Some lost out on postseason chances. Others had most of their spring season snatched away. All will lose invaluable training opportunities with their teammates and support staffs during the summer.

The coronavirus pandemic has already caused significant disruptions for college athletes. Their schools were shuttered, shifted learning to online-only classes. All competition and practices were halted in mid-March. Training facilities were closed. Meetings with coaches and teammates became virtual.

Now there are no guarantees they will be able to return to campus at the end of summer, and the 2020-21 seasons are in jeopardy. They have seen whole teams cut from college athletic programs, such as Bowling Green baseball, Old Dominion wrestling and Cincinnati men’s soccer. They know of staff members in their own athletic departments who have been furloughed or laid off.

But for five Mainers who are Division I athletes, there remains a steadfast determination to do what they can to improve on their own this summer and a hope to have the opportunity to rejoin their teammates again on campus.

Here are their stories.

JACKSON COUTTS, Orono

University of Rhode Island baseball

Jackson Coutts batted .451 with four home runs in 13 games for the University of Rhode Island this spring before the season was cut short by the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Rhode Island Athletics

Jackson Coutts, the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Player of the Year while at Orono High in 2017, lost valuable opportunities this spring because of the virus outbreak. It will cost him again this summer.

A 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior outfielder/first baseman at the University of Rhode Island, he was off to an outstanding start this season.

Jackson Coutts

In 13 games, he’d already tied his career high with four home runs and was hitting a .451 with seven doubles. The Rams were 8-5, with wins against two nationally ranked opponents. Coutts had worked hard in the offseason to trim some weight, get stronger and make his junior season his best, confident that with a strong season he would be drafted in the middle rounds of the 40-round Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Then the college season was scuttled. The Cape Cod League canceled its season, so Coutts can’t return for a second season with the Falmouth Commodores. And, the MLB draft was reduced to just five rounds. Now Coutts won’t get drafted, and if he signs a free-agent contract, the maximum bonus has been set at $20,000.

“That’s the tough part, what kind of hit me the hardest – this was my draft season and we lost the season. Everything I put into this offseason to be at my best, I don’t want to say it’s all for nothing, but it’s pretty darn close,” Coutts said. “It just sucks that you can’t see what would have happened if you’d played the whole season.”

Coutts said he’s not sure what his plans are for next year. If he is offered a free-agent contract, he may take a shot at pro ball, assuming minor leagues look like they can begin playing. Or, he might return to Rhode Island. He believes the Rams will be even better next season, with many key contributors and strong depth expected back in 2021.

“It’s still up in the air. We’ll make the right decision as a family when the time comes,” he said.

In the meantime, he’s fortunate he and his dad, University of Maine softball coach Mike Coutts, can at least get onto UMaine’s Mahaney Diamond. He can work on his fielding and take batting practice.

For two hours at a time, he can still be a baseball player, and in a summer of unknowns that helps.

MACKENZIE HOLMES, Gorham

Indiana University basketball

As a freshman, former Gorham High star MacKenzie Holmes helped spark Indiana University to a program-high 24 wins this winter. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Mackenzie Holmes considers herself among the luckier college athletes. The 6-foot-3 center made the All-Big Ten freshman team this winter. She set a school single-season record by making 63.4 percent of her shots from the floor. While averaging 10.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, she was a key part of a young Hoosiers team that set program records for wins (24-8) and conference victories (13-5).

Most importantly, she has three seasons left.

But she also had a sure-fire trip to the NCAA tournament – a long-held dream – wiped out. Indiana’s best season could have been even better.

“I’m trying to think positive and hope that we will get some time to do something together in the summer, because it really stunk the way it just ended all of a sudden,” said Holmes, 19. “We definitely had something special on our team this year. The chemistry we had was really great.”

But Holmes is determined to not look back, she said. That just leads to negative thoughts. Instead, she’s finding ways to work out and keep getting faster and stronger. As she says, you can always go out for a run, and she has exercise equipment in her basement and a basket in her driveway.

Holmes said her mantra is just to keep getting better every day, and mental toughness is something a pandemic can sharpen.

“It’s hard to work out and motivate yourself. I just didn’t realize how lucky I was to have teammates around,” she said.

As a high school standout at Gorham, Holmes played in three straight Class AA title games, winning championships as a freshman and sophomore and leading her team to the final as a junior. As a senior, she was a top 100 recruit nationally and part of perhaps Maine’s best-ever class, which included former club teammates Anna DeWolfe of Greely (now at Fordham) and Faith Blethen of Boothbay (George Washington).

If Indiana University doesn’t open up for summer sessions or workouts, Holmes hopes she can at least organize some old-school pickup games.

“If we’re allowed to be in groups big enough, if we could all work out together that would be great, because I think we’re all going through the same thing. Even if it’s a struggle, we’d all be struggling together. That would be super helpful.”

LILY POSTERNAK, York

Duke University field hockey

Lily Posternak of Duke has twice been named to the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Division I Academic team. The York High grad will be a senior in 2020-21. Nat LeDonne photo

As a fall sport athlete, Lily Posternak knows her senior season is in greater jeopardy, especially if the revenue-generating behemoth that is college football doesn’t operate.

Duke is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, a Power Five football conference that includes Clemson, which has won two national titles in the last four years.

Lily Posternak Nat LeDonne photo

“I’m praying that we get to play, and play all our games, because being a senior, it would be very disappointing if that was compromised,” Posternak said. “I know it’s connected to revenue-generating sports. … I definitely think so.

“I just think that football, like basketball, they have the largest crowds, people go to football games, or obviously basketball games for Duke. That’s what filters and trickles down to the rest of the sports, and in my opinion, it really is going to depend on football and whether they’re able to have fans attend their games, and with tickets sales such a large factor.”

A three-time selection as the Maine Sunday Telegram’s field hockey Player of the Year, Posternak was twice named the Varsity Maine Female Athlete of the Year. York went 71-1 and won three state titles in field hockey with Posternak a four-year starter. She was a starting guard on the York basketball team that won a state title in 2017. She played on the national U-19 field hockey team prior to attending Duke.

As a Blue Devil, she’s played in every game over three seasons, starting every game in midfield as a junior. Last season, she scored four goals, including a tally in Duke’s first-round NCAA tournament loss to Iowa, and added four assists. She has twice been named to the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Division I Academic team.

Posternak knows the coronavirus pandemic will result in significant changes off the field, as well. Crammed cafeterias and overflowing lecture halls, not to mention packed athletic arenas, won’t work.

But she is adamant she wants her senior season and final year of college to go forward.

“If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re scared, stay home, but you have to live your life at some point,” Posternak said. “I’m just going to go down to Durham (North Carolina) and stay safe and wear a mask and social distance. Hopefully things will start opening back up and have that college feel again. I’m just excited to be down there and I love being down there.”

BRENDAN TINSMAN, Cape Elizabeth

Wake Forest baseball

Brendan Tinsman of Wake Forest takes batting practice in his family’s barn in Cape Elizabeth last week. He hopes to play this summer in the Coastal Plain League, which has teams in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Like Posternak, Brendan Tinsman plays for an ACC school in nearby Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Wake Forest’s athletic program has already trimmed coaches salaries in the wake of losing an estimated $2.3 million in NCAA basketball tournament revenue. Even though Wake Forest, like Duke, is known more for its basketball program, football is the biggest revenue producer.

“I don’t know how the budgeting will go. I know a lot of our trainers and strength coaches have been furloughed,” Tinsman said. “I’m not sure what will happen if football isn’t played, because that’s a big part of all the sports’ budgets.”

After hitting 10 homers in his freshman season in 2019, Tinsman was batting .291 with two homers and four doubles through 18 games when his sophomore season ended. He was splitting time between catching – his regular position – and right field.

He also had his first trip to the Cape Cod league canceled by coronavirus. Tinsman had been scheduled to be a teammate of Jackson Coutts on the Falmouth team.

Home in Cape Elizabeth, Tinsman said he’s fortunate to have exercise equipment at his house, a hitting cage in the barn, and to be eating his mom’s cooking.

He works out daily with a childhood friend, Scarborough’s Wade Sansone, a sophomore infielder/catcher at Sewanee, a Division III program in Tennessee.

“We’ve been quarantining together and we lift, and then we’ll hit and we throw four, five times a week, and by 11 a.m., I’m done for the day,” Tinsman said.

Tinsman, who stands 6-2 and weighs 220, said he’s gotten bigger, stronger and faster, “which is the goal,” but realizes he’s missing out by not playing games.

“It’s like zoo tiger training versus wild tiger training. Zoo training is like being in the cage without any adversity, where the wild training is like having games. It’s taking away from the in-game training,” Tinsman said.

Tinsman does have a roster spot in the Coastal Plain League, which has teams in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. That league has not canceled its season, instead postponing its start to July 1.

“But we’re waiting to see what would happen. We’re supposed to report and play inner-squad games the middle of June,” Tinsman said.

If that league becomes another casualty of the pandemic, Tinsman is formulating a plan to gather up some of Maine’s top players for a little sandlot ball.

“I’ll definitely be sending out some text messages to guys to try to get some games together, just to keep everyone playing and keep the pitchers lose and see some live arms.”

EMILY ESPOSITO, Gorham

Boston University basketball

Emily Esposito led Gorham High to Class A state titles in 2016 and 2017. She played one season at Villanova as a redshirt freshman before transferring to Boston University. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The 2019-20 basketball season was already a transition year for Esposito, the Miss Maine Basketball and Maine Sunday Telegram Player of the Year in 2017 after leading Gorham High to a second straight unbeaten Class AA championship.

Esposito was in her first year at Boston University after transferring from Villanova. She had hoped to receive a waiver to play right away, but that was denied. She says, in hindsight, that might have been a good thing, because it allowed her more time to rest and rehabilitate a nagging knee injury. Taking the redshirt season, she began practicing with her new teammates midway through the season and adjusting to a new campus.

Emily Esposito Steve Babineau photo

This summer was supposed to be a time to take more classes on campus and work out with her teammates.

“I really anticipated these next couple of months would be where I would make a lot of progress. I think I still am, but in a very different way than I anticipated,” Esposito said.

Esposito has been back in Gorham since March 12. That day, she and her BU teammates were 10 minutes into a shoot-around session preparing to play a Patriot League playoff game against Lehigh. The coaches pulled the team together, told them campus was shutting down, and they had to leave.

She turned 21 at home, but a big celebration had to wait. Once local gyms closed, Esposito had to figure out ways to stay in shape and continue to strengthen her knee.

Her dad, a carpenter, affixed handles to logs, creating Maine-made weights. She threw more logs into an old duffel bag, tied a rope to the bag, and simulated a favorite exercise of dragging sand bags.

“It’s been funny. I’ve always been interested in exercise science. For me, it’s been fun to figure out different workouts,” Esposito said.

She’s still getting up her shots, but not in a shiny gymnasium with a coach watching every move.

“I have relied on my old hoop in the driveway. Back to my childhood days playing my (older) brothers in the driveway,” Esposito said. “Some of my teammates who live in cities, they have boards covering all the hoops in the playgrounds.”

Esposito says she’ll be ready to return to campus in the fall, knowing full well that Massachusetts is New England’s coronavirus hot spot.

What is more unsettling is the uncertainty. “As a college athlete, you have so much of your life planned out for you,” she said.

“It’s about being self-motivated and disciplined and taking ownership in what you do. Can you push yourself on your own without having the coach and teammates and trainers there? That will be the most telling part when everyone gets back for every college.”


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