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Editor’s Note: This story is the first version of college senior spotlights. More individuals may be included over time.
NORTON, Massachusetts – South Yarmouth native Jennifer Keim won medalist honors and led her team to victory in what ended up being the last event of her senior year at NCAA Division II Tusculum University.
In most years, winning your final event or a team title during your senior year is a dream come true.
But this year, that final event for college seniors came way too soon.
All across the country, student-athletes found out March 12 that the NCAA had canceled the remaining spring season in all divisions due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“I was in shock and disbelief when my coach contacted us and told us the news,” said Keim, a WGAM/Dolly Sullivan Scholarship recipient and former runner-up at the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur.
“I was and still am heartbroken that my last season was cut short. It is hard to believe that I am not going to be practicing and playing with all my friends every day.
Keim transferred from Division I Florida Atlantic and immediately made an impact with five top-3 finishes and two medalists honors combined between the fall season and shortened spring season.
Instead of building on her season, it suddenly came to an end. With the NCAA announcement, the college golf season ended, along with all other spring sports.
“It felt like the rug pulled out for you,” said Holden’s Owen Quinn, a senior at DI Lehigh University.
Quinn, the son of Champions Tour pro Fran Quinn, was in California for a tournament when he got a text from a player on Lehigh’s basketball team saying, “Sorry, Owen.” He then went to the Patriot League website and saw the news.
Quinn was coming off a strong junior year where he led Lehigh with a 73.65 stroke average, and he said his winter training was strong thanks to cooperating weather. Though he couldn’t achieve his goals to lead Lehigh to a Patriot League title or make the All-League Team, he still has fond memories of winning medalist honors at the Matthews Auto Collegiate Invitational back in 2016 with a 69-66 over two rounds.
“To show them my first semester and prove that I could go out there and win and play that well, was what gave me the confidence throughout the rest of my college career,” Quinn said.
Quinn and UConn senior Tim Umphrey are among Massachusetts college seniors with dreams of turning pro after college ends. Umphrey, a Northboro native and 2018 Mass Four-Ball co-champion, was also disappointed the spring was cut short but had already made several fond memories with the Huskies.
In addition to winning the 2018 Lehigh Valley Collegiate in a three-way playoff, Umphrey said he enjoyed competing against top-ranked competition in the Clemson Invitational each year. He also shot his bets college round (67) this fall in Hawaii.
“Everything about playing Division I was awesome,” Umphrey said. “We had a great schedule. It was cool to travel to all these different places. The whole team aspect, bonding with the guys, it’s just different than other golf I’ve played and it’s something I’ll miss.
Seniors like Keim and Quinn may be able to take advantage of eligibility relief. On Monday, the NCAA Division I Council voted to extend eligibility for spring student-athletes impacted by COVID-19. Division II and Division III has already provided such relief.
Keim is a nursing major and after graduating wants to become a registered nurse. If she gains more eligibility, she wants to attend graduate school at Tusculum and possibly became a nurse practitioner.
“I have made so many amazing friends and memories at Tusculum and I am so grateful for everything,” Keim said. “I really do not want to say goodbye yet.”
Still, for most college seniors their college careers won’t end with one last ceremonial putt on the 18th green, but the somber announcement that the rest of the 2020 season has been canceled.
Holy Cross seniors Maddy Belden and Jackie Gonzalez were supposed to begin the spring season earlier this week at the Pinehurst Invitational, but their senior year was limited to five events in the fall.
Gonzalez, of West Roxbury, broke the Holy Cross single-season record with a 79.9 scoring average and tied another school record for rounds played (20). After graduating, however, she’ll be starting a new job in Boston.
“The fact that it was so abrupt was hard to swallow,” said Gonzalez, who won the Mass Golf Father-Daughter Tournament in 2017. “There’s something different about college golf when you’re traveling with your team, you feel like you’ll never get that again.
Belden, a Holden native, echoed that sentiment, saying having teammates was the best part to playing college golf.
“Whether I played my best round or my worst round, I knew I would have someone to make me laugh in the van afterwards,” Belden said.
Bryant University senior Connor Henderson and St. Michael’s College senior Matt Johnson also said they have jobs lined up after graduating. Henderson was watching THE PLAYERS Championship in Florida when he received the news. His goal was to lead Bryant to the Northeast Conference championship title after the team placed second the year prior, but Henderson said the overall college experience mattered most to him.
“My four years at Bryant were all I could’ve asked for,” said Henderson, a Southboro native. “The people there are unbelievably supportive.”
Johnson, of Sudbury, didn’t get a spring season, but he capped off senior year by winning the NE-10 individual tournament title back in October, sinking 8 birdies in 24 putts. He is also the first player in program history to compete in an NCAA Championship event.
“That was awesome,” Johnson said. “In four years, the team has gotten better every year.”
Alejo Soto, a senior at Colgate, said he still wants to play amateur events during the summer and then become a playing pro in the winter. Soto was Colgate’s Most Improved Player in the 2016-17 season and the Colgate MVP in 2017-18.
“I love golf and love my team so it’s going be so hard to say goodbye,” Soto said. “It has always been a dream of mine to play professionally and I am very excited to put all of my time in and see where I can go. Hopefully this is all over soon and we are able to play this summer.”
Click on each athlete’s photo to view their bios from their respective school’s website.