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The uncertainty of the pandemic has college-bound athletes pondering a pause in eligibility

“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.

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 Oily 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