Once More, With Feeling
A year ago, as the final horn sounded on her impressive basketball career at the State University of New York-Geneseo, Lauren Romito had to make one of the most important decisions of her young life.
Should she continue her student-athlete journey by putting her name in the NCAA transfer portal (the online database that college athletes use to explore transfer options)? Or start applying for jobs and enter the working world?
In the end, she chose hoops and a graduate program at the College of Arts & Sciences.
“I felt I had one more year of basketball in me and I didn’t want any regrets if I didn’t try to keep playing,” says Romito, who’s now the starting center on the Suffolk women’s basketball team. “I also liked the CAS’s advertising and public relations master’s program. Now that I’m here, I 100% know that I made the right choice.”
Student-athletes can continue competing in intercollegiate athletics after they receive a bachelor’s degree as long as they have remaining eligibility. According to the NCAA, about 2,300 student-athletes advance to postgraduate education each year, whether at their undergraduate institution or by transferring to another institution.
Division III institutions, such as Suffolk, primarily focus on intercollegiate athletics as a four-year experience. However, due to COVID-19, early season-ending injuries, and other unique situations, a student may be granted a fifth year of athletics eligibility.
“Grad student-athletes come in with a depth of experience and maturity that can help their teams right away,” says Suffolk Director of Athletics Cary McConnell. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone—student-athletes get to continue to play the sport they love for a fifth year and go to grad school, and our athletics program becomes stronger with the addition of such quality players.”
Romito, who recently scored her 1,000th career point, has proved to be just such a player, and her skills at both ends of the court have helped lead the Rams to an impressive 13-5 overall record to date (7-3 in conference play). The 6-foot-3-inch center is averaging 13.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, and a NCAA Division III and conference-leading 3.9 blocks per game for the Blue and Gold. She was named the Commonwealth Coast Conference Player of the Week for her 16-point, 11-rebound double-double performance in a 65-57 Rams’ win over Eastern Nazarene College early in the season.
“I’ve put in a lot of time working on my game to get where I am today,” says Romito, who was first recruited by Suffolk women’s Head Basketball Coach Ed Leyden when she was a high school senior in Hauppauge, New York. “Not being able to play basketball during COVID was heartbreaking; it took the rhythm away from my life.
“But now I have the opportunity to be in Boston, get my master’s degree, and have one final chance to play the game I love”—all this with teammates, she says, who have become “like family, on and off the court.”
Away from the hardwood, Romito works as a grad fellow for Suffolk’s Title IX Office, managing social media accounts and producing original digital and video campaigns. “I’ve learned how to promote serious topics like sex discrimination and harassment from a positive perspective to foster a sense of community,” says Romito, who hopes to pursue a career in the sports marketing and advertising industry.
‘I had more to give to the game’
Grad students are also making a significant impact on the men’s basketball team, thanks to the starting backcourt of Evan Cook and Danny Yardemian. Cook is averaging a team-high 17.9 points per game and Yardemian 13.1 points and a team-leading 3.4 assists per contest for the Rams, who have an 10-7 overall record (6-4 in conference play).
Yardemian, a first-year student at Suffolk Law, actually walked away from the game prior to his senior year at Bentley University, a renowned Division II program. “After making the NCAA Elite 8 during the 2021-22 season, it felt like a fitting time to focus on school and begin my life post-basketball,” says Yardemian, who holds the all-time scoring record at Belmont High School with 1,401 points. “I just wanted to enjoy being a normal college student.”
His passion for the sport, however, quickly returned. “I soon realized that the gas tank wasn’t empty and I had more to give to the game,” he says.
That’s when Yardemian reached out to Suffolk men’s Head Basketball Coach Jeff Juron and applied to law school. “I thought it was best for me to combine my basketball dreams with studying to become a lawyer,” he says. “It’s a challenge, but I’m grateful and motivated for the opportunity to do both.”
Suffolk’s downtown Boston location was a big draw for Cook, who captained the Wheaton College men’s basketball team for two seasons.
“It was a no-brainer to continue playing basketball while getting my MBA in a great city with so much to do,” says the North End resident, who hopes to work in the biotech field. “Suffolk also has connections to so many companies where I can start my career.”
Early this year, Cook joined Suffolk’s 1,000-point club after scoring 28 points in an 80-73 victory against Wentworth Institute of Technology. With that goal achieved, he has his sights on another. “To win a conference championship,” he says.
Other Suffolk grad student-athletes include Sydney Fascetta and Kellie Popkin (women’s ice hockey); Devin Lowe (men’s ice hockey); Ellie Davis (women’s cross country); Bradyn Radford (women’s soccer); Paolo Tedesco (men’s soccer); and Alex Sorenti-Burns, Brett Bucklin, and Greg Kaufmann (baseball).
“I think the number of grad student-athletes choosing Suffolk will continue to grow because of our quality grad programs and the Law School,” says McConnell. “Suffolk is an attractive place for so many people because of everything that we have to offer and our unique location.”