The scenario was, on many levels, utterly surreal.

A sparsely-filled gymnasium that essentially included players, coaches and officials. Missing were spectators, music and the usual energy created by a group of people voicing their excitement — or disappointment — in unison.

The space at Belfast Area High School on Tuesday night, Jan. 12 essentially included the face-masked teenagers, coaches, referees and those essential to the game’s operation. All socially distanced, when possible, of course.

Watch video and see nearly 70 photos below.

The almost unnatural silence and subdued atmosphere, while a bit sad when one contemplated the state’s storied high school basketball history, was intermittently interrupted by bouncing balls and squeaking sneakers — along with the muffled communication of student-athletes speaking through face coverings, while they physically worked their way up and down the court to showcase their skills.

In the end, however, despite the unique situation COVID-19 has created, a “new normal,” one thing was evident: this was still high school basketball. Indoor sports in a pandemic, but still basketball. Student-athletes together on the court for a common goal, to put the ball in the basket on one end and keep the ball out of the net on the other. To experience moments they will remember for the rest of their lives.

To complement teammates, to make connecting passes and drives to the hoop. And, of course, to swish a few long-range shots along the way.

It was still a game and, although the players' full faces could not be seen due to the coverings, their body language expressed happiness — and probably smiles behind the mask as they occasionally gasped to catch their breaths — to be back in a familiar, missed arena. The sporting arena of the basketball court, albeit with a boatload of safety protocols in place.

Thus is what the pandemic has wrought.

Alas, the 2021 Midcoast high school hoop season began on Tuesday when the Belfast girls hosted Oceanside for 32 minutes of fun, spirited play.

In the end, the visiting Mariners proved too deep and talented for the mostly young Lions, as Oceanside earned a 62-33 victory.

Oceanside played strong overall in the first half to build a 39-13 halftime cushion, before the Lions made a sturdy third-quarter push and closed the gap a bit before the Mariners again pulled away.

Audrey Mackie poured in 23 points, including connecting on three 3-pointers, to pace the Mariners, while Abby Waterman added 12 (all in the first three quarters); Emily Sykes, eight; Grace Woodman, seven; Ahlivia Morris, six; and Anna Kingsbury, Hannah Erickson and Grace VanBuskirk, two.

The Mariners netted six 3-pointers, including two from Sykes. Waterman made 4-of-5 free throws (80 percent) for the only shots from the charity stripe for Oceanside.

Lillie Mitchell keyed the Lions with 14 points, including two 3-pointers, while Halle Tripp had seven points, including a pair of treys. The Lions made 4-of-6 foul shots (67 percent).

Hailee Lindelof and Lindsey Goughnour also added three points, while Trista Bailey, Adria Barrows and Madison Farris chipped in two for the hosts.

Woodman and Mitchell were among the seniors to play in the first game of their final court seasons after it appeared weeks ago they may not have a winter campaign to experience.

"I can’t believe my last season of basketball is already here,” Mitchell said. “It’s unfortunate that we don’t have any spectators cheering us on, but I’m super grateful to even have the opportunity to play. Playing with a mask definitely has its difficulties: tonight I found it especially hard to catch my breath after fast breaks, but I’m sure that as we ease into the season this will become much easier.

“I’m really excited about the remainder of this season; although tonight didn’t end as we had wanted I think having a new coach with energy, passion, and enthusiasm is a big change that will definitely lead us to having more success than the past few years. I’m eager to see how the rest of my senior season plays out, even with all of the changes that have been made surrounding the virus I’m certain that it will be a great season."

Woodman said this season will not be ideal, but she is thankful for it.

"Although this is not what I expected my senior year to look like I’m still having fun and making the most of it," Woodman said. "I played two games last weekend in a mask so I was pretty prepared on what to expect. We all collectively played well tonight and I’m proud of how far we’ve come. I wouldn’t want to spend my last high school season with any other group of girls. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season."

Molly Bishop Harriman, the school's athletic director, who is coaching the Mariners this season, said, “It is always nice when you can start the season off with a win. The girls have worked hard over the past few weeks to get to the point where we all felt comfortable being on the floor together. The 3-point shooting of Mackey, Woodman and Sykes, and some strong inside offense by Waterman really set things apart in the second quarter. Morris and Kingsbury led us with some strong defense and a few timely shots down the stretch. We certainly have some key aspects of the game that we need to get a bit more confident with, but that certainly will come with time.”

Jojo Oliphant, coaching his first game with the Lions, echoed thoughts of being back on the court.

"Having our first game was very exciting and challenging in many ways," he said. "One being it brought some sense of normalcy to a seemingly-endless break from playing sports. It allowed us to get on the court and compete outside our own team."

He added the Lions "had some challenges facing a competitive and seasoned opponent. I’m sure many teams would have had the same results facing Oceanside right out of the gate.

"Our Lady Lions did well for the first game and it provided us some clarity on things we need to work on. I truly believe this will make us better and will teach us where we need to be in order to have a different outcome next time around."

The first-year coach said: "It was a privilege to coach the girls and I was proud of their efforts, especially that second half."

To watch other video of this game, click here.