By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart
Like 3.2 million other American seniors who graduated in 2020, Melissa and Megan Carden entered their first year of college full of uncertainty. Their heavily anticipated senior year at Vestal High School came to a crashing halt in March of 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone in our family went to SUNY Broome, so we were always open to the idea of coming here. We each looked at different schools, but when the pandemic hit and we were told that colleges across the country were only going to be offering classes remotely, we ultimately decided that coming to SUNY Broome made the most sense financially, academically, and socially. We didn’t want to be stuck in a dorm room on our computer away from our family. We would much rather study locally and be together,” said Melissa.
Thanks to an Instant Admission Day at Vestal High School, both Megan and Melissa Carden had applications and transcripts already on file with the Admissions Office. Both girls participated in Fast Forward classes at Vestal, and already had a few college credits under their belts. As an undecided student, Megan entered the Liberal Arts and Sciences: A.A. program to complete her general education requirements and explore her academic options, while Melissa, who hopes to be an engineer, jumped directly into the Engineering Science: A.S. program.
While learning remotely wasn’t the typical college experience that the Carden sisters had in mind, they had some experience with online learning through their senior year and tried to make the best of each semester. Due to social distancing guidelines, sports and clubs were temporarily discontinued. This was a particularly hard blow for Melissa and Megan, who were three-sport athletes (basketball, track and field, and volleyball) in high school. To have some social interaction with the outside world and to earn a little money, the Carden sisters picked up night shift jobs at Weis Markets on Main Street in Vestal.
“We took our classes during the day and restocked toilet paper and sanitized carts at night,” laughed Megan.
The following fall semester brought the COVID-19 vaccine and lighter social distancing restrictions, which meant the much-anticipated return of in-person classes and on-campus activities. Megan and Melissa were beyond ready to experience collegiate-level athletics and couldn’t wait for the first volleyball meeting of the year.
As Melissa and Megan walked into the gym for volleyball tryouts, they began to recognize girls from all across the region, many of whom they competed against in high school and all-star tournaments. It took all of the girls present at tryouts just a few minutes to survey the room and realize that this was going to be a special team.
“One of the positives to the pandemic was that a lot of local athletic talent opted to stay in the area and come to SUNY Broome. We knew that we had a great team from the beginning,” shared Melissa.
The Carden sisters were right. This was an extraordinary team. The Hornets soared through the women’s volleyball season undefeated, dropping only three sets all year in comparison to winning forty-five. They advanced to the 2021 NJCAA Division III Volleyball Championship in Rochester, Minnesota, where they finished fourth overall.
With such an incredible collegiate athletics experience under their belts, the Carden sisters were content to hang up their jerseys and focus on their respective classes. That changed when Assistant Athletic Director and Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Mike Huggler, stopped by a volleyball team meeting.
“Mike explained that he needed to boost his numbers for the women’s basketball team and wondered if anyone on the volleyball team would be interested in playing for him. While it wasn’t part of our plan to play basketball at SUNY Broome, we played competitively in high school and wanted to help out if we could. If nothing else, it would help to keep us in shape for next volleyball season,” said Melissa.
While the women’s basketball season was not as successful as the women’s volleyball season, the Carden sisters and their teammates made it to the “elite eight.” Just as basketball season was coming to a close, rumors began swirling around campus that SUNY Broome was creating its first ever track and field team, led by Greater Binghamton Sports Hall of Fame member and NJCAA Region III Championship winning coach, Tom Carter.
The rumors were confirmed when past track and field teammates from Vestal began messaging Megan and Melissa to see if they would be interested in joining SUNY Broome’s historic, inaugural track and field team.
“Track was our favorite sport in high school, so we couldn’t say no. Plus, there was something really exciting about being part of the College’s first team. We didn’t plan on being three sport athletes, but I guess we were making up for lost time,” laughed Megan.
SUNY Broome had realistic expectations for the first track and field team. Coach Carter, Director of Athletics, Colleen Cashman, and the administration considered this first season a trial run for the College. The Carden sisters, however, must not have gotten the “no pressure, it’s just our first year” memo. As a result, thanks largely in part to the contributions of Megan and Melissa, the women’s Track & Field team won the 2022 NJCAA Region III Track & Field championship and advanced to nationals in their first year of competition.
Megan was awarded the “Women’s Track & Field Athlete of the Meet.” She earned first-place finishes in the heptathlon, long jump, javelin, and the 4×100 relay, as well as second-place finishes in the high jump, shot put, 110 hurdles, and the 4×400 relay. Melissa placed first in the triple jump, and contributed to first place finishes in the 4×100 and 4×400 relays. She also placed second in the heptathlon and the 400 meters finals.
At the NJCAA D III Outdoor Track & Field Championships, the women’s track and field team finished in 9th place with Megan earning SUNY Broome’s first National Champion honors after placing first in the women’s heptathlon. She qualified for her first “Team Field All-American” status. Melissa placed third in the women’s 400 hurdles by a .0006 of a second. This earned her “Honorable Mention Track All-American” accolades. Melissa also earned “Honorable Mention Field All-American” honors in the women’s triple jump after placing third in her division.
With that, the semester ended and the Carden sisters were finally able to rest…sort of. When they aren’t taking classes or participating in SUNY Broome athletics, they are busy coaching summer camps, leading youth groups of middle and high school girls for New Life Church, and working at BOCES.
Both Megan and Melissa echoed identical advice for incoming SUNY Broome students – take advantage of every opportunity provided.
“We had so much fun this year, primarily because we made it a point to get involved on campus. Not just in athletics, but even just by attending the events put on by Student Activities. We all pay an activities fee, so make sure you put it to use. Specifically for prospective athletes, don’t think that a community college can’t provide quality, competitive athletic programs. This year definitely solidified that they do!”
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