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‘I wouldn't change a thing about my journey’: How the class of 2024’s student-athletes adapted to an unusual intro

Student athletes discuss going from a delayed college start to becoming Ivy League champions

Despite starting their athletic careers remotely, members of the class of 2024 on Brown women's soccer team won three Ivy League championships in their time on College Hill.

Courtesy of William Maloney/Brown Athletics
Despite starting their athletic careers remotely, members of the class of 2024 on Brown women's soccer team won three Ivy League championships in their time on College Hill. Courtesy of William Maloney/Brown Athletics

In the 2020-21 academic year, most Brown first-years grappled with a unique setup. A tri-semester system kept them off campus in the fall, brought them on campus in the spring as public health restrictions shifted and required them to stay on campus again in the summer.

For first-year athletes in the class of 2024, the academic calendar and pandemic restrictions were just part of that year’s strange introduction to Brown. Entering their first semester, they faced many baffling questions: ‘How do I keep training?’ ‘How do I meet my teammates?’ and of course, the all-important ‘Where do we go from here?’

Despite those questions four years ago, Brown Athletics has in many ways seen a long run of success since then. The department has recorded multiple Ivy Championships. Across teams, multiple athletes have earned all-American honors and all-Ivy accolades. For all the challenges posed by their first year on campus, COVID-19 appears not to have slowed down this class of Bears at all.

‘I think our class had an especially tough time’: Fall 2020 at home


When Cierra Jenkins ’24 learned she would be unable to play volleyball for Bruno during her first year, she was disappointed. “In retrospect, my concerns may seem minor given the global pandemic,” she wrote in an email to The Herald. “Yet the thought of postponing my role as a student-athlete at a prestigious university was crushing.”

During fall 2020, when the vast majority of the class of 2024 was not on campus, many members of the incoming class were unable to interact with their coaches or teammates and could not practice regularly.

That fall, Angela Xing ’24 took a course online at Brown while she trained at home in preparation for joining the gymnastics team.

“I had a really tough time during my sophomore year,” she wrote in an email to The Herald. “A large part I would attribute to the lack of athletics during my freshman year. The transition from high school to college is tough for everyone, but I think our class had an especially tough time.”

Some student-athletes relied on their high school friends and teams to stay on top of their game. Jenkins practiced “peppering” — passing the volleyball back and forth — with her family when possible. When it wasn’t possible, she passed or set the ball against the wall of her house. 

Naomi Ferguson ’24 trained with an area youth soccer club to keep her skills honed, a struggle shared amongst several Bruno’s prospective stars, she said.

Kimo Ferrari ’24 recalled staying home in the fall — practicing in outdoor parks with teammates from high school. He went to his friend’s home gym three or four times weekly to complete strength workouts.

Despite the circumstances, Bears athletes stayed on top of their training, hoping to be ready to bring their best when they finally got the chance to compete. 

But being physically fit was only one of many concerns they faced.

“It was definitely hard to connect with the team before coming to Brown,” Xing said. The team still did its best, organizing Zoom calls.


Some coaches got creative when trying to connect their teams. Ferguson recalled a team Zoom with Crystal Dunn — a fullback for the U.S. Women’s National Team and National Women’s Soccer League team Gotham F.C. — “who was an extremely inspirational voice for our team.”

In addition to special guest speakers, the women’s soccer team also participated in virtual bonding, cooking meals together over Zoom.

For the basketball team, Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 organized weekly calls — and made sure that Ferrari could talk with his first-year teammates Malachi Ndur ’24 and Felix Kloman ’24.

Being limited to Zoom meetings “wasn't the ideal scenario, but we learned a great deal about one another by analyzing professional volleyball teams, sharing our insights on the game and connecting with other team members to foster unity and trust,” Jenkins wrote.

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“At the time, this routine seemed repetitive, yet it instilled in us a sense of responsibility to be prepared for our meetings, whether we were discussing our breakfast choices or the makeshift weights we found at home,” she added.

Ferguson wrote that her team played a key role in helping her adjust to college life, even on Zoom. 

“As someone who was incredibly anxious about the social scene in college, having my teammates made the transition so smooth for me,” she wrote.

‘All these things piled on’: Spring 2021

The spring was marginally better than the fall. Training under lockdown meant that while the worst was over, Bruno still had work to do to get their back on track. 

“Training with the team during the spring and summer COVID-19 semesters was challenging,” Jenkins wrote. As an indoor sport, Volleyball faced sharp restrictions on the number of players in the gym — in the spring, no more than five at a time were allowed inside. Players wore masks while they trained. 

Ferrari was also challenged by restrictions during team practices, struggling to breathe through a sweat-soaked mask.

While some sports suffered due to their need for close-quarters training, others could not even access appropriate equipment.

Gymnastics, unable to enter its own gym, could only use squash courts in the Pizzitola Sports Center over the spring. “We didn’t actually do any gymnastics,” Xing wrote.

In the summer, the gymnastics gym’s lack of soft landings made it “really tough” for the team to practice events requiring that infrastructure.

Even outdoors, Ferguson didn’t have a much easier time getting her team and career on track. Limited to pods of five people, she went on runs with her new teammates — with masks on.

Jenkins emphasized that the break taught her “grit,” “gratitude” and “servant leadership.” 

“The competition hiatus was an opportunity for growth as individuals and players, which ultimately strengthened our side of the net before facing opponents that fall,” she wrote.

Still, she recalled asking her older teammates about their experiences with “long bus rides to other Ivies, shared team meals, hotel sleepovers and spending time with our coaches outside the gym.” It felt like the wait for those experiences was “endless.”

Xing found the combination of academics and athletics challenging to balance. By her sophomore year, when classes were in full swing, she felt burnt out: She had never gotten to adjust to the life of a student-athlete as a first-year student.

“All these things piled on, and I remember having a really tough time mentally,” she wrote. “I finished that year ready to quit the team.”

She stuck with it, though. When Brittany Harris joined as the team’s new head coach, she decided to “give it one more try.” The two-time Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association Scholastic All-American never looked back.

“This was probably one of the best decisions ever because I have enjoyed every last second of the past two years with this team,” she wrote.

‘Moments that have profoundly shaped my character and athletic career’: From then on

Looking back on 2021, it’s easy to marvel at how long ago it feels. 

Brown Athletics has racked up accomplishments since then: Ferguson was part of a historic Brown women’s soccer team that has won four straight Ivy League championships, including three in her three seasons with the team. 

Ferrari played a key role in an unlikely run the Bears made to the Ivy League Championship Game this year. And Jenkins was a part of Brown’s 2022 Ivy Champion squad and was named Ivy Player of the Year in 2021. 

“I was fortunate to experience moments that have profoundly shaped my character and athletic career,” Jenkins wrote. “These accolades are not solely my own; they are shared with coaches, teammates and mentors whose guidance and belief in me have been invaluable.”

In the end, the lost time didn’t hang over Ferrari’s experience for too long, he wrote.

“I think just being able to be at so many of my friend's senior days is a great accomplishment,” Ferrari wrote. “It demonstrates that even though we couldn't meet and gather freshman year we still were able to connect and develop meaningful relationships during our time at Brown.”

He noted that time with teammates in the locker room on a “meaningless weekday” left indelible memories.

“Beginning my collegiate career in the midst of COVID-19 was unusual, but with the incredible support from my friends, teammates and coaches, I wouldn't change a thing about my journey,” Jenkins wrote. “Being a member of Brown's women's volleyball team is a privilege, and every team member understands … the influence it has on personal, athletic and academic growth.”

Dennis Carey

Dennis Carey is a Sports Editor who enjoys playing volleyball, listening to and collecting vinyl records, and poorly playing the guitar in his spare time.


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