Graduating varsity athletes reflect on tumultuous past four years in Big Green sports

Multiple graduating athletes expressed discontent with only two or three full competitive seasons during their time at Dartmouth, although some noted silver linings.

by Caroline York | 6/12/22 2:00am

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by Aspen Anderson / The Dartmouth

This article is featured in the 2022 Commencement & Reunions special issue. 

Two years following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – which led to the cancellation of all varsity Ivy League sports competition between spring 2020 and spring 2021 – graduating athletes and administrators reflected on an unprecedented time in history for Dartmouth varsity sports teams. 

Multiple graduating athletes shared their sadness about losing one, or more, of their competitive seasons. While graduating athletes who participate in fall season sports lost their junior year competitive seasons, graduating athletes who competed in the spring lost both their sophomore and junior year competitive seasons. 

Baseball team member Justin Murray ’22 said that when the Ivy League announced that the 2020 fall season – and later the entire 2020-2021 season – would be postponed, he felt unsurprised but disappointed.

“In my eyes, the Ivy League [conference] doesn’t understand how important sports are to [athletes],” Murray said. “Dartmouth offers a great education, but without sports some of us would have gone somewhere else to play our sport.”

Interim athletic director Peter Roby ’79 expressed his “respect” for the Ivy League and Dartmouth’s decision to approach the pandemic with an abundance of caution. He added that the Ivy League aims to treat athletes the same as the rest of the student population.

“Athletes are not treated differently [when it comes to] where they live on campus, what they study and in admissions,” Roby said. “It was hard to rationalize treating them differently when it came to [COVID-19] protocols that were strict for all students.”

In July 2020, the College announced that it would cut the men’s and women’s golf teams, the men’s lightweight rowing team and the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams. The College cited increased flexibility in admissions and financial challenges — specifically, budget constraints due to the pandemic — as the reason for the cuts. 

Varsity women’s swim team member Ashley Post ’22 said that her team advocated for the reinstatement of those teams until a lawsuit, citing that the cuts violated Title IX, brought all five teams back in January 2021. 

“When the team was cut, we stopped training for a while, but we got back in the pool when we were reinstated,” Post said. “Going through [COVID-19] and being cut brought us closer because we were working together with alumni to bring the team back.”

During the 2020-2021 school year, the College operated at about half its normal student capacity to combat the spread of COVID-19. Since only two classes were given on-campus priority at a time, Murray said it was challenging to foster a cohesive team dynamic with only around half the team present and able to train together during this period. 

Murray added that he felt there was a lack of bonding between the different classes until all four classes returned to campus for the first time in fall 2021. 

Some graduating athletes said they felt that underclassmen took an increased sense of responsibility when training and competing this year since they had to make up for their lack of experience in competing at the collegiate level.

“The freshmen and sophomores really stepped up this year,” men’s hockey captain Harrison Markell ’22 said. “I think [Clay Stevenson ’24] was our most valuable player, and he was able to sign an NHL contract with the Capitals even after missing his freshman season.”

Some teams showed significant improvement after the pandemic. Baseball went from a losing record of 15-26 in 2019 to a winning 2022 season of 24-19. Softball saw a similar trend, going from 13-27 in 2019 to an improved 20-24 record in 2022. Women’s tennis went 4-17 in 2019, but they came out 7-13 in 2022. 

Markell said that even though some of his team’s wins and losses were not what the team would have wanted them to be, he believes his teammates trained through tremendous adversity and came out stronger after pushing through tough times.

Equestrian team captain Claire Azar ’22 said that a silver lining during the pandemic was that she gained a newfound appreciation for riding. 

“My junior year, we had practice but it was very casual,” Azar said. “I actually enjoyed it because it…was nice to have a break from [the sport] being competitive and I got back to enjoying riding.”

According to softball team member Madie Augusto ’22, the break from competition reignited many of her teammates’ enjoyment of the sport. However, she said that the time off also gave athletes the time to reflect if being a collegiate athlete was really for them.  

“Without the pandemic, [some players] would have pushed through, which would have impacted the culture [negatively],” Augusto said. “It gave players time to reflect on whether the game was for them – by the 2022 season, everyone on the team was one thousand percent bought [into the sport].”

Azar said that because the NCAA extended eligibility rules due to the pandemic, she plans to compete again for Dartmouth in the fall term. 

Roby said he feels grateful for all the hard work the graduating athletes have put in over the last four years and especially for their efforts in their final seasons representing the Big Green.

“I want to say thank you to all seniors for how they’ve led through difficult times in past years, for the faith they held in the college, in each other, in coaches [and] in the athletic administration to get back to doing what they love to do,” Roby said. “I hope that they will appreciate what they’ve lived through and what they’ve done to stay focused and resilient – I think that’s the silver lining.”

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