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Local athletes disappointed by Ivy League cancellation of fall sports, but they find bright spots

Corinne Furey played volleyball at Ursuline and will do the same at Harvard. (Dialog file photo)

Hope remains that youth and high school athletes will be able to showcase their talents this fall in Delaware, but a number of First State products have had their seasons curtailed nearly two months before they were scheduled to begin. The Ivy League, a group of eight elite academic institutions in the Northeast, has canceled all athletic competitions for the fall semester.

More than a half-dozen graduates of Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Wilmington are on the rosters of Ivy League teams. The coronavirus pandemic has forced them to the sidelines, creating deep disappointment, but they are keeping the bigger picture in mind.

Lindsay Pijuan of Wilmington Charter (in blue) and Padua’s Paige Kenton do battle in a regular-season girls soccer game in 2019. (Dialog file photo)

Paige Kenton, a recent graduate of Padua Academy, was all set to continue her soccer endeavors at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. This marks the second consecutive season of hers to be eliminated. Women’s soccer is a fall sport in college, but in Delaware, girls soccer is played in the spring. She saw the Ivy League’s decision coming.

“I definitely expected it,” Kenton said July 10. “Penn was really great. They had a lot of meetings to try to prepare us. It was really devastating because every member of the team was putting in so much work to be in the best shape we could be in.”

Some schools are restricting the number of students on campus this fall, but Kenton will be in a dorm at Penn, although every room will be single-occupation. She said she has been thinking about her academics and may try to take some classes that would have been difficult to handle along with a Division I soccer obligation.

Ursuline Academy graduate Corinne Furey was eagerly anticipating her freshman volleyball season at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., after being forced to sit out her senior campaign with the Raiders because of a knee injury. It was a punch to the gut to find out the Crimson would not be competing at least for the remainder of the calendar year.

“I subconsciously knew we weren’t going to have a season, and I was pretty crushed, pretty devastated because this whole past year since my surgery in August has been dedicated to getting back on the court,” Furey said.

Harvard is restricting residency this fall, with all learning to be conducted online and socializing strictly restricted. Furey concedes that she is not a big fan of virtual learning, and she may take a gap year in order to maximize her chances for the traditional college experience.

“I’m really leaning toward the gap year. I’m going to have another conversation with my coach on Monday. I don’t think I’d get the full Harvard experience, especially as a first-year student — which I’ve heard from upperclassmen is so valuable and so amazing,” she said. “One of the most important things about choosing Harvard is the connections with the people that I’ll meet there, and it would just be completely strained and limited this year, and that’s not something I want for any of my four years there.”

Her coach with the Crimson has assured Furey that her roster spot and her role on the team would not be affected if she chose to delay college for a year. It would also give her another 12 months to strengthen her knee.

Another Delaware high school product who will miss a fall sport at Harvard is Saint Mark’s High School alumnus Matt Tynes, a football player who will be a sophomore this year. At Penn, in addition to Kenton, the men’s cross country team has Salesianum School grads Sean Banko and Michael Keehan, both rising sophomores, and Padua alumna Lizzy Bader, a rising sophomore who runs for the women’s team. Brendan Hanrahan is a rising junior who plays soccer for the Quakers; he attended Salesianum for two years. And Mitch Moyer of Archmere Academy is a sophomore on the Columbia football team. Ursuline’s Maggie Connolly plays basketball at Princeton, where she will be a junior. That sport is off until at least Jan. 1.

The Ivies compete in the NCAA’s highest level, Division I, and as of July 10 are the only such conference to cancel play this fall. A Division III league, the Centennial Conference, with 11 private, mostly small schools in Maryland and Pennsylvania, also has scrapped its football season and will reevaluate the other fall sports at the end of September. Several local athletes compete in the Centennial.

Furey — who is undecided on a major but is considering economics, history or government — said the day after the Ivy League announcement, when she reported to Titus Sports Academy in Wilmington to train, it took some work to get in the right frame of mind. But she was able to find a positive.

“It took some energy. In that training session, I was all confused and upset, but when I walked out I was like, ‘OK, we have a new path that we’re on now,’” she said.

Kenton, who expects to major in neuroscience or a related course of study, said despite the potential loss of a soccer season — the Ivy League has not decided whether to try to compete in the spring — she is ready to begin life as a college student.

“Super-excited to live in Philly. Love the city,” she said.

She and her fellow Quakers freshmen have been in contact throughout the pandemic and have been able to bond through their shared experience. At Penn, they’ll be able to practice in small groups. Despite her disappointment, she’s trying to keep everything in perspective.

“I feel like at the beginning of this pandemic it was hard to keep everything in perspective. At this point, there’s been so much going on nationally that so many other people have lost so much more,” Kenton said.

“I think we’re all holding out hope that we can have something in the spring.”