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  • Writer's pictureMikayla Brandford

At Tufts It's Positively Molly

When you love something, you never give up on it. This is the mindset that Molly Ryan has carried with her throughout her Covid-19 off-season leading up to 2021’s tip-off.

Molly Ryan is a standout Division 3 basketball player at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. She has been diligently working and improving since her freshman season. From her first year, she has been on track to become one of the top players in all of Division 3.

Molly started all 31 games during her debut year and helped the Jumbos to a NESCAC Championship. She made an appearance in the NCAA “Elite Eight,” allowing her to showcase her skills on a bigger stage. Molly has long been known for her defensive thievery: she has recorded team-highs since her days of playing highschool basketball into her collegiate career--with a recorded team-high of 55 steals at Tufts.

Having come from a basketball family, it is no wonder where her tenacity and passion derive from. With a father who played Division 1 ball at Princeton, she has had large shoes to fill and is doing so with ferocity.

Division 3 sports operate differently than other leagues. Athletes that choose "D3" often have a desire to be more academically focused while also pursuing their athletic passion. Unlike Division 1 or Division 2, Division 3 athletes are not granted a scholarship to play their respective sport. Oftentimes, Division 3 athletes elect to play in this league because it allows them the freedom to do more than just their sport; they are able to be connected to events on and off campus and they can focus on their academic careers all while being able to play their sport at a high level.

Molly chose to play Division 3 for similar reasons. She felt that a Division 3 school like Tufts University would be a “good balance” where she would be “free to pursue other passions”. She noted why she specifically chose Tufts saying, “I definitely decided on Tufts because of the exceptional academics and competitive athletics.”

Even during normal times, the stress of being a college athlete can become extremely overwhelming. When coupled with a pandemic, navigating this stress while also maintaining staying in top physical condition has been expectedly tough for many players.

However, for Molly Ryan, basketball has been such an integral part of her daily routine that the coronavirus’ interruption to her season did not substantially impact her. She said that the transition from pre-pandemic basketball responsibilities to at-home basketball responsibilities was not overly difficult for her; she simply had to hold herself to an elevated fitness standard in order to ensure that her return back to season this year would go smoothly.

When asked what she did to maintain her physicality and playing level she said she “worked out almost every day...did a lot of running and...also played pick up basketball at a local gym.”

By working these routines throughout a very chaotic year, she was able to create a lifestyle that kept her on her A-game. Despite the structure of her at-home routine, she mentioned missing being in the gym with her teammates and the sense of togetherness they had as they worked towards their athletic goals: “we are all excited to be back in the gym”.

During the height of the pandemic, the conversation surrounding mental health was present in almost every platform. The mindset of a student athlete has to be extremely strict and focused in order to balance all of the commitments they are obligated to fulfill on a daily basis.

The same applies to Ryan. Her mindset and focus has remained the same--play to the best of her ability and perform both on and off the court. The biggest mentality shift for Molly was focusing on treating each day as important, taking nothing for granted no matter how small it may seem, and thoroughly enjoying what is potentially her last season because she never knows when it can be cut-short.

As is clear from Molly’s mindset and lifestyle, she is an extremely passionate and dedicated athlete. The work she put in during her unexpected off-season was an excellent preview into the intensity and skill she has brought to this year’s season so far.

Her coach, Jill Pace, seconds that notion. When asked about Molly’s talent and work ethic on the court this season Coach Pace wrote, “The energy that Molly brings on a regular basis to practices and games is unmatched. She is a fierce competitor, and this competitiveness rubs off onto each player on our team. Molly is able to uniquely balance her competitiveness with a positivity that motivates her teammates to be at their best.”

Molly has been able to carry positivity into an incredibly challenging year and transition back to not only athletic life but life in general. For many people, life began to lull and negativity started to become their reality. Therefore, Ryan’s ability to bring positivity to her teammates is rare. Her high-energy and strength on the court not only carried over from previous seasons but also from her work-ethic at home and her clear love for the game.

Molly has been adamant that her skills remain at peak level despite the pandemic and the challenges that it has brought. For many, these challenges surround drive and work-ethic. Both dwindled as a result of remaining in lock-down for months with no clear end. There is no question that Molly felt some of the same stressors which is why her dedication to her craft is so impressive.

She not only maintained, she improved according to Coach Jill Pace: “Molly has come back from the long COVID hiatus ready to pickup where she left off during her sophomore year, and has already shown improvements from a basketball and leadership perspective.” To emerge from one of the most challenging years as a leader and standout player is a testament to Ryan’s efforts on and off the court. Her technical skills have always stood out to not only her coaches but the other players on her team.

According to Pace, Ryan excels at both defense and offense: “Molly is one of our toughest on-ball defenders and is an extremely versatile offensive player who is able to knock down the 3 and pullup, and has already made improvements this season in her ability to drive strong to the basket.” Molly’s strength as a player has continued with her from her first year to her last year on the team despite the challenges she and many other athletes have faced.

Molly Ryan is a player to watch this season. She strives for nothing short of perfection in her leadership and her sportsmanship. Her work-ethic during the 2020 off-season has set her up to excel in the current season. To her fans and teammates she writes, “It is potentially my last season and I am going to make the most of it. I am really excited to see what is ahead for us!”

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