Athletes stunned by UM cuts

Posted April 15, 2009, at 11:43 p.m.

Dimitri Anastasiou has completed his college soccer eligibility.

But the University of Maine men’s soccer striker and captain was still floored and impacted by the news that the men’s soccer program, along with the women’s volleyball program, has been suspended by the university due to budget cuts.

“It’s devastating. I’m so upset. I was speechless when I first heard about it,” said Anastasiou. “I feel bad for the boys. We’ve all worked so hard to get this program to become better and it has been the past couple of years.

“And now we got hit with this,” added Anastasiou.

UMaine athletics director Blake James on Wednesday announced that the cuts, which take effect June 30, were made to help the athletic department achieve its share ($253,000) of a university-wide $8.8 million budget reduction for fiscal 2010.

Maine’s five wins this season (5-10-2) matched the win total of the previous three seasons combined (5-41-3).

Anastasiou is confident the program would have become a contender in America East and said he would have taken pride in knowing “I graduated from there and I played there.

“Now there’s just an empty feeling,” said Anastasiou.

Jessica Wolfenden, a senior setter/outside hitter on the volleyball team, said the news of the program’s demise came, “straight out of left field. I never thought that would happen. I thought it was a joke.”

She and her teammates recently raised $4,500 through a raffle to ensure next year’s team could take a spring trip and play in tournaments.

“We wanted to support the program so they can continue to get better,” said Wolfenden, a native of Ottawa, Ontario. “It’s sad to know we worked so hard raising money so teams in the future could have the experience we did and now they can’t.”

The volleyball team had a breakthrough season last fall, going 14-13 after suffering through a 4-23 campaign two years ago.

“And we were the only team to take a set off [America East champion] Albany this year. We had a good year. We were competitive in the conference [7-5]” pointed out Wolfenden, who helped the team reach the league semifinals.

The team was supposed to play in a tournament in two weekends.

Wolfenden said the team has banded together to handle the adversity together.

“We’re all so far away from home, we’re looking to each other to get through it. We know what each other is going through,” said Wolfenden.

Anastasiou said if he knew this was going to happen, he would have rather had it occur when he was a freshman.

“I’ve already been through the program. I’ve poured so much sweat into this program. But now it’s done, it’s over, and I have nothing to show for it,” said Anastasiou.

The timing has complicated the situation, according to Anastasiou and Wolfenden.

“The timing couldn’t have been worse. It’s terrible. All the schools are pretty much settled in now with next year’s team and next year’s roster. It’s going to be tough for the guys to find another place to play. I really feel bad for them,” he said.

Several of the players were trying to find other schools after the news broke, he said.

“Looking at schools is a long process and you want time to think about your decision,” said Wolfenden. “We’re almost done the school year and a lot of teams have finished their recruiting. Our players [with eligibility] are stuck. I feel bad for them.”

In addition to the 21 players who could return to the men’s soccer team next season, coach Pat Laughlin and assistant Trevor Singer had recruited a talented nine-member class for next fall and they have decisions to make.

“I don’t really know what to think. At the moment, this is a shock to everyone. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Jordon Meyers, a senior at Bangor’s John Bapst High School who is one of the nine recruited players.

“This definitely happened at the worst possible time,” said Meyers. “I hadn’t applied to any other schools.”

Meyers said his education is virtually all paid for at Maine through academic scholarships.

“I’m torn. I want to play soccer but, at the same time, I don’t want to incur a massive amount of debt [attending another school],” said Meyers. “I was really looking forward to playing at Maine in my local setting.

“I feel bad for the kids who have decided to come here from far away,” added Meyers. “I live close so it’s not too big of a deal for me. But these kids could have gone somewhere else and this must be real hard on them.”

Laughlin said he and Singer are trying to place their players in schools for next season.

“We’re going to do the best we can to help them fulfill their dreams of playing college soccer while getting their educations,” said Laughlin, a four-year letterwinner and former Black Bear soccer captain.

“Not only as a coach, but also as an alum, this is an extremely hard situation to comprehend and digest,” said Laughlin. “We were looking forward to the fall. We were excited about the future.”

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