ORONO — The University of Maine returned to college athletics this week with the women’s basketball and men’s hockey teams beginning play and the women’s hockey team resuming its season after a two-week hiatus.
In Rhode Island, the Maine women’s basketball team began its 2020-21 season with a win Thursday as it defeated Providence 62-48. The Black Bears improved to 2-0 the following day with a 61-47 victory over Rhode Island in Kingston.
Elsewhere Friday, the Maine men’s hockey team opened play with a 1-1 tie against rival New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. The Black Bears then fell to a 6-2 defeat against the Wildcats in Saturday’s series finale.
The Maine women’s hockey team, which had been on hiatus since its Nov. 20-21 season-opening series against Holy Cross, earned a two-game sweep in its series against New Hampshire in Durham. The team claimed a 2-1 victory over the Wildcats on Friday before scoring a pair of third-period goals Saturday to win by the same score.
Sports have been on hold at UMaine since Nov. 24, on which date the school announced it was pausing athletic activities for two weeks following an increase in COVID-19 cases in the campus community. The university confirmed the return of athletics in a statement issued Tuesday.
“Our return to competition has prioritized the safety of our student athletes and Maine communities,” UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said. “We are incredibly proud of how hard and responsibly our student athletes have prepared for this season. Our players and coaches are ready, and all of Black Bear Nation will be cheering them on.”
Prior to the two-week hiatus, UMaine had canceled the entirety of its spring and fall sports seasons. The football team is tentatively scheduled to play a six-game Colonial Athletic Association slate from March 6-April 17.
UMaine is the first university in the state to resume athletics during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The North Atlantic Conference, which includes Maine Maritime Academy, Husson, Thomas College, UMaine-Farmington and UMaine-Presque Isle, is looking to begin play in January, while the New England Small College Athletic Conference, which includes Colby, Bates and Bowdoin, has canceled winter sports.
All UMaine athletic competitions to date this winter have been the road. With games that require players, coaches, officials, trainers and other necessary personnel subject to the state’s 50-person limit on indoor gatherings, there are obstacles to be cleared before events can take place in Bangor and Orono.
“With our cases rising and our positivity rate rising, we have been looking hard at what our policies are, including our indoor gathering limit,” Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said during Friday’s COVID-19 briefing. “We do recognize that there are some settings that are big and spacious where there might be a way to accommodate public health, but I think, at this time, we have some concerns.”
The Maine women’s basketball team will be back in action next Sunday, Dec. 20, when it takes on Northeastern at noon. The Black Bears will then begin their America East slate with 1 p.m. road games Dec. 22-23 against Hartford.
Maine men’s hockey will play its final game of the calendar year when it competes on the road against 15th-ranked UMass-Lowell at 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19. The women’s hockey team’s games against No. 7 Providence at 6 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. next Sunday have been moved to Rhode Island with Alfond Arena unavailable.
Maine’s men’s basketball team had been slated to start the season with a road game Saturday against Fordham, but a positive COVID-19 test within the Fordham program forced the postponement of that game. The Black Bears will begin play with a pair of noon road contests next weekend against Hartford.