College athletes endure canceled hopes, delayed dreams

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By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

Morina Bojka, a former Woodland girls basketball player, led Mount St. Mary College in scoring and rebounds last season as a junior. –CONTRIBUTED

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape for collegiate athletes.

For some, it delayed the start of their collegiate careers. Others were forced to walk away early from a passion that has fueled the fires of competition for most of their lives.

Spencer Maher, a former Naugatuck High and All-NVL swimmer, had his sights set on making an impact as a freshman at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

Those plans have been put on hold until at least Jan. 18, when the team was expected to get back at it. Meets are slated to start in February and go until the end of April. The season usually runs from October until March.

“I have been training with my club team because there are not a lot of people on campus right now,” Maher said. “Our coach has been great keeping us informed through Zoom meetings until we can all get together as a team. Everyone has been training on their own.”

Former Greyhounds Isaiah Williams and Herve Tshibamba didn’t get a chance to start their football careers at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., in the fall.

Quarterback Jay Mezzo, another former Greyhound, was ready to take the next step on the gridiron at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., but only got to participate in limited practices before the season got shut down.

“We were practicing in small groups and couldn’t have any contact and had to wear masks,” Mezzo said. “We did that for about five weeks before it got shutdown. In the spring the goal is to have a full padded practice and have a scrimmage within our own team. Hopefully we will get back to a regular season next fall.”

These athletes will get another chance next year as sophomores. But a pair of former Woodland athletes were at the peak of their college careers and entering their senior season, only to have it come to a premature end.

Morina Bojka, a former 1,000-point scorer for the Woodland girls basketball team, came into her own last year at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y. She led the team in scoring with 475 points (18.3 ppg) and was second in rebounds with 163 (6.3 ppg).

Bojka earned first-team All-Skyline Conference honors and headed into her senior season with 719 career points and 328 rebounds for the Knights, who played for the conference championship in two of the last three seasons.

“The whole team just really developed since I came here, and last year we had a new coach and we excelled,” Bojka said. “We were looking forward to taking care of some unfinished business, and I was hoping to get a chance to reach the 1,000-point mark. My new coach helped me to grow into my potential and I was able to have a real good season.”

Bojka, who is studying nursing, also had her clinicals canceled due to the pandemic. She’s looking to apply for an extra year of eligibility the NCAA is offering seniors and plans to purse a master’s degree in business administration.

Jenna Pannone, a former All-NVL goalie for Woodland, is a senior at the University of New England. She was named the Commonwealth Coastal Conference defensive player of the year two years in a row. –CONTRIBUTED

Jenna Pannone, a former All-NVL goalie for the Hawks, shinned while minding the net for the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. In her sophomore and junior season, she led the Nor’Easters to back-to-back Commonwealth Coastal Conference titles for the first time in 20 years. If that wasn’t enough, she was named the CCC defensive player of the year two years in a row.

“It was around the end of July that we were informed that the conference decided to cancel the fall sports season,” Pannone said. “I was really disappointed. I was looking forward to ending my career making another run at a conference championship.”

Pannone said there’s a chance the conference plays soccer in the spring, but that’s still undecided.

“We did get to practice as a team in the fall, but there was no contact and we had masks on,” she said. “At least we were able to get together as a team. We did end up having a scrimmage between the team.”

Pannone, who is studying neuroscience, said she won’t look for another year of eligibility because she’s planning to go to medical school.

“I have to appreciate that I even had the opportunity to play soccer in college,” she said.