Maeve Carroll of the University of Maine (5) battles Vermont's Delaney Richardson (left) for a rebound during the March 4 America East quarterfinal game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Some of the Black Bears have been back and are working out at Memorial Gym in Orono in anticipation of the start of the school year. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

A handful of University of Maine women’s basketball players breathed a sigh of relief and wore expressions of joy under their face coverings last week as they began practicing at Memorial Gymnasium on the Orono campus.

They are excited to be back on the court.

“It’s so exciting. We didn’t know when we were going to be able to get back into the gym,” senior guard Kelly Fogarty said.

Most of the school’s facilities had been closed for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under COVID-19 guidelines, UMaine isn’t allowed to have more than 10 people in the gym at one time and they are required to wear face coverings throughout.

“They’re definitely hard to get used to. When you’re working out, you are breathing so hard,” senior forward Maeve Carroll said.

“But they’re necessary and we want to play,” she said.

The Black Bears are performing structured workouts designed to sharpen their individual skills and mechanics. Many involve one player with a coach.

Basketball teams are allowed four hours of practice time per week and can’t have one-on-one contact drills. The workouts, which began Wednesday and were also held on Thursday and Friday, lasted approximately 45 minutes.

The players have to call when they arrive and head athletic trainer Ryan Taylor takes their temperature and has them answer the standard coronavirus questions.

After the workout, they leave the facility immediately.

The locker room is off-limits.

UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said the participants adhere to social distancing protocol by staying at least six feet away from each other.

“We have six baskets in the gym so the players aren’t really close together,” Vachon said.

Fogarty said wearing a face covering is a challenge, but is necessary.

“They’re hot but they aren’t too bad. Once you’re into your workout, you don’t think about it,” Fogarty said.

Carroll and Fogarty are two of the four regulars at the sessions along with graduate students Fanny Wadling and Blanca Millan, who are back for their fifth year after earning medical hardship waivers.

Sophomore forward Abbe Laurence and incoming freshman Lexi Mittelstadt out of Mt. Blue High School in Farmington have attended some practices.

Vachon expects more players to return to campus next week.

“They will be coming back in waves. The [six freshmen] will move in the end of August,” Vachon said.

Carroll and Fogarty said one of the highlights has been watching 2019 America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Millan back in action.

“It has been great to see Blanca back on the court, running again,” Carroll said. “We have been doing some offseason running together.”

“Blanca’s moving really well. We’re excited to have her back,” Fogarty said.

Virginia native Carroll and Fogarty, who is from Walpole, Massachusetts, are happy to have been in Maine since early July since their states have struggled to control the coronavirus.

“You still have to take precautions but it’s a lot safer here than at home,” Carroll said.

“I feel a lot more comfortable up here,” Fogarty said. “And I wanted to get a change of scenery.”

The women said they have played some pickup basketball games on outdoor courts in the Bangor area but are looking ahead to the upcoming season.

If there is one.

“I’m really excited for the season. I think it’s going to be a great year,” said Fogarty.

Vachon said she is optimistic there will be a season but said everyone has to wait out the pandemic to see how to proceed.

“We’re preparing like we’re going to start on time,” Vachon said. “It would be a disservice if we didn’t. As long as we’re following all the protocols and are doing what is asked of us, we should be in good shape.”

Vachon said UMaine’s precautions to keep everyone safe have set the proper tone for her team.

“We want to be in the gym and doing everything we can to keep moving forward,” she said.