On July 14, incoming first-year players on the Yale women’s lacrosse team met on Zoom and discussed — along with their parents — whether they would decide to defer their eligibility until next season and take a gap year.
According to Nobles graduate Becca Gill, it wasn’t the first such meetings, but with the deadline for enrollment looming on July 15, it was time to project how the 2021 spring season would look and make a final decision.
That night, seven of the nine recruits decided to take a year off, joining the huge list of student-athletes deferring their eligibility for a 2020-21 year clouded by the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This summer was very hectic,” said Gill, a midfielder and recipient of the Nobles Shield award for most respected female athlete.
“Almost every day I’d see a notification for a group chat, [an incoming player] would ask if anyone’s made a decision, and everyone replied immediately, ‘No, what are people’s thoughts?’”
“It was very scary at the beginning. I knew the gap year was the path I wanted to take, but in the back of my mind I was so nervous that my plans weren’t going to be as rewarding as I thought.”
Gill is not alone.
‘“It was very scary at the beginning. I knew the gap year was the path I wanted to take, but in the back of my mind I was so nervous that my plans weren’t going to be as rewarding as I thought.”’
A study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA in late April found that at least 16 percent of surveyed seniors said they will take a gap year, whereas the study found fewer than 3 percent deferred the previous year.
And it’s not just first-year students. Gill’s future teammate, former Concord-Carlisle star midfielder Payton Vaughn, is a junior at Yale. A two-time high school All-American, Vaughn started six games in 2020 before the spring season was cancelled. She applied and received her eligibility back for that season, and said she will likely take this spring semester off to be eligible for another year.
At Yale, student-athletes have eight semesters of eligibility, so Vaughn is enrolled this fall, but can make a decision prior to Thanksgiving on her status for the spring. Her sister, Fallon, a three-time All-American at Concord-Carlisle and member of the U-17 women’s lacrosse national team, has already decided on a gap year before enrolling for her first year at Yale.
“It’s nice that we have the flexibility,” said Vaughn. “It definitely depends on what the season looks like. A lot of the Yale athletics community is taking time off, so that’s a big factor.”
Another key factor is the status of Yale’s competitors in the Ivy League. Princeton and Harvard — where Gill’s older sister Olly and cousin Charlotte Clark are enrolled as juniors — require student-athletes to take the entire year off in order to preserve their eligibility, rather than deferring by semester.
So Vaughn, and the 17 Yale players who are deferring their eligibility, have legitimate concerns about what their conference schedule might look like next spring.
For student-athletes participating in winter sports, such as Colby basketball senior Matt Hanna, the decision to defer was relatively straightforward even before the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) announced the cancellation of competitions this winter.
Hanna, a guard from Milford and former Division 1 state champion at Catholic Memorial, helped Colby to a 24-4 record and a NESCAC Finals appearance last winter. Without a graduate program available at Colby, Hanna said he couldn’t risk playing 10 or fewer games without a postseason in his final year of eligibility.
“Everyone’s situation is different, but for me it was kind of a no-brainer,” said Hanna, a 5-foot-9-inch guard who averaged 15.5 points per game last season. “Basketball has kind of been my life. So especially coming off how successful we were last year, I didn’t think it was fair to cut that short.”
Hanna, who said he plans to play professionally and get into the coaching field after graduating, is spending the year in Charlotte with Colby junior Noah Tyson, where they’re training with Blake Boehringer of Accelerate Basketball.
Davidson star Kellan Grady, Hanna’s teammate at Catholic Memorial, has trained with Boehringer for years, and now Hanna is working alongside him and getting first-hand experience against other elite players, including current Charlotte Hornets Malik Monk and Troy Daniels.
Former Scituate football star Will Sheskey is also trying to make the most of his time off. The Williams-bound running back is enrolled in remote learning this fall, but plans on taking the spring semester off to jump start his personal six-month training regimen.
“What a great opportunity to be isolated,” said Sheskey, Scituate’s all-time leading rusher and a Division 5 Super Bowl champion in 2018. “Now I can concentrate on my education and really hammer down from the football side of it.
"As much as part of me feels this sucks, on the other hand it’s awesome because it limits distractions, and puts me in a place where I can really focus on what I need to get done.”
Some student-athletes are taking some time away from their sport, such as Globe Foundation/Phelps Scholar-Athlete Samantha Schoenberg from Bromfield Academy.
A former three-sport captain and top-ranked high jumper committed to Penn, Schoenberg decided to take a year off when she heard Penn was going fully remote.
In September, she moved in with her cousin in Great Falls, Montana, where she works as a receptionist at the hospital. After suffering a fractured foot in April, Schoenberg now has ample time to recover while concentrating on other pursuits.
“I wasn’t confident I’d get much out of online school and didn’t really feel like I had to rush through college,” said Schoenberg.
“I’m really happy with [my decision]. It kind of gave me an excuse to switch up the normal path of going from high school, right to college, then right into the workforce. It’s kind of a break from the expected.”
In New Haven, Conn., Vaughn is spending her extra time volunteering for the nonprofit Farm Link, which was created by university students committed to alleviating the ramifications of the pandemic for food insecure families. She is also interning with Team Impact in Quincy, an organization that pairs chronically-ill children withwith mentors on collegiate teams.
Gill is working with a Yale professor as a research assistant, editing data science textbooks, and said that process has helped her hone in on her academic goals.
“I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to study, and now I have some exposure in a field that was unknown to me,” said Gill. “It’s a really valuable experience. There’s a lot of different things COVID has eliminated.
"It’s put you in a position where you’re almost forced to find something you’re interested in. It’s a helpful nudge in a chaotic time.”
▪ Positive Coaching Alliance, a national nonprofit for a positive youth sports experience that is now partnered with roughly 3,500 schools, named 15 high school senior athletes as finalists for its New England Triple Impact Scholarship program.
Later this fall, PCA will announce four scholarship winners from the field, which includes Massachusetts athletes Megan Allen (Needham), Charis Banez (Bristol-Plymouth), Breanna Benoit (Bishop Fenwick), Erin Leone (Notre Dame Academy), Amelia Mignacca (Bishop Feehan), Karen Nie (Needham), Matthew Pittsley (Bristol-Plymouth), Lily Ramsdell (Ipswich), and Ghay Soe (Lynn English).
▪ Former Billerica star Josh Bradanese and former Catholic Memorial star Brandon Twitty will play basketball professionally in Ireland this season.\
▪ Walpole graduate and UMass Lowell freshman defenseman Ben Meehan was selected by the Los Angeles Kings (140th overall) in the NHL Draft.
▪ The following athletes recently announced their college commitments:
Chris Alden, Wakefield (Roger Williams)
Kyrell Luc, Brimmer & May (Holy Cross)
Adrianna Niles, Central Catholic (WPI)
Claudia Porto, Central Catholic (Union)
Alexis Reyes, Cushing (East Carolina)
Avery Cheney, Rivers (Trinity)
Jordan Fuller, Governor’s Academy (Holy Cross)
Harrison Greenslade, Pingree (Georgetown)
AJ Heidtke, Andover (Brown)
Michael Keefe, Milton Academy (Cornell)
Marcus Parara, Dexter Southfield (Tufts)
Casey Phinney, Marshfield (Boston College)
Ikenna Ugbaja, Belmont Hill (Yale)
Myles Wilson, Thayer Academy (Merrimack)
Charlie Cave, Belmont Hill (Brown)
TJ Casey, Medfield (UMass)
Mason Dorr, Concord-Carlisle (Vermont)
Pierce Gregory, Dover-Sherborn (Bryant)
Shane Kikelly, Oliver Ames (Endicott)
Charles Miele, Reading (St. Lawrence)
Luke Murphy, Medfield (Loyola)
Aidan O’Connor, Governor’s Academy (Utah)
Eddie Perry, Bridgewater-Raynham (Providence)
Cristian Reyes, Xaverian (Saint Michael’s)
Grace Robinson, Bishop Feehan (Sacred Heart)