Elsa Daulerio has enjoyed a strong senior season for the Mt. Ararat girls basketball team, a Class A South contender.

As for whether her team will get an opportunity to prove itself in a state tournament next month, Daulerio acknowledged that she’s getting nervous.

“Oh yeah. I do worry a lot,” she said. “I know a lot of schools have been kind of shutting down recently. It’s been (happening) everywhere. So every day, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The accelerated spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant in Maine forced an increasing number of schools to either cancel games or pause extacurricular activies. The near-daily disruptions to the high school basketball schedule across the state has players and coaches wondering what the postseason tournaments in February could look like — and whether they’re in danger of not happening at all. State tournament play-in games are scheduled to begin Feb. 12.

Maine Principals’ Association director Mike Burnham said this week the basketball state tournaments are still on as scheduled after they were cancelled in 2020-21.

“It’s one of those things that I think a lot about, but I don’t talk a lot about. I think if you put it out there and actually put it in words, you’re kind of afraid it might happen,” Lawrence girls coach Greg Chesley said. “We’re obviously pretty worried about it. … In the last couple of weeks, it really seems to have hit home hard in the central Maine area, with so many teams and so many schools taking a week pause or a 10-day pause or going remote.”

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“I do worry about it. I hope it doesn’t happen to us,” added Kyle LePage, a junior forward on the Skowhegan boys team. “It really worries me, because I’d hate to see teams get caught with COVID and have to deal with not having a full team and go play a team and get blown out. … I try not to think about it. If it happens, it happens.”

Hall-Dale’s Jackson Leach (23) lands on top of Erskine Academy defender Liam Perfetto during a game earlier this season at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Others are less concerned.

“I’m not worried,” Skowhegan boys basketball ccoach Tom Nadeau said. “In the end, I think we’ll play. I think there are a lot of cases, but it’s omicron and the sickness and the illness part of it is not as severe. … Everybody’s got to deal with it, and I think in the end, we’ll be fine.”

Burnham, the MPA director, said Thursday that the priority remains to hold championships for all winter sports.

“I think we are moving forward, cautiously optimistic,” he said. “The overall philosophy is for all of our winter activities to have a postseason.”

Those plans include for the tournament to look pretty close to normal from a fan environment perspective, as well. The Augusta Civic Center, Cross Insurance Center in Bangor or Banks Exposition Center in Portland, all of which host regional tournament games, are planning to operate at full capacity. Masks will be required for spectators in Augusta and Bangor, while those at the Expo above the age of 5 will be required to mask inside as well as show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.

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Officials at all three venues said masking protocols for players on the floor will be up to the MPA. Burnham said the MPA will follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. The federal and state CDC this week recommended universal indoor masking for all school activities, regardless of vaccination status.

“As long as the recommendation from our health experts is that they should be masked, we will follow them,” Burnham said. “That’s not just basketball. That’s ice hockey, that would be indoor track … (swimmers) will be masked up to the point that they enter the pool.”

Rangeley’s Emma Grant (30) drives the baseline as Forest Hills’ Allie Dunning (5) and Emma Lacasse (25) defend during a Dec. 29 girls basketball game at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

With venues planning on allowing spectators, schools that have limited or even not allowed visiting fans at their home games could find themselves playing in front of large crowds. Winslow athletic director Jim Bourgoin, whose school has allowed only home fans at its basketball games this season, called it a “small worry,” but added that teams will adjust and focus on being as careful as possible.

“That’s all you can do,” he said. “Follow your own school guidelines and be as safe as you can. … I’m pretty confident (the tournament) is still going to happen. Hopefully, we’ve survived the worst of this. Hopefully, we’re in it right now, and things will get better by February.”

Freeport athletic director Craig Sickels shared that optimism, although he’s unsure what the tournament games would look like.

“At the very least, I think they’ll be played, but they may not be played with spectators, or a limited amount of spectators,” he said. “I’m relatively confident those will go off, unless something drastic happens with COVID. Probably the most drastic thing would be no spectators, and/or there would probably be some schools that won’t be able to play because they don’t have enough players.”

Added South Portland athletic director Todd Livingston: “Hopefully we follow suit in Maine that there’s this big spike, either we’ve already reached it or it’s coming soon, and then it’s going to tail back down,” he said. “The tournament (being) about a month away, it would be my hope that perhaps as a society, we’re in a better spot in terms of what we’re dealing with right now.”

Even if the tournament atmosphere looked different, Gardiner girls coach Mike Gray said the important thing would be having the opportunity to play.

“I think after having fans all winter, it would be a letdown for the kids,” he said. “But after everything that they dealt with last year, I think they would be unfazed. I think once the game started, there’s still something to play for.”

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