South Hadley, Mass. - October 27, 2020 - At Mount Holyoke College, the soccer field has been abnormally quiet this year...
In a typical October, the beautiful foliage of South Hadley surrounds the 342-foot long and 210-foot wide pitch that hosts the Mount Holyoke College soccer team. In a typical October, the Lyons are battling among the region's top competition to position themselves for postseason success. In a typical October, Maria Delgado (Bronx, N.Y.) stands proudly in the goal, deflecting offensive opportunities from the Lyons competitors. In a typical October, fans hear the Lyons' goalkeeper organizing her defense on set pieces, and encouraging her teammates that are finding the back of the net on the other end of the field.
Serving as a leader on both the Mount Holyoke College soccer and basketball programs, while also working diligently to position herself for success upon graduation, nothing about Delgado's student-athlete experience has been typical. But this dedication to leadership, and hard work, has forged a path for the senior to continue her success beyond graduation in May. That perspective, for Mount Holyoke College student-athletes, is pretty typical. And Delgado is no exception.
For Delgado, her life has been a series of experiences that have prepared her for this. Leading a team through a global pandemic and a semester turned virtual? Seems like a challenge. Leading two teams full of student-athletes that are battling through the most uncertain time of their lives? Seems even more challenging. For Delgado, this has been a learning experience that will help her accomplish personal goals, while also building a foundation for eternal success.
The work? Delgado isn't afraid. Leadership is something that has been engrained in her ever since the beginning. Learned from her mother, extracted by her coach, and crafted by the student-athlete. It was the perfect storm for Lyons Nation.
Like most student-athletes at Mount Holyoke, Delgado's passion for sport began at a young age. Delgado used every chance she could to implement activity into her life. Tennis, baseball, soccer and basketball just to name a few. A few of the many sports that Delgado tried during her childhood. Some stuck, and Delgado eventually found her way to The Beacon School, a public high school in the Hell's Kitchen section of Manhattan. At The Beacon School, Delgado was fully submersed in sport, and was a member of the soccer, basketball and softball teams, sports that she had fell in love with in middle school, and continued at the next level.
"My family always encouraged me to be really active," said Delgado. "I showed an affinity for it. I enjoyed trying new things. I loved to be, especially in elementary school, really active. There were a lot of boys playing kickball, soccer or basketball so I was always one of a few girls that were involved. But I could keep up, and that was enough for me. I felt like I had something more to prove. That attitude when you are young is 'you know, all the boys are playing, and there are a couple girls and if you weren't that strong, you kind of felt it'. So I was really determined to show that I could keep up with everyone else. Fifteen years later, it really paid off."
Although she was a vital member of each team, Delgado's true passion lied in her deep soccer roots. Roots that were planted during her childhood, sprouting in New York City. Roots that twisted around adventures down to the local pub on Saturday morning's with her father, just to catch a European Premier League soccer game. Roots that were tangled in a youth-sized Barcelona jersey and eating chicken fingers, while her father taught her the game. These same roots that began to grow in the soil of Delgado's introduction to the sport as a field player, before finally entering the net, and never leaving.
In the fall of 2019, Delgado's junior season, it was finally time for Delgado to enter the net for the Mount Holyoke College soccer team, assuming the starting role after preseason. Delgado posted impressive numbers for Mount Holyoke, as she finished the year starting 15 games and posting an impressive 133 saves in just over 1200 minutes of playing time. Delgado's 133 saves was second among goalkeepers in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC).
Following Delgado's soccer season, the Psychology major was interested in joining the Mount Holyoke College basketball team. It was at this time, everything that Delgado thought she knew about leadership was reaffirmed. Leadership skills that were crafted based on experience, but not acknowledged. Leadership skills were recognized, and channeled, by head Mount Holyoke College basketball coach Jackie Ward.
"Once I joined the basketball team, I learned that Coach Ward's leadership style was entirely different that what I was used to," added Delgado. "Coach Ward is very connected with her players and in tune with what I was looking for out of my experience. Seeing our captain Katlyn Grover '20 and Coach Ward work together was a whole new lens of how teams can grow success from a strong captain who was supported by their coach, and supported their coaches decisions. I think it really sort of laid out how I developed my own captain relationship with Coach Ward."
Delgado enters the 2020-21 academic year looked upon as a leader by her fellow soccer and basketball student-athletes. Although it can be difficult to manage both roles, as well as prepare for life after college, Delgado is embracing the challenge and learning more and more about leadership every day.
"I know how I can be helpful and I want to be helpful," said Delgado. "For me, being a captain is more about recognizing all the small dynamics between different cohorts and even different positions on the field or court. Most importantly, it is about getting a team to work together," added Delgado. "Coach Ward really encourages communication between her and the team, with a strong focus on enjoying each other outside of the sport, because that is how we were going to develop team cohesion and trust each other on the court."
The communication between Coach Ward and student-athletes that exists on the basketball team proved helpful during a time of crisis. March 13, 2019, when all students at Mount Holyoke College were told the semester would be continuing in a virtual capacity following Spring Break. It was during this time that teammates from all programs needed each other the most. And just when they would typically say farewell to each other for the summer months, Delgado and her teammates, on both teams, decided to become even closer through action.
In May, following the brutal killing of George Floyd, the Mount Holyoke College soccer team decided to take action. Through Delgado's leadership, along with co-captains Emma Robson and Sarah Forster, the team began running 8.46 miles to account for the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that Derek Chauvin, a white police officer within the Minneapolis Police Department, knelt on Floyd's neck, eventually leading to his death. On top of taking physical action, Delgado and her soccer teammates also raised money for different funds that supported the Black Lives Matters movement and funds that supported different identities within the team.
"It is not hard to feel uncomfortable in a department or on a team that is predominantly white," said Delgado. "After everyone came home in March, and events took place throughout the spring, our soccer team started to recognize that we need to start having these conversations more frequently. They are being had out in the world, there is no reason we can't have them on our team. We start close to home. It was the captains, myself, Erin Robson and Sarah Forster. Our work together, as well as a lot of coordination with our team, helped begin some initiatives.
It was important for Delgado, Robson and Forster to understand the different identifications within the soccer team at Mount Holyoke in order to create a more inclusive environment.
"We recognized that on the (soccer) team we have a lot of diversity in terms of people of color, but we all identify differently," said Delgado. "We wanted to represent that in our efforts. Whenever we donated somewhere, we provided the team a list, and we donated somewhere different each time. It is important to recognize that there are women of color who were stuck in the cycle, there are trans people of color stuck in the cycle, and black men and women and children who were getting the brunt of what happens in the real world. It was important for us to realize that institutional racism affects all people of color."
Just as Delgado balanced her involvement with both the soccer and basketball teams this year, the senior balanced her efforts with each team, as the basketball program at Mount Holyoke College took a different approach. An approach that was crafted under Coach Ward's leadership.
"Coach Ward was committed to ensuring that we had these conversations on our (basketball) team," said Delgado. "At first, we organized a lot as well. We did donations, but we also spent each week posting a variety of resources on our social media accounts. Whether it was books, or podcasts, articles, movies, tv shows, we were just helping people recognize that they have the ability to learn. It's not someone else's responsibility to teach you about how you can educate yourself and recognize whether or not you have privilege. It's not someone else's responsibility to teach you about how you can use your voice to affect change. After that, we agreed as a team that we did not want to do this just once, because the conversation has been ongoing since long before I was born, and it should continue forever."
One area that Delgado has been particularly passionate about was educating young girls who come from under represented communities about higher education. During the spring of her sophomore year, Delgado utilized a relationship she built with a teacher that she had in the Bronx, that taught at a predominantly hispanic and black school. Delgado coordinated and hosted a field trip for 40 young girls from black and hispanic communities at Mount Holyoke College, where they had the opportunity to talk to other students of color, and learn about opportunities that they will one day have to continue their education at a place like MHC.
"My mom is Cuban and she is person of color," added Delgado. "My mom pushed me to love sports. She deserves a lot of credit. It was my mom who helped me channel what it felt like to be one of the only persons of color on my teams growing up. She is the one that had those conversations with me about race and ethnicity. I am committed to improving every day in terms of recognizing who is around me and how it can work between different people from different grades, and how to conform the best cohesion possible and make others feel included. That comes from my mom."
Maria Delgado's student-athlete experience at Mount Holyoke College has not been typical. Her inevitable success after graduation in May? That will be typical for Mount Holyoke graduates.
"As a Mount Holyoke College student-athlete, we learn a lot about perseverance," concluded Delgado. "After every season, we talk about how we are going to commit to training in the offseason in order to come back stronger next year. I have goals of becoming a trauma surgeon, or working in emergency medicine. I am working to enhance my med school application, and am really interested in serving in the medical corps within the military."
As Delgado's time as a student-athlete comes to a close, she will now be focusing on preparing for her next "season", and will spend the year after graduation focusing on research, working as an EMT and even potentially joining the Peace Corps. She plans to enter medical school in the Fall of 2022.