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Maryland high school seniors navigate coronavirus pandemic to sign with college programs

South River basketball star Harley Herndon already had a good idea how special college signing day is.

When she was in middle school, she would finish the day and race to South River to watch her older sisters, Chance and Savana, put pen to paper when they committed to play basketball at Stevenson in back-to-back years.

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The two got to share the experience with their family, coaches and friends, and afterward, the family would further celebrate by going out for dinner.

On Wednesday, when high school seniors from all over the country make their commitments official, Herndon won’t get to enjoy the same experience as her sisters with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down all school activities in Anne Arundel County.

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Instead, she’ll have to make her decision to play at Frostburg State official at home.

“Playing college basketball was always my dream and then not getting to sign and put it all into reality at South River was a huge bummer,” she said.

Always one to look on the bright side, she is still excited and grateful. Her father ordered a South River backdrop for when she signs and photos are taken, and some close friends will be on hand to help celebrate. The family dinner is still on.

Most importantly, Herndon is confident that she found the right place for her, albeit under unconventional circumstances because of the pandemic.

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Her first visit to Frostburg was in early spring when the pandemic was in the early stages, just her parents and coach Carrie Saunders walking around a student-less campus. A couple week ago, Herndon returned and got a chance to check out a practice, go inside buildings and see what the dorm rooms looked like.

“It really had that home feel and that’s exactly what I was looking for,” she said.

“Growing up around here, it’s a lot of community support and a lot of home feel, and when I went there and talked to girls that I know from South River and Anne Arundel County that play different sports there, they were saying how the sports teams are close, how they enjoy supporting each other and hang out together and that was definitely one thing I was looking for.”

Similar stories can be found throughout the area from all the seniors who had to navigate through the pandemic to find their college homes.

At Calvert Hall, lacrosse standout Ethan Long was all set to attend Johns Hopkins until the program decided to move on from longtime coach Dave Pietramala and his coaching staff. Fortunately, Long also had visit at Penn State and had built a good relationship with the coaching staff there. When he decided Hopkins was no longer the place for him, the mutual interest with the Nittany Lions remained.

“Once they reached out to me, it wasn’t the hardest decision to go there. I loved everything about it also,” he said.

Calvert Hall coach Bryan Kelly had nine players sign Wednesday, but that number is down because of the pandemic. He’s hoping to help the remaining seniors find their colleges despite the limited exposure.

Sam Szweda, who plays midfield and attack, moved from the Pittsburgh area last year and was hoping his Calvert Hall playing career would help him find a college. But when the pandemic canceled his junior season last spring — and disrupted summer club ball — he hasn’t found a home.

“Right now, I’ve just been sending emails, staying in touch, sending all my grades and SAT scores. I’m really just trying to keep relationships going without much lacrosse going on right now. So that way when it starts back up I already have some good contacts,” he said.

Calvert Hall will be playing in a fall tournament in the coming weeks and Kelly said the seniors who are still not signed will be on the field the most.

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