CASTINE — After seeing their seasons canceled abruptly a year ago, spring athletes at five Maine universities appear set to compete in their favorite sports in the weeks and months ahead.
The North Atlantic Conference announced Wednesday that it will be moving ahead with a 2021 spring sports season. The announcement means spring athletes at Maine Maritime Academy, Husson University, Thomas College, the University of Maine at Farmington and the University of Maine at Presque Isle will get playing opportunities after losing a season to the novel coronavirus pandemic a year ago.
“Though we remain cautious, we are thrilled to move forward with plans to return to competitive sports,” said NAC Presidents’ Council Chairman Ray Rice. “It has been a long year, and student athletes have missed so much already, but we have smart plans and backup plans in place. Administrators across the conference are committed to providing a meaningful experience this spring if at all possible.”
The move means the conference’s traditional spring activities, baseball, softball, men’s tennis, track and field and lacrosse, can be played at the five Maine universities and seven others throughout the Northeast. The conference is also moving golf and women’s tennis, which could not be played in the fall, to the spring season.
NAC baseball, softball and lacrosse teams will be limited to one conference opponent per week, though multiple games against the same opponent can be scheduled. Teams will be split into East and West divisions for conference play in order to reduce travel across state lines.
Following regular season play, baseball, softball and men’s lacrosse teams will participate in separate division tournaments with the winners of each meeting for the overall conference title. A conference title game will also be held for women’s lacrosse, though the top teams in the regular season standings will advance straight to the title game.
Golf teams from the five Maine schools will compete in an East division tournament April 24 at Waterville Country Club. The winner of that tournament will advance to play the winner of the West division tournament for the overall conference title April 30 at The Orchards Golf Course in South Hadley, Mass.
NAC teams will unveil schedules on their team websites once that information has been finalized. Administrators will re-evaluate plans for spring sports two weeks prior to the first day of the season, the start date for which has yet to be announced.
“We are still in a global pandemic, but we have learned a lot along the way,” Commissioner Marcella Zalot said in a statement. “We stand ready to adjust as needed but remain hopeful the perseverance and resiliency of all, especially our student athletes, are rewarded and we are able to end the academic year on a strong and positive note with NAC competition.”
The NAC voted in July to cancel its fall 2020 season following the loss of the spring campaign. Conference play resumed with basketball this winter, though the action has been relatively limited with teams such as MMA playing as few as three contests.
In other NAC news, the conference announced Thursday that it will be introducing swim and dive as its newest championship sport next season. The conference added the sport this season but held a virtual invitational in lieu of a traditional championship event. Husson won both the men’s and women’s titles in the meet, which will take place tomorrow, March 12, through Sunday, March 14.
“We are thrilled to expand opportunities for student athletes as our membership grows,” Zalot said. “Men’s and women’s swimming and diving is a perfect addition to NAC championships. We are eager to sponsor another winter sport and provide a home conference for these student athletes and coaches.”