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Pandemic-Era Alumni Navigate the World of College Athletics

As college sports kick off, former Berkeley High School athletes Ben Morgan and Ryan O’Sullivan anxiously await the start of their first college sports season.


As college sports kick off, former Berkeley High School (BHS) athletes Ben Morgan and Ryan O’Sullivan anxiously await the start of their first college sports season. In-person training opportunities were among the many scarcities for prospective college athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, graduating senior athletes like Morgan and O’Sullivan face a difficult transition into the world of college athletics. 

Ben Morgan, a former catcher on the BHS baseball team, experienced a recruitment process that was drastically different from past years. “My coach has never seen me play in person before, only on video,” Morgan said. He explained the impact that these circumstances have had on his mindset going into his first season as a catcher for Pomona-Pitzer College’s baseball team. “I feel a lot of pressure to prove myself and show that I’m here for the right reasons,” Morgan said. 

A lack of high-level competition throughout the pandemic prevented many athletes from proving themselves to coaches, colleges and especially themselves. Morgan now feels a drive to demonstrate his abilities. “This is the most competitive situation I’ve ever been in. Five other people are competing for a spot at my position,” Morgan said. Fortunately, this competitive aspect is balanced by a strong sense of community at Pomona-Pitzer College. “The upperclassmen have been really welcoming,” Morgan explained. 

One of the important aspects of a senior’s final sports season is gaining confidence in their abilities. Consistent practices and competitions during the final year of high school helps players develop their skills and understand how they measure up to the competition. Now rowing for University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), former BHS varsity crew member Ryan O’Sullivan is approaching his first college season with some uncertainty. “The big doubt I have is: am I going to be good enough?” O’Sullivan said. 

Leon Maurer, head coach of the BHS boys crew team, commented on these fears as well. “A near total absence of races since March 2020 means few athletes feel confident in their racing ability as they head into an even more competitive rowing world,” Maurer said. 

Coaches like Maurer tried to fill the competitive void with smaller races like “an end-of-season intrasquad competition, [and] the sculling tournament, where rowers competed against each other.” While Maurer prepared his athletes to the best of his ability, he reflected on his limited capacity to develop his senior athletes. “All I could do to prepare them for the collegiate level is to tell them the erg scores that they needed to achieve to be competitive at the school they had in mind,” Maurer said. 

Alongside such challenges, these non-traditional sports seasons provided a unique opportunity for personal development, something which has made a positive contribution towards these athletes’ readiness for their first college season. Without the benefits of in-person activities, athletes like Morgan and O’Sullivan exerted a whole new level of self-discipline and commitment in order to progress in their sport. “You had to hold yourself accountable because you didn’t have the opportunity to be with your team,” said Morgan. Ultimately, Maurer, along with many other coaches, is proud of what his players accomplished last year, and hopes for a successful college season for his former athletes.