ORONO, Maine — The season is officially over for the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
Six days after the team bus crashed on Interstate 95 in Georgetown, Mass., the university announced Monday that the Black Bears will not participate in the America East Championship later this week in Albany, N.Y.
“It has been a difficult time for these student-athletes following the accident,” Robert Dana, UMaine’s vice president for student affairs and dean of students said in a press release. “Our focus has been and continues to be the health and well-being of these players in their athletic and academic lives.
“Knowing students as I do and having consulted with experts, my recommendation to President [Paul] Ferguson, AD [Steve] Abbott and Coach [Richard] Barron is that the UMaine women’s basketball team end its season to spend this time continuing to recuperate. They are back in the UMaine community and that’s what matters. Seeing them back on the road for the tournament would have been difficult and not in their best interest.”
Eighth-seeded UMaine was scheduled to play No. 1 Albany in Friday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal at SEFCU Arena. Instead, the Black Bears finish their season with a 4-24 record and Albany will receive a bye.
Last Friday, UMaine officials allowed team members to decide whether they wanted to play Saturday’s regular-season finale against New Hampshire at Memorial Gym.
With team members and other personnel still struggling with physical injuries and emotional pain in the aftermath of the accident, the university took a more active role Monday in protecting their best interests.
“We had to look at broader considerations from the university perspective and we had to weigh all the factors,” Abbott explained.
“The desires of the players were definitely an important consideration when we did this, but it was important for us to have the input of experienced and expert people on campus in terms of making this decision. The players’ welfare was our primary concern.”
Abbott said he and Barron met with the team twice on Monday before informing America East of the school’s decision.
“We are very sympathetic to the traumatic event Maine women’s basketball has experienced,” America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said in a press release. “We entrust this decision to the experts and professionals on Maine’s campus to do what is best for the student-athletes, coaches and staff.”
Team members were allowed to voice their opinions again Monday, but it was obvious some of them were not prepared to go back on the road.
“People are in different stages now in terms of dealing with this, but the one thing they were all clear about is that they wanted to act as a team,” Abbott said of the players’ collective attitude.
Abbott said there was no discussion about taking alternative transportation such as vans or cars to Albany.
“The overwhelming feeling they had was about traveling on a basketball trip right now,” Abbott said.
The Feb. 26 crash of the chartered Cyr Bus line motor coach seriously injured driver Jeff Hamlin of Charleston and left many passengers sore and shaken. The bus veered across two southbound lanes, the median and four northbound lanes — without hitting a single vehicle — and into some trees.
The 55-year-old Hamlin, who apparently experienced a medical issue that caused him to lose consciousness while at the wheel, was listed in fair condition Monday evening at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, according to a public affairs spokesman.
UMaine’s worst physical injuries included a broken hand suffered by freshman Milica Mitrovic and concussions to at least two members of the travel party.
“I felt like when we went through the accident — sitting there on the side of the interstate with 17 ambulances, and helicopters overhead, and all that stuff — that we were done, that there was no way we were getting back on the court this year,” said Barron, who could not be reached for comment Monday.
The lingering effects of the accident are weighing heavily on the players’ minds.
“I don’t think anybody will really understand what it was to be in the bus unless you were in the bus or saw it happening,” junior Ashleigh Roberts said Saturday.
“These kids haven’t been sleeping. They’re emotionally drained,” Barron said Saturday afternoon.
“The idea of getting on a bus for seven hours right now is one of the scariest things in the world for them,” he added.
The university has made counselors available to players, coaches and staff alike to talk about their feelings. Barron said those sessions have been beneficial for all involved.
“Obviously we’ve got a very attentive counseling staff here on campus that are available to these kids and helping them through it,” he said.
They have gone through the gamut of emotions, ranging from moments of euphoria when realizing they survived the crash to the horror of knowing how close they came to potentially being killed or seriously injured.
“I feel like not all of us have hit that moment where [we realize], ‘OK, we’re lucky to be alive,’” sophomore Courtney Anderson of Greene said Saturday. “It hasn’t hit me. I’m still very emotional about the whole situation.”
Barron and Abbott said they appreciates the patience and understanding shown by officials at the University of New Hampshire and at America East. Barron also praised the UMaine fans and other well-wishers who have reached out to the Black Bears.
“They’ve got healing to do and they’ve got to take some time to recover, but when it’s all said and done, I think they’re going to be fine,” Abbott said.