For most seniors at a Division II state school, Senior Day is typically the end of the road. While most of their peers spend their mornings asleep in their dorms and their weekends doing whatever they so choose — drinking a lot of the times — those Division II athletes aren’t so lucky.
Unlike their counterparts at Division I schools who have millions spent on their every whim, it’s not a glamorous life for a Division II athlete. The rides are long, the courts are right next to the road and the fans are exclusively parents more often than not.
But it’s all worth it for one more chance at continuing the sport near and dear to their hearts: tennis.
Lacey Cohen has spent three years and some change at Slippery Rock, Viola Lugmayr just behind her after transferring into the program as a sophomore, steadily rising up career leaderboards under the tutelage of long-time SRU head coach Matt Meredith.
Soaring highs, serving as the pinnacle of Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference student-athlete success and again, and crushing lows, on the heels of first-round exits in the NCAA tournament in back to back seasons, led to one final go-round for Cohen and Lugmayr.
That one final chance at glory, at competing in the sport they loved, came crashing to a halt in wake of the spread of COVID-19.
“I was devastated, and I know all my teammates were as well,” Cohen said. “We were really looking forward to the season; we were training super hard and were ready to go.”
The duo will not get a chance to finish their senior seasons and push for the elusive PSAC title and subsequent NCAA title, but at least they got to experience a Senior Day.
After the NCAA canceled all remaining winter and spring sport championships on Thursday, March 12, Meredith said he saw the writing on the wall.
So, against Salem University while competing in a spring break series of matches in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Meredith organized a makeshift Senior Day for Cohen and Lugmayr, equipped with balloons and flowers, the whole nine yards.
“It was definitely unconventional, but it was still really nice to get flowers and balloons,” Cohen said. “It was amazing getting all the support from all the teammates and coaches.”
Holding big bouquets of flowers, surrounded by green and white balloons, the duo smiled along with teammates for what could be the last time for a very long time.
Lugmayr and freshman Lois Page picked up a victory in the first flight doubles match while Cohen and junior Olivia Warner clinched the second flight.
The PSAC suspended all athletic competition for the remainder of the spring semester Friday, March 13, but since Rock tennis had already traveled to South Carolina, they were allowed to finish the final event of the trip — which would end up being the last of the season.
However, with the NCAA Division II Administrative Committee approving an extra season of eligibility for spring sport athletes, Cohen and Lugmayr aren’t necessarily done yet.
“I’m definitely considering coming back as I’m going to grad school for occupational therapy at SRU,” Cohen said. “I’ll be around, but the course work will be much harder, so I’ll have to make it work. But if I can, I’d love to play.”
Having already spoken with Meredith about returning to Slippery Rock as an assistant during her time at Slippery Rock as a graduate student, Cohen now faces the decision of returning to compete for another season.
Whether it’s as an athlete looking for more glory or a coach giving back to those she spent seasons competing with, Cohen wants to be around the team in any way.
“I love the team so much, so I’m looking forward to being apart of Rock tennis for as long as possible,” Cohen said.
While the potential for a comeback is stronger for Cohen, as her life after Slippery Rock actually continues through SRU, Lugmayr’s isn’t so clear cut.
“It might be different with Viola,” Meredith said. “She has some options. She will go to Arizona to work with Adapted PE to work with wheelchair tennis.”
Lugmayr, who left Slippery Rock to return to Austria once classes were officially moved online, will continue to pursue her passion.
Meredith said if Lugmayr wants to come back, he’d love to have her back.
If this is the end for Cohen or Lugmayr, what a career it has been.
Cohen, who has played from the first flight in singles competition nearly her entire career, will go down as one of the most accomplished tennis players in Slippery Rock history.
As one of just 11 members of the 100-win club, Cohen’s 123 career victories rank sixth in school history. Her 60 singles wins rank seventh all-time while her 63 doubles wins are tied for eighth.
“It was really successful,” Cohen said of her career. “I’ve had great teammates and coaching along the way, making it an amazing experience.”
A long career of winning has garnered a PSAC-West Freshman of the Year and a PSAC-West Athlete of the Year award along with being named a five-time All-PSAC West honoree and a three-time PSAC-West Athlete of the Week. Cohen also was the 2018 PSAC singles champion.
Lugmayr would have been the 12th member to reach the centennial win mark during senior year as she sits at 96 wins. Her 42 singles wins are tied for 20th in Slippery Rock history while her 54 doubles wins are tied for 11th.
Like Cohen, Lugmayr is a PSAC champion, winning the 2019 PSAC doubles championship and the 2019 ITA Atlantic Region doubles championship. Both titles came with sophomore Lois Page.
Lugmayr is also a two-time All-PSAC West honoree, a PSAC Champion Scholar and the recipient of the 2018-19 Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsman Award.
Lugmayr and Page teamed up to be the 15th ranked doubles team nationally as ranked by the ITA.
Despite the end of the season, which Cohen said has led to a lot of disappointment, the team has continued to support each other.
Regardless of Cohen or Lugmayr’s decisions on continuing their athletic careers, Cohen feels as though her time with Rock tennis will carry over throughout the rest of her life.
“It’s hard to say, tennis is an individual sport, but when you’re playing as a team, everything counts together,” Cohen said. “I really value how important and awesome being on a team is; it’s something special.”