It is a beautiful summer night and on the outdoor basketball court at Husson University in Bangor, Barkha Sonkar is working on her game.
Sonkar, who began attending Husson in January, is hoping to make her debut for the Husson women’s basketball team this coming season.
For the time being, the native of Varanasi, India, is stranded in Bangor, living in a dormitory on the Husson campus in Bangor. There are three others in the dorm but she has her own room.
She and her parents have tried to book a flight for her but they haven’t been able to due to the air travel upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. International flights to India have been suspended since March 23; a daily flight from Newark to Delhi resumes Friday.
Women’s basketball coach Kissy Walker said the reason Sonkar didn’t return home in March is because she had just arrived in Bangor in late January and there was concern about the impact the 9 1/2 hour time difference would have on her academics.
Walker, who is starting her 30th year as the head coach at Husson in the fall, and Sonkar have talked about having her stay in India if she can get home and take classes online, and then return to Husson in January.
But there is no telling when, or if, a season will begin due to the pandemic.
One plus for Sonkar is the fact that she feels safer in Maine than she would in her native India, which had 793,802 cases of the coronavirus as of July 10.
While she bides her time in Maine, the 5-foot-4 Sonkar spends close to four hours a day working out.
She runs and performs cardiovascular conditioning early in the day and works out with weights in the evening. Each workout lasts approximately two hours.
“Working out is one of my passions. I like to stay in shape. I have to work out every day although I will take a day off sometimes,” said the 22-year-old sports management major.
“She is in very good shape. She loves to work out,” said Walker, who added that she is impressed with some of the feats Sonkar is able to accomplish during her workouts.
Sonkar couldn’t come to Husson in the fall due to a family matter and arrived in late January.
Walker said they decided that they didn’t want to waste her final year of eligibility on just a handful of games, so she sat out the season and concentrated on her studies in preparation for this coming season.
There is no question in her mind that Sonkar will be a valuable asset to her team, Walker said.
“The thing that really impressed me is how much she directs traffic and how much she talks on the court,” said Walker. “She is a true point guard. She is comfortable with the ball in her hands, she can shoot the three, she’s a good defender and she’s very focused.”
There is some uncertainty about Sonkar’s predicament. Being an NCAA Division III institution, Husson can’t offer athletic scholarships, so Sonkar’s bill is adding up.
“I don’t spend much money,” said Sonkar, who doesn’t have a car or a job, and her friends are gone.
Walker has been driving her around, with Walmart and Target being the most popular stops.
Chick-fil-A is her favorite restaurant, though she typically eats healthy with mangoes, naan and green tea with ginger among her favorite snacks.
When she isn’t working out, refining her ball-handling and shooting on the outdoor basketball court or visiting Walmart and Target, Sonkar watches movies on her computer and talks to her family back in India on a daily basis.
Sonkar, who has three older sisters and a younger brother, came to the United States 10 years ago to attend the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. She graduated in 2016 and played two seasons at Hillsborough Community College in Plant City, Florida.
In her last season at Hillsborough, she averaged 9.7 points, two rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. She scored 17 or more points in seven of her 26 games, including 33 in a 100-66 win over Trinity College. She also had five games with at least four assists and four with at least three steals.
The India Under-18 National Team player moved on to NAIA school Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky, for the 2018-19 season and saw limited playing time. She averaged 6.5 minutes per game while appearing in 23 of the Blue Raiders’ 34 games, and averaged 2.1 points but led the team in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6).
She said she didn’t enjoy her time at Lindsey Wilson College so she returned to India after the season.
She had heard from some coaches about Walker and Husson University and decided to pursue it.
Husson also has a sports management program and that is what Sonkar wanted after studying psychology for two years at Hillsborough Community College.
“I want to be a coach,” she said.
As for her time in Maine, Sonkar admits she doesn’t care for snow, but she really enjoys the state even though she hasn’t been able to see much of it.
Sonkar said she is thankful to Husson University for giving her a place to stay while she is in limbo, and to Walker.
“The people are very nice. And I like the weather right now. I really like it here,” she said. “I am really looking forward to this season.”