Maybe its because she connected on 58 home runs as her Big Red teams won 133 games in her softball career, but Cornell's Lauren May has abandoned her undergraduate major to pursue a career in college sports.
"It's like the Yankee Stadium for softball," says Cornell's Lauren May of UCLA's Easton Stadium. The home of the team with the most NCAA titles (11) has special significance for Cornell as well. In 2004 they posted the team's first-ever NCAA tournament win there, a 2-1 victory over national power Long Beach State.
"It was indescribable," remembers May. "We were so intense, so focused. We never for a moment doubted ourselves, though no one expected us to win." May singled and scored the first run in the win. She also did a lot to get them there, batting .415 and leading the Ivy League in batting and slugging percentage, hits (66), home runs (16), RBIs (56) and total bases (129). For this performance May won the first of two consecutive Player of the Year honors.
She had been preparing for this opportunity for a long time. "I first played softball when I was five years old," says May. "Softball was a big part of my life growing up. I can't remember a time when I wasn't playing."
A three-sport athlete in high school who earned all-county honors in all three sports, it was her basketball coach, a Cornell graduate, who steered May toward Cornell, but "softball was a major factor" in her decision. "I already knew that Cornell would provide an outstanding education," she says, "and the softball program offered a tradition of winning and excellence."
When May arrived in 2001 she helped a good young program make it to the next level of excellence. After achieving varsity status in 1994, the team suffered through records of 10-31 and 6-35-1 its first two seasons before winning its first Ivy championship in 1999. They shared another League title in 2001, but scored a total of one run in four NCAA tournament games before 2004.
Making her presence felt with the greatest season ever by a Cornell freshman, May led the league in home runs (16) and most RBI (52), also team records, and was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year. She also managed the academic-athletic balance. "There was a time to work and a time to play ball," she says. "It was just a matter of managing the time appropriately so that I could put my best effort into both."
Graduating with a degree in psychology May took an administrative job at Penn Medical School, "trying to decide what career path to take." But "sitting at a desk all day, I missed being around sports." So she enrolled in a masters program in Sport Management at Ithaca College, also signing on as assistant softball coach. "I really enjoy it," she says. "It reminds me of how much I enjoyed playing."
With graduation approaching this spring May is looking for a "position in compliance," the nuts-and-bolts of NCAA rules — and how they apply to student athletes. One would expect a former athlete to want to forget this aspect of the college experience, not embrace it. But for May, who completed a concentration in Law and Society in addition to her major, "I have a passion for athletics and the law." In the long run she'd like to work in a "collegiate athletics setting."
"If I had to make the decision over again, there's no question that I would still choose Cornell," says May. "The time I spent at Cornell is invaluable and I would never trade the experiences or friendships I made there for anything."
— Stephen Eschenbach