From left: Fifth-year athletes Sam McCloskey, Maura Henderson, and Alex Pettit discuss their experiences as fifth-year athletes. They all said they benefited from staying at Lehigh another year. (Photos courtesy of Lehigh sports; photo illustration by Nicole Walker/B&W Staff)

Q&A: Fifth-year athletes discuss their Lehigh careers

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Football’s Sam McCloskey, Andrew Pettit of men’s lacrosse and Maura Henderson of women’s track and field  have all made lasting expressions on the Lehigh Athletics program over the course of their careers. All three decided to take fifth years to finish what they started as athletes and as students. The Brown and White spoke with them to discuss their careers as they get set to depart Lehigh in May.

Sam McCloskey, ’20, ’21G

Q: Why did you decide to take a fifth-year? 

Sam McCloskey: So, I decided to take a fifth year because I got injured my junior year, and I had the opportunity to be a part of the technical entrepreneurship master’s program. The combination of being able to play another year of football and being a part of the master’s program was a good reason to stick around. 

Maura Henderson: I took a fifth year for mainly three reasons. Academics, unfinished business and my coach. I am in Lehigh’s education program for elementary and special education, getting my master’s. This program was why I came to Lehigh, so I’ve always known I’d be here a bit longer. In terms of unfinished business, I had a lot of illnesses and injuries that resulted in a different level of athletics than I wanted. I wanted to go out closer to my peak and closer to the marks I knew I should have been achieving. I’m sad I did not get to where I wanted, but I made so much progress toward it. Lastly, my coach just gets training. I want to be a coach myself, so, more than even being an athlete, I have loved having an extra year to learn from her and pick her brain for ideas or theories. I also just trust her training, so if I was going to get back in shape in the collegiate setting it would be with her, partnered with the fact she just recruits amazing young women. I love my teammates, I would take so many extra years to spend time and grow with them.

Andrew Pettit:  I decided to take a fifth year because I wanted to finish what I had started at Lehigh. The ACL injury could not have happened at a worse time, and my love for the game and for Lehigh lacrosse eventually brought me to realize that, if I did not take the fifth year, I could regret it forever. I knew I could not pass up an opportunity to play lacrosse again with such a great group of guys. 

 

Maura Henderson, ’19, ’20G

Q: How did you benefit from the extra year?

SM: Although a lot of my friends moved on, I was able to stick around with my friends and get some extra schooling. I’ve always wanted to get a master’s degree, so it was a great opportunity for that. I’ve always had aspirations to start my own business, so this has been the perfect opportunity to do that. In terms of sports, we got a new coaching staff this year. I felt I had a lot left on the table to prove as an athlete and teammate. I’ve been able to bridge the gap between the new coaches and younger players which helps the transition for years to come.

MH: I think I really became myself this year, (but) it was really hard. I remember, when I was a freshman, we had a fifth-year (student), and she would always make jokes about being old. I would think to myself, ‘You’re not that old,’ but oh my gosh, you feel old. At 23, I’m very different from the 18-year-old who came into college. I learned to appreciate relationships and communicate with people. I learned to be resilient. I learned to lean on myself and use myself to make myself a better person and athlete, stopping looking for outward satisfaction.  

AP: I benefitted in many ways from the extra year, but mostly because I finally got some closure on my lacrosse career at Lehigh. I loved playing with all my best friends, and being able to get back out there again made every minute of rehab worth it. 

 

Andrew Pettit, ’19, ’20G

Q: Is there a feeling of extra responsibility being a fifth-year athlete? 

SM: Yeah, there definitely is an extra feeling of responsibility. I got busted a lot this year because in the fall I was 23 years old, so my teammates would make fun of me for staying and not having a job. But, at the end of the day, you’ve been there so long, so your teammates look to you and expect you to lead them. I’ve been a captain and teammate through many winning and losing seasons, so that’s helped me lead a new group of guys. 

MH: I would say yes and no… I was a captain two years prior to this and involved in our leadership group this year. Yet, I felt super inclined to try to help the coaches in any way possible, though, at the end of the day, I kept reminding myself that I kind of did my part with leadership, and it was this next group of seniors’ team to lead. Again, you just feel kind of old.

AP: I’m not sure that there is any feeling of extra responsibility being a fifth-year athlete. The feeling of responsibility was already there because, after coming back for my fifth year, I actually was named captain for the third time. The only thing that may be any extra responsibility in being a fifth-year is making sure you use your abundance of experience to benefit the team any way possible.

 

Q: Was the extra year worth it? Why or why not?

SM:  Yes, it was definitely worth it. On the football side, I got to grow a lot closer to guys I might not have in earlier years. I had my core group of friends who moved on, so I took on the role to make better relationships with younger guys. On the academics side, I didn’t have to rush into a job, but I’ve learned more about a different side of the world with start-ups and businesses. So, I’ve had time to gather my thoughts and feelings about what I want to do in the future. And, I mean, who wouldn’t want an extra year of college.

MH:  Ah, this is tough… I think it’s worth it, and you are typically pretty developed at this point to handle how hard it is. But it is really hard and sometimes lonely. A lot of your peers have left, and that’s just really sad and a weird place to be. I was lucky to have two roommates from my graduating class and my twin still around. I’d take a fifth year all over again, honestly, but I am also very fortunate to love my teammates and my coaches. I would not be who I am today without them, so the fifth year was worth it, and I needed it. Also, I like avoiding the real world.

AP: As I mentioned earlier, the fifth year was certainly worth it. I couldn’t be any more grateful to the coaching staff for bringing me back and being extremely accommodating during my recovery time. I am also very grateful to the class I joined for bringing me in with open arms. It is extremely unfortunate how the season ended, and I wish more than anything that the season could have continued, but it was still absolutely worth it. 

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