The pandemic was hard on all students: We were forced to stay home, go to class over Zoom and miss out on the activities we love. For many senior student-athletes, this meant missing their final opportunities to compete at the collegiate level. But a handful of “super senior” athletes who took a semester off, thus postponing their final semester at Vassar, get another chance at having a senior season. I spoke to these super seniors who are now back on campus for one last semester.
Reed Dolan ’21, a runner on the Vassar Men’s Cross Country team, told me that running has remained a consistent presence throughout his life. “Running is a really grounding thing for me. It is something I lean on to keep me honest. It is a vehicle for exploring the body and mind and being in a space that I don’t get to be in at any other point in the day,” he explained. Dolan also shared that he is innately competitive, and he loves competing at the collegiate level.
Dolan was Vassar’s top cross country runner during his junior year in Fall 2019 (Vassar Athletics 2019). At the Atlantic Regional Championship Meet, he finished just one spot short of qualifying for the NCAA Division III National Championship. He strived to get one more shot at Nationals during his senior year, but then COVID-19 hit. Yet, when I asked him why he decided to take a semester off and return this fall, he said it wasn’t all about cross country. “At the end of my junior year, it felt like things were ending in tragedy,” he recalled. “But now that I have had some space, it isn’t the same feeling…I just want to be happy, I wasn’t last fall…I want to take advantage of this semester and be in a good state of mind. I just want to appreciate the experience.” Although he felt initially distraught with the way his cross country career seemed to end, Dolan now views this semester not just as a chance to take care of unfinished business, but as an opportunity to enjoy the moment and the college experience.
Similarly, Skylar Herrera-Ross ’21, a forward for Vassar Women’s Soccer, took a semester off last year and doesn’t view her performance this season as an indicator of the success of her semester. “I knew I made the right decision right away. No matter what, my semester will be successful because to me, success is making the right decisions for yourself and learning and growing and that is what I am doing,” she said. Herrera-Ross knew that if she came back to campus last fall, she wouldn’t be returning to a real college experience. “Academics would have been really difficult. Focusing over Zoom, making connections over Zoom—that’s not what I signed up for. There wouldn’t be [any] social activities” she shared. Soccer, however, still played a role in her decision to take a semester off. “Sports being cancelled was the cherry on top,” she said. “That was the one thing I would have been looking forward to and the one thing that would have kept me afloat had I come back. Having that cancelled, I was like nope that’s the final thread. No way.”
Herrera-Ross considers her sport an extension of school and she loves the opportunities that it provides her. “I am driven by improving my craft. Sports in general are really spiritual and are a mindful practice for me because everyday you have a designated time, you go out, you leave all of your life’s stressors behind when you get to the locker room and it’s a place where you get to connect with your body.” She continued, “It’s the only time where I find I can be 100 percent present…The reason I play sports is that they are just so fun. I love the challenge.”
Center Midfielder for Vassar Men’s Soccer Andrew Goldsmith ’21 is equally passionate about the sport. “[Soccer] has a huge impact on my life,” he explained. “It is something I spend multiple hours a day on, that’s practice for a couple hours, but then I’ll go beforehand to get treatment and stay afterwards for treatment so it ends up being 3-4 [hours] daily.”
Aside from the amount of time he dedicates to his sport, he pointed out that his relationships with teammates and coaches have made his experience extra special. “Obviously the friends I have made have had a huge impact on my life. The relationships with the teammates I have met and my coach, who I have created a great bond with, and who I look up to as a mentor have made me really enjoy this program,” he said.
For Goldsmith, taking time off from college was the right decision because soccer was too precious to give up. “Playing college soccer has been something that I have looked forward to since my freshman year of high school,” he expressed. “The idea of not having my final season was not something I could see myself living with, I think that would be a major regret,” he said. When I asked him what his goals for the semester are, he didn’t pull any punches. “Winning the Liberty League,” he affirmed. “We’ve come close, my freshman year we got second in the regular season and the postseason but we have underperformed in the two seasons since then.” Goldsmith thinks the team has started off on the right foot this season. “I’m really happy with the start we’ve made, 4-1, I think we’re in a great position. Another dream of mine is to make the NCAA tournament. My freshman and junior years we almost got an at-large bid.”
Despite their differences, every athlete I spoke to told me that they were in no rush to go out into the real world. Perhaps wise beyond their years (or perhaps not; they are old enough to be out of college, anyway), they pointed out that there is no reason to stick to a rigid schedule for graduating. Skylar expressed, “I’m in no rush. There is no pre-set timeline for my life.”