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With careers to consider, college seniors face tough decision with NCAA’s offer of extra year of eligibility

In Kate Kinsella’s mind, her past two years with the Mount St. Mary’s women’s lacrosse program were cut short.

The 2019 season ended when the Mountaineers lost, 7-6, to Wagner in the Northeast Conference tournament final, which prevented them from earning their first berth in the NCAA postseason since 2005.

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The 2020 campaign was interrupted by a coronavirus pandemic that on March 12 forced the NCAA to cancel all Division I sporting events. So when the governing body for college athletics agreed the next day to grant a fifth year of eligibility to Division I seniors in spring sports, Kinsella, a senior attacker, felt a jolt of adrenaline.

“We already went into the season with unfinished business because of our loss against Wagner in the championship,” she said. “I just feel like when we found out Thursday that our season was officially canceled, we lost all over again. Since we have an opportunity to go back, why not take it if you don’t have a job? And even if you do, if you want to come back, go for it.”

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How many local college seniors will join Kinsella in returning for the 2021 season remains to be seen. But the option is there after the NCAA decided to explore changing the rules to give Division I seniors a shot at regaining their lost eligibility.

“Council leadership agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports,” the Division I Council Coordination Committee said in a statement. “Details of eligibility relief will be finalized at a later time. Additional issues with NCAA rules must be addressed, and appropriate governance bodies will work through those in the coming days and weeks.”

Some of those issues, according to Maryland men’s lacrosse coach John Tillman, include resolving the number and funding of scholarships, increasing the size of rosters to accommodate returning seniors and incoming freshmen, and finding enough lockers and jerseys to outfit larger rosters

“In the world we’re living and what we’re all going through now, I think we’re all realistic to know that as much as there are certain things we would like for our players because we’re loyal and we really care about them, what we’re going through right now is such a unique challenge, and there are so many unintended consequences to an extra year and how it would impact the financial situation and things of that nature,” Tillman said. “You realize that the NCAA has some really tough decisions to make, but selfishly for me, I have young men that I just really enjoyed being around, and I know how much they love playing lacrosse. So for them to get at least another year and for the freshmen to get back another year and sophomores and juniors, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be excited for them.”

Lauren Coleman, a redshirt senior thrower for the Towson women’s track and field program, graduated last May with a bachelor’s in business administration and a 3.6 GPA. Already pursuing a master’s in sports marketing, she said she would put on hold applying for internships or jobs for another year with the Tigers.

“I’m optimistic,” she said. “All I can do right now is continue doing my homework and continue training every day, and I’m still communicating with my coaches and staying in shape and all that so that I’m ready.”

Zach Roberts, a redshirt senior defenseman for the Mount St. Mary’s men’s lacrosse team, is poised to work for a computer software company that provides private contracting work for the federal government. But after undergoing operations to repair two knee meniscus tears, a right hip labrum tear and a core injury that sidelined him for his entire sophomore season and last fall’s workouts, he said he intends to return to the Mountaineers.

“Just going through all of the injuries I have gone through and finally being at the peak of my performance, it’s something I need to do,” said Roberts, a Fallston resident and graduate. “I would regret it if I didn’t take that opportunity. For the rest of my life, I will be sitting in an office and working and growing up, as my parents like to say. I want to hold onto this as long as I can, and for it to be ripped out from under you like that, I don’t think I want to go out on that note.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum are the student-athletes who are eager to begin their careers or don’t have the flexibility to delay them. Alexandria Agee, a senior on the Loyola Maryland women’s tennis team, had accepted last October an offer to provide executive compensation consulting for a firm in Los Angeles.

“I do want my season back. I kind of want the entire experience back, and I’ve been very emotional about everything that’s going on for some days now,” she admitted. “But knowing just how competitive the market is and after listening to the economic news about the country possibly going into a recession and without knowing where the country is headed in a year, I guess the biggest issue with that is the security of [having a job].”

Kali Hartshorn, a senior midfielder on the Maryland women’s lacrosse team, has already discussed with coach Cathy Reese an opportunity to join her staff. Although Hartshorn said playing a fifth year is “definitely something in the back of my mind,” she said is eager to begin a different chapter.

“[Playing] lacrosse has literally been my life since I was maybe 10 years old, and I was ready to move on,” she said. “I wouldn’t say I was excited, but I was looking forward to the future and what it held for me. … I don’t know. There’s a lot that I have to think about.”

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Meghan Doherty, a teammate of Hartshorn’s and a redshirt senior defender, said she had been planning on attending a graduate school or taking a gap year to explore her options. The NCAA’s offer, however, is tantalizing.

“Right now, it’s definitely up in the air,” she said. “There’s a lot of details and logistics and people that we all need to talk to and about to figure out what’s best for our future. So because I don’t know all of the details of it yet, I can’t say what I would do. But it is an interesting thing, and I’m happy they’re even considering giving this to the seniors.”

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