The University of Maine women’s basketball team is eager to play, but start to the season still uncertain

 

University of Maine forward Blanca Millan, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last season, will return for a fifth season. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The University of Maine women’s basketball team is ready to go. The players have been working out in small groups since late summer and are practicing for a season that could begin Nov. 28 with a tough non-conference game against Mississippi State at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.

But a lot will have to happen before the Black Bears play a basketball game during a pandemic.

First, the team will need to meet COVID-19 testing requirements as set forth by the NCAA. Then, it will need an exemption from state government officials that would allow the team to travel out of state for contests.

The NCAA announced last month that the Division I basketball season would start Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. The Black Bears are scheduled to open the season three days later in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge tournament, which will also feature Mississippi State, Connecticut and Quinnipiac.

While the tournament features two Division I powerhouses in Mississippi State and UConn, it’s far from certain the games will be played.

“It’s something that’s really making me anxious, and a lot of people in our department (anxious),” head coach Amy Vachon said Friday afternoon in a Zoom call with media. “We’re ready to go. Our athletic department is ready to go. Our girls have been practicing since August. The NCAA has said this is the start date. Our conference is ready to go… So we’re ready, but we need help.”

The NCAA’s return-to-basketball guidelines recommend testing of all team personnel three times a week, on non-consecutive days. Along with testing, UMaine will need Gov. Janet Mills to give winter sports teams an exemption that would allow them to travel out of state for games, as well as host out-of-state opponents.

“We are really in a tough spot right now. If that were to happen, if weren’t able to travel, that’d be a really hard pill to swallow. To see everyone else in the (America East) conference playing, and most teams in the country playing and we’re not, that would be really tough. We’re very positive, but we definitely need help. There’s no doubt about it,” Vachon said.

Fifth-year senior guard Blanca Millan, the America East Player of the Year in 2019, returned after missing most of last season to a knee injury. Millan said the entire team is excited to get going, even while practicing in masks.

University of Maine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon instructs her team during a preseason game against Stonehill on Oct. 27, 2019 in Bangor. Morning Sentinel file photo

“You get used to it. You kind of forget about (the mask). We’ve been doing it for two or three months now,” Millan said. “We practice every day as if we’re playing tomorrow.”

The good news for the Black Bears is that they have more than a month for