By Chris Gionta
When sports were cancelled for the spring of 2020, many people’s thoughts first turned towards the seniors and how terribly they felt for them. Any athlete that has played before this could not imagine their senior year being taken from them that way.
However, luckily for college athletes, the NCAA extended eligibility for all spring athletes, giving the Class of 2020 another chance to complete their last season of college athletics, and also give the classes of 2021, 2022, and 2023 a chance to play all four years of their sport.
This made athletes from the Class of 2020 weigh their options for the spring season of 2021. Some athletes’ post-college plans got in the way of a potential return into spring athletics. Cara Freadman, a former tennis player at Springfield, and a 2020 graduate at the college, explained why she did not use her extra year of eligibility.
“I’m in nursing school at Elms College,” said Freadman. “I would have if I could have, but [Springfield] didn’t have a grad program that financially and career-wise made sense for me. But, I did look into it.”
If not for the school conflict post-graduation, Freadman would have loved to have played her last year of tennis.
“I wanted, obviously, my senior season,” Freadman said. “That’s what you work up to your entire college career. And that’s where you’re supposed to peak.”
Even for athletes who came back, their educational and financial situation was almost not suitable enough for them to return.
“I actually didn’t know if I was coming back,” said Johjan Mussa Robles, 2020 graduate and member of the men’s volleyball team. “Because I graduated as an athletic trainer – and I did graduate last year – and I couldn’t just go and get an MBA for a year and that would be all. If I wanted to come back, I needed to start a master’s degree for two years.”
One would surely understand Mussa Robles not wanting to come back because he would be putting in an extra two years of school for one extra year of volleyball. Yet, Mussa Robles felt the closure of his volleyball career was so necessary that he was willing to get a master’s degree for it.
“We as a team, we culminate our year in April, April is the biggest month for us,” said Mussa Robles. “And I couldn’t get that and we couldn’t get that. And I feel like I didn’t get the closure that I’ve been wanting for over the past four years, so I had it in the back of my mind.”
For others, the decision was not very difficult. Another former tennis player and 2020 graduate, Rachel Ahlmeyer, had already made a commitment to the women’s tennis team for post-playing career, and she stuck to that commitment despite the pandemic.
“I didn’t really think too long and hard about it, since last fall I committed to being the women’s assistant coach for tennis,” Ahlmeyer said. “So I knew I wanted to pursue coaching, and once our season got cut, I kind of just figured I’d pick up next fall – which is now – and just go from there and take on my coaching responsibilities, and get into my life after sports.”
Everyone has a different situation. Especially with Division III athletes, there are confounding variables that could push them in either direction. On one hand, they are likely not going to play professionally, and this is probably the last level they will play their sport competitively. But on the other hand, educational and financial plans can not support an extra year of playing their sport. But with it all, it seems that no matter their decision, every athlete is grateful that they got their one last opportunity.
Photo: Jack Margaros/Springfield Athletics