Thomas College forward Ellie Hoving, of Bristol, dribbles the ball during a game last fall. Submitted photo/Thomas College athletics

WATERVILLE — As the Thomas College fall sports teams moved from phase 1 to phase 2 of the NCAA’s return to play guidelines, athletic director and men’s soccer coach Chris Parsons ran into a problem he’d never previously encountered. Some teammates that had been in separate training pods during phase 1 were meeting each other for the first time.

It was mid-September, and Parsons was doing introductions.

“For all our teams, it’s pretty good so far,” Parsons said about Thomas’ decision to begin a fall athletics season while a majority of the collegiate programs in Maine shut down for the season in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. “All the kids have been great. They’re adhering to all the guidelines… We’ll keep our fingers crossed. There’s been no positive cases on campus so far.”

Along with Thomas, three other Maine colleges — Colby College, the University of Maine at Presque Isle, and St. Joseph’s College — chose to move forward with a fall season, with the hopes of playing games later this fall, possibly against each other.

“Hopefully by October, we’ll get a few games in. A lot of things have to go our way,” UMPI athletic director Dan Kane said. “There’s still a lot of things in the air. I know some schools are talking (about scheduling).”

Thomas and UMPI are members of the North Atlantic Conference. Colby competes in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, while St. Joseph’s is a member of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference. Each of the those conferences canceled league competition in fall sports.

Saint Joseph’s College runners Brandon Whitlock Jr., left, Troy Hendricks and Michael Brooks finished within a minute of one another during a meet last season. Chance Viles/ American Journal

Colby athletic director Mike Wisecup outlined in an e-mail his school’s fall athletic plans.

“While we are continuing to assess sports activities at Colby and are considering a variety of options our priority is the safety of our community as it returns to campus. All students, faculty and staff at the College must participate in our robust testing program throughout the academic year. That involves initial testing of three times a week for the first two weeks and then twice a week for the rest of the semester,” Wisecup wrote.

Once students went through the initial phases of testing, Colby’s fall teams began organized practices.

“Following the decision of the NESCAC presidents, we will not be having any conference competitions this fall. However, our coaches have been creative in thinking about how to work with their teams to provide a great experience this semester.”

Early practices at UMPI involved teams breaking into pods of no more than 10 athletes, with student-athletes working out at least 15 feet apart.

“Really, we’re just doing conditioning,” Kane said. “There’s no equipment.”

Kane said for athletes accustomed to doing things a certain way for years, some of the changes were difficult.

“It’s so different to remember not to give your teammate a high five,” Kane said.

Colby football coach Jack Cosgrove compared the workouts his team has held to the spring practices he oversaw in his two-plus decades as head coach at the University of Maine. There are no seniors taking part, just 22 first-year players and returning sophomores and juniors. The Mules are in the weight room Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they’re on the field working on drills without equipment. After being off since March, and with varying degrees of facilities being open around the country, Cosgrove wasn’t sure how often his players were able to work out at home. With that in mind, the first few weeks of Colby football workouts are dedicated to nothing more than conditioning.

“No football, no bags. It’s kind of linear lateral speed development. I wanted to see where all our guys were (conditioning-wise),” Cosgrove said. “It’s been very good. The guys are excited about it. You can tell something was missing.”

In the first week of September, St. Joseph’s athletic director Will Sanborn said the school’s teams were working in small groups, three days a week.

Colby College football coach Jack Cosgrove encourages his players during a a Sept. 15, 2018 game in Waterville. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file photo

“We’re very excited to get going. I’m very pleased with the way they’ve handled the guidelines. It’s very encouraging,” Sanborn said.

However, St. Joe’s went to remote learning on Sept. 14, in response to the detection of nine positive COVID-19 cases on the Standish campus. It’s unclear how that move would affect the school’s athletic plans for the remainder of the fall semester. Sanborn directed all questions on the matter to Oliver Griswold, the school’s Associate Vice President and Chief Brand and Marketing Officer. Griswold did not return repeated phone calls.

Kane said any decision by the North Atlantic Conference would not likely change UMPI’s fall plans. Parsons said Thomas teams are on track to move to phase 3 — which allows for full contact practices — on Sept. 29. That opens the door for games, and he’s talked to two of the schools in Maine about possibility scheduling games in multiple sports in October.

“If everything aligns right, we could play on weekends in October,” Parsons said.

“We’re still going to do whatever we can do in the fall. We have a bunch of dual sport athletes. They play volleyball and softball, or soccer and baseball. We’re trying to not put them in the position to make that difficult choice (between sports),” Kane said.

Parsons is a member of the NAC’s return to play committee, and said it has discussed a number of scenarios for the spring, including playing fall sports. That said, expecting fall sports could be like waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.

“We’ve been looking at everything. There’s a lot of factors that will go into our decision,” Parsons said. “The priority (in spring) is spring sports, because they’ve already missed out.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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