It was right around noon on July 8 when Caylie McMahon received an email from Stanford University saying school officials would host a Zoom call with incoming and current students in 45 minutes.
The 2020 Nashoba Regional graduate, who committed to play field hockey for the Cardinal as a sophomore and made it official by signing her national letter of intent in November, was excited, figuring updates on the fall season were forthcoming.
“Then the athletic director said these 11 sports would be cut following this academic year,” McMahon, 17, said last week from Eastham, where she’s spending the summer with her grandparents while working as a camp counselor in neighboring Orleans.
One of those sports is field hockey, which will be discontinued after the 2020-21 school year as Stanford grapples with what it estimates will be a $70 million budget deficit in the athletic department over the next three years, one that is partly attributable to the coronavirus pandemic.
And, just like that, three exciting years of planning unraveled in five devastating minutes.
“It’s just been insane and absolutely came out of nowhere; it was a shock to everyone,” McMahon said. “So we had 15 minutes to process it by ourselves. I drove home and called my dad and called my club coach because I had no idea what to do.
“Yes, I had other offers and other places to go, but I chose Stanford because I was promised that Stanford was different. It’s an extremely good school academically, and I was told by my coach (Greenfield native Tara Danielson) — and this is what actually sold me — that being an athlete there is different.”
Indeed, Stanford’s acceptance rate of 4.7 percent is the lowest in the country, and an exceedingly high 12 percent of undergraduates participate in intercollegiate athletics as the Cardinal have won the NCAA Director’s Cup for overall athletic excellence 25 straight years.
Field hockey has done its part, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament nine of the past 11 years and winning the America East Conference three of the past four years.
McMahon, a lockdown goalkeeper from Stow who was named to the U.S. Rise (think under-19) women’s national team in January after having previously played for the under-17 team, is not only distraught over how Stanford’s decision impacted her personally, but the sport she loves, as well.
“I think that it really hurts that Stanford did this because it not only affects us, but it affects the growth of field hockey and the growth of field hockey on the West Coast,” McMahon said.
After this year, Cal-Berkley and Cal-Davis will be the only two Division 1 colleges on the West Coast that have field hockey teams.
Now, McMahon is faced with a difficult decision in which there is no perfect solution to what had been an ideal situation academically and athletically.
Does this straight-A student with a 4.68 weighted grade point average remain at Stanford and give up field hockey, a sport she immediately took to as a seventh-grader? (The school will honor her scholarship as long as she’s enrolled.)
Or does this MAX Field Hockey first-team All-American and the 2019 Massachusetts Player of the Year transfer after her freshman year so she can continue pursuing her very legitimate goal of one day representing the United States in the Olympics?
“That’s a tough pill to swallow to think that you’re transferring from Stanford,” McMahon said. “But I’ve played internationally (in Uruguay and Germany), and my goal is to make the Olympic team in 2028. If I go to Stanford and give up field hockey, I feel like I’d always wonder, ‘What if?’ ”
What is certain is McMahon will attend Stanford for the entirety of her freshman year and hope the Cardinal have a final season — one that will be played in the spring, if at all, after the America East Conference announced Friday it was postponing all athletic competitions until the second semester.
Then a decision will have to be made.
While her athletic future is unsettled, her time at Nashoba was spectacularly satisfying.
McMahon was a three-year varsity starter in field hockey for coach Jaime Mariani, helping the Chieftains go 58-4-4 and reach the Division 1 state final as a junior and the state semifinals as a senior. She appeared in 55 of 66 games and recorded more than 30 shutouts over her final two seasons.
Unlike many future D1 collegians, McMahon didn’t specialize. She was a four-year varsity basketball player for coach Tina Seabury and increased her scoring average each season, topping out at 11.3 points per game as a senior, as the Chieftains went 66-26 and reached the Division 2 state semifinals her junior year.
“It’s super positive and a great school that is always looking to improve, always wanting to win and such a spirited school,” McMahon said. “We always had fans, always had the support of the teachers and your friends in the stands. … I loved my coaches. They were so supportive with everything you did whether it was school or sports.”
—Contact Rich Garven at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG.
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