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Taber's career at Princeton comes to a sudden end

The NCAA, late last week, affirmed that it would grant an extra year of eligibility to any spring athletes who had their seasons ripped away in 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19.

And so Mystic's Caroline Taber, a senior pitcher on the Princeton University softball team who was in perhaps the best health of her career, had a few emotional talks with head coach Lisa Van Ackeren and fellow seniors Alex Colon, Allison Harvey and Megan Donahey via video conference to determine their futures.

The players decided against returning. Two, including Taber, have jobs lined up following graduation. They took an "all for one and one for all" approach. One wouldn't return to Princeton without the others.

"The only thing that really swayed me is if they were all going back. I would have considered it," Taber said in a telephone interview Friday. "No way I would have been able to watch them play without me. It was tough to make the decision. That was before the Ivy League would have a say in it."

On Thursday, the Ivy League, which includes Princeton, announced it would not permit its eight member schools to allow the eligibility relief. The Ivy League has a rule in place that does not permit graduate students to compete athletically and Thursday's vote upheld that.

"After a number of discussions surrounding the current circumstances, the Ivy League has decided the league's existing eligibility policies will remain in place, including its longstanding practice that athletic opportunities are for undergraduates," the Ivy League said in a statement.

Ivy League students would be able to use their extra year of eligibility at a different school, just not their own.

Through their sports information staffs, Yale University heavyweight crew coach Steve Gladstone and Harvard coach Charley Butt, whose teams would have squared off in the 155th annual Harvard-Yale Regatta on June 6 in New London, declined comment on the Ivy League decision.

Taber, though, said the ruling wasn't too much of a surprise "knowing how complicated the Ivy League can be."

"You can only have eight semesters regardless," Taber said. "I've seen how you have to work around the rules. Guys who plan to go to the NFL or the NBA ... they have to withdraw (from school) to come back and play. In softball that would be way more unprecedented."

Taber applauded the NCAA for their effort in providing the extra year.

"It's really nice," she said. "That's an affirmation of them understanding how big a part of our lives our collegiate careers are. To have one-quarter of it taken away is just devastating. (Playing) is not something you do trivially. It was a hard decision; to just walk away was so hard. It's so hard to say no."

Taber, without the closure she expected for her career this spring, is now dealing with the fact she's no longer an athlete. (She plans to run the NYCRUNS Brooklyn Marathon in October to remain competitive).

Taber first arrived on the sports page in 2009, as a member of the Mystic Little League 9-10-year-old softball all-star team. She later pitched Mystic's Junior League team (ages 13-14) to a New England regional final.

Then, high school. She was a four-time member of The Day's All-Area softball team and a three-time Player of the Year. She was a three-time all-state selection, a two-time state champion and a two-time Gatorade Connecticut Softball Player of the Year. As a senior, Fitch went 27-0 with a Class L state title and the No. 1 ranking in the GameTimeCT state poll. Prior to the state tournament, Taber was 15-0 with a .22 ERA.

Taber is majoring in molecular biology at Princeton, working extensively over the summer and on days she had no class in a virology and immunology lab which has now undertaken studying the novel coronavirus. Her 60-page senior thesis, due May 1, is entitled "Investigating the regulation of cyclic GMP/AMP synthase during viral infection."

She will begin work this summer for an orthopedic specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, with hopes of applying to medical school in the near future. She'd like to be an orthopedic surgeon herself, keeping her in the realm of sports.

"I could not have loved my time more," Taber said of Princeton. "Coach Van Ackeren, I adored her. I learned so much from her. The other three seniors are probably my best friends in the whole world.

"... We thought we were going to win the Ivy title. We were all so excited. This year, I started our second to last game and came in to close our last game. This would have been a different year for me (after struggling with rotator cuff problems). But that, at the end, didn't matter to me. All that matters was how much love I had for that family. They'll be my family regardless.

"That's the hardest to lose. You really go on a journey together."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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