After the NCAA granted seniors an extra year of eligibility, Miners are embracing the added college competition |

After the NCAA granted seniors an extra year of eligibility, Miners are embracing the added college competition

Park City senior Elise Heddens poses while on a recruiting trip at Auburn University. Heddens will be joining the Tigers' track and field team next season as a a heptathlete, but will be going up against some current seniors in college after the NCAA granted them an extra year of eligibility.
Courtesy of Dave Yocum

When Lauren Pederson signed her national letter of intent to attend the University of Virginia on a lacrosse scholarship, she had two goals; to compete as a freshman and to win a national championship.

The Park City High School senior envisioned herself lining up with the Cavaliers and playing big-time lacrosse in the ACC, the toughest conference in college lacrosse, with the national championships at stake.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and along with it came a series of events that changed Pederson finds herself in.

On March 30, the NCAA Division I Council voted to allow all spring-sport athletes an extra season of eligibility.

“I think it’s really cool the NCAA realized what the athletes were going through, saw their side of things and gave them that extra year,” Pederson said. “It was interesting that the seniors voiced their opinions, how it was unfair and such, and the NCAA did the right thing by listening to them. I don’t know how often that’s happened but I’m happy it happened to them.”

The NCAA is letting the schools decide how to honor the students’ financial aid.

“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” said Division I Council chair M. Grace Calhoun in a statement or March 30. “The Board of Governors encouraged conferences and schools to take action in the best interest of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do that.”

To Pederson, that meant that her goal of competing as a freshman just got a whole lot more difficult with girls four or five years older than her expected to return — although she’s not sure who is coming back yet. But despite the expected difficulty, it doesn’t change her mindset.

“When I first heard the news, a part of me definitely thought about the competition. … It was already going to be hard to compete as a freshman, and now it just got harder,” Pederson said. “With more girls on the team who have so much experience, it creates a much more competitive mindset because everyone is now fighting for their spots. But with that, comes a better team and a better chance at accomplishing our team goal.”

Pederson isn’t the only Miner having to deal with this new rule change by the NCAA. Fellow classmates Dylan Bauer (Johns Hopkins — Lacrosse), Brady Baumann (Marist — Lacrosse) and Elise Heddens (Auburn — Track and Field) are all future Division I athletes and will be dealing with the same issue as they head off to their respective schools.

Pederson’s brother, McKnight, will play lacrosse at Princeton next year, but the Ivy League elected to not grant seniors an extra year of eligibility.

“I was thinking I might not play until my sophomore or junior year, but now that the Ivy League made their announcement, it’s business as usual for me,” McKnight said. “Now it’s time to go to work and hopefully play as a freshman. … Starting as a freshman is a goal of mine and it’s much more realistic now, even though it’s still intense but it’s something I’m preparing for.”

For Baumann and Bauer, the two of them are both going into college with the same mindset, something they’ve known for years.

“We all love to compete, it’s ingrained in us and who we are since we started playing football as little kids against the big schools. … I feel like we all have a little chip on our shoulders because we’ve always been doubted,” Baumann said. “We’ve always been the little rich, white and spoiled kids from Park City so we’ve always proved people wrong and competed, and it’ll be no different when we go to college. We got to compete and we’ll be ready.”

But before Bauer heads off for the crazy competition of Division I lacrosse, he’s been spending his time picking up a new hobby: fly fishing, though he hasn’t as been successful at that as his lacrosse career.

“I’ve only gone like four times and caught one my first time. … But I haven’t caught anything since then,” Bauer said with a laugh. “It’s a lot harder and more technical than you’d think.”

For Lauren though, rather than fly fishing, she’s been putting in the work with McKnight, Bauer and her older brother Beau, a lacrosse player at Princeton. She understands that if she’s going to accomplish her goal of playing as a freshman, the work starts now, and who better to train with than some of the best high school lacrosse players in the nation and a college one.

“We have a little garage on Main Street that we transformed into a gym, so me, Beau, McKnight, Dylan and Beau’s girlfriend sometimes, we all workout there,” Pederson said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get motivation by myself but they all help push me farther and more than I could individually. We push ourselves harder to get in shape and be stronger, so I know I’ll be ready when the time comes.”

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