Members of the University of Maine at Fort Kent women's soccer team show off their championship banner after beating Florida National University 2-1 to win the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Division I national championship at the Princess Anne Sports Complex in Virginia Beach, Va., on Sunday, Nov. 10. 2019.        Credit: UMFK Athletics Photo

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The University of Maine at Fort Kent has become the latest in-state school to push its fall sports season to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interim athletic director Matt Dyer said that the school will look to resume intercollegiate competition after Jan. 1.

He said the decision was made in consultation with UMFK President Deborah Hedeen, Ph.D., the administration and the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.

UMFK is an NAIA Division I school that competes in the U.S. Collegiate Athletics Association. The association had announced on July 13 that it was suspending its fall national championships with the intention of providing postseason opportunities for fall sports teams next spring.

“This is the best way to ensure the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and the community,” said Dyer.

The USCAA’s board of directors eliminated its restrictions on weeks of competition so member schools could practice, train and engage in competitions that are within federal, state and local regulations.

Teams can still play games in the fall even though they won’t count toward the spring schedule, but Dyer said they won’t do so because most of Maine’s colleges and universities have canceled their fall seasons, so they wouldn’t have any viable opponents.

Those schools include a number of NCAA Division III institutions like Bangor’s Husson University, Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Colby, Bates and Bowdoin.

So, UMFK’s fall teams will practice and get ready for the spring season. The winter sports teams will also practice when their season opens, but won’t play until next year.

“This gives us time to focus on some other things like getting our student-athletes back on campus, making sure all the protocols and social distancing guidelines are followed and focusing on creating bonds and building cohesive teams for the spring,” said Dyer.

The University of Maine at Fort Kent offers seven sports: men’s and women’s soccer, basketball and track and field, along with women’s volleyball.

The women’s soccer team has won eight USCAA national championships the past 10 seasons and the men have captured three in that same span.

One of the major stumbling blocks for the USCAA and UMFK is the extensive travel with teams scattered across the country.

Reducing travel has been one of the steps featured by the medical community in limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

This past fall, the UMFK women’s soccer team played two games apiece in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont, along with one apiece in Maryland and Delaware. The national championship tournament was held in Virginia Beach.

The men’s soccer team played two games apiece in Massachusetts, Kentucky and Ohio and one in West Virginia before also going to Virginia Beach for the national tournament.

Dyer said the soccer programs will have some obstacles to overcome next spring with the long Aroostook County winters likely to limit their outdoor practice time.

They will have to practice in the gymnasium along with the basketball and volleyball teams.

“We’re going to have to be creative with our indoor training schedule,” he said.