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College athletes choosing whether to stay in U.S. or head home

Storrs — All but one of Anna Makurat's teammates headed home after the NCAA canceled this year's postseason basketball tournament and the school suspended classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the 19-year-old UConn freshman from Poland, the decision was not that easy, especially with ever-increasing travel restrictions to and from Europe. She worried about classes restarting while she was overseas and when — or if — she might be able to get back to campus.

Makurat is one of more than 20,000 foreign athletes currently competing at NCAA schools, according to the organization. With competition canceled across all NCAA divisions, many of those athletes face a similar dilemma. Their campuses are shut down, but the coronavirus situation in their homeland is worse than it is in the United States.

The NCAA has advised schools to handle the situation as they see fit "for the health and safety of their coaches, staff and student athletes."

For the last two weeks, Makurat has been one of about 50 athletes still living at school with campus largely a ghost town. She spent a lot of her time on her computer and phone, video chatting with family back home. She was able to go out to dinner one night with coach Geno Auriemma and teammate Evina Westbrook, who remained on campus to get treatment for an injury.

Plans changed again after UConn decided to cancel all events for the rest of the semester and move learning online. Makurat is booked on a flight home later this week. She will have to self-quarantine for two weeks when she gets back.

"Poland has pretty much closed everything so everyone is staying home anyway," she said. "I have a place at home to work out and we have a basketball hoop outside, so I can get back to shooting. It wasn't a hard decision, once I knew it was an option. I think everyone right now wants to be with their families, and I'm the same."

Wisconsin-Milwaukee women's tennis player Lucy Harper, who is from Bolton, England, has decided to stay in the U.S. for now with a friend's family.

"A lot of the flights out to England are getting canceled and they've actually closed two of the terminals down at Manchester (England) airport," she said. "I just made the decision to stay here for now, because I don't know sort of when I'll be able to come back if I leave. We don't know how long this is going to last."

Most of her team is from overseas. She said about half the international players have gone home.

Tennessee's men's basketball team has players from France, Serbia, Uruguay and Finland, which meant Mary-Carter Eggert, the director of basketball operations, became a travel agent, l ooking for the best flights.

"The fact of the matter is, their parents want them home just like I would want my kids home," coach Rick Barnes said.

This past week, several women's basketball players from the University of California figured out their arrangements. Sara Anastasieski left on a flight home to Sydney, Australia, late Thursday.

"She was scheduled to leave Friday but that airline canceled and she was scrambling last minute," Cal coach Charmin Smith said.

Evelien Lutje Schipholt, from The Netherlands, is staying with teammate Cailyn Crocker and her family in Southern California. Chen Yue, of Beijing, is currently with friends near Berkeley as the Bay Area continues its shelter in place order.

UConn, meanwhile, has made arrangements to keep dorm rooms, and at least one dining hall, open for the 1,200 mostly foreign students, including athletes, who haven't been able to go anywhere else.

"While all students have been encouraged to leave, UConn is committed to providing students who must stay in Storrs with the support they need while prioritizing their health and well-being.," athletic director David Benedict said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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