy) and Maddie (Hasson) — thank you for your incredible leadership, work ethic and character. You embody everything BWB players strive to be. We love you.”

“It is easily one of the most difficult things that we have had to do here,” said Bowdoin College assistant athletic director Jim Caton. “We had a feeling it was coming after the NBA and NCAA conference championships canceled over the last 12 to 24 hours. The writing was on the wall. It doesn’t soften the blow at all, but when that message came through at 4:15 this afternoon, there were a lot of tears in the training room. There are things you can control and things you can’t. This is one of those things we couldn’t.”

Bowdoin wasn’t the only Maine team losing out on a chance at postseason glory. The announcement by the NCAA brought to an end the most promising University of Maine men’s hockey season in Red Gendron’s seven years as head coach.

The UMaine women’s basketball team had its season end earlier in the day when America East canceled its championship game at Stony Brook University, scheduled for Friday. Stony Brook was awarded the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid, one that had no value hours later when the NCAA called off the tournament.

Hockey East had also canceled its tournament earlier Thursday. Maine, which finished with an 18-11-5 record, was to have started a best-of-three quarterfinal series with Connecticut on Friday night. The Black Bears rank 15th in the Pairwise standings, which are used to determine NCAA tournament entries.

It would have been Maine’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012.

Still, Maine Athletic Director Ken Ralph supported the NCAA’s decision to cancel the tournaments because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think it is the most responsible decision to make given we’re in a public health crisis,” he said Thursday afternoon. “There are things more important than sports and we’ve got to get our priorities right.”

The NCAA’s decision to cancel spring sports championships was somewhat surprising, but not entirely unexpected.

“I think everybody thought this could be a possibility,” said Ralph. “This is quite the proactive stance the NCAA has taken, looking a long way out.”

Ralph had yet to meet with the UMaine spring athletes shortly after the news broke. But earlier he had said the university needed to take care of its student-athletes. UMaine is shifting to remote learning when classes resume from Spring break on March 23.

“We’ve got to help them work through this and help them complete their academic work,” he said. “We’ve got to help them in their academic pursuits and keep them healthy.”

America East’s decision to cancel its basketball championship – Vermont was hosting Hartford in the men’s title game, scheduled for Saturday – was disappointing for the Maine women’s team, which fought through numerous injuries to reach the title game for the fifth consecutive year.

“The decision was made in consultation with the conference’s leadership in light of the recent developments regarding the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This is a proactive decision to protect the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and everyone on our campuses,” the conference announced in a news release.

Maine Coach Amy Vachon agreed.

“We fully support the decision made by league officials to cancel the event,” she said in a statement. “The focus on public health, including the health and safety of our staff and student-athletes, is the No. 1 priority at this time.”

Ralph said he has received nothing but support from fans and family members since the decisions were made. “People have been incredibly understanding,” he said. “We’ve had more notes of support than we expected, including some from families who are incredibly grateful these decisions were made.”

Ralph said the concern over the COVID-19 virus became very real Wednesday night when the NBA suspended its season.

“It really raised a lot of eyebrows,” he said. “We’re not in this alone, it’s a national thing. Everybody is experiencing it. There was a whole range of emotions and we’ve got to take care of our student-athletes and our coaches.”


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