Which is harder: Graduating from college in three years with two degrees or getting the NCAA to let you play Division III soccer? For Alexandra Dezenzo, it was the latter.
Dezenzo, 22, is a communication sciences graduate student at Emerson College. She also happens to be a new member of the women’s soccer team. A former Division I athlete, Dezenzo began her Lions career on a team excited to have her higher level experience.
The path to getting onto the field, however, was not easy.
Dezenzo played her first three years of college soccer at the University of Vermont before graduating a year early in May of 2014, double majoring in speech language pathology and linguistics. She passed on rejoining the team the following season to pursue graduate studies outside of UVM.
She was accepted to Emerson but still wanted to play her final year of soccer eligibility.
The NCAA typically does not allow graduate students to play college sports. Every undergrad, however, can play for four years, and if they graduate before that, exemptions can be made. But changing schools, and especially divisions, is a much more complicated process.
The association is also reluctant in allowing student-athletes to move down divisions for fear they are only attending that Division III school for easier competition in their sport.
“I had to prove I couldn’t get into the UVM Master’s program,” Dezenzo said. “[And] that UVM didn’t have my program, and [that those were] the reasons I was leaving.”
Emerson’s head coach, David Suvak, said he was never worried about Dezenzo’s eligibility.
“[Dezenzo], and the way her scenario played out, is a pretty special case,” Suvak said. “So, initially we thought that she would have a high chance of being able to play for us.”
At UVM, Dezenzo led the team in goals and points in her freshman year and was named to the 2011 America East Conference All-Rookie Team. She finished her career there with 10 goals, seven assists, and 42 shots on goal. The New Jersey native played in all 55 games as a UVM Catamount. She started in 38 of those games and all 19 of the 2013 season, her last with the team.
“Outthinking opponents and being extremely technical allowed me to do really well at UVM against higher level Division I opponents,” Dezenzo said.
Suvak first met Dezenzo before the season began when she came to Boston for a visit.
“She didn’t come in with any preconceived ideas about what Division III was going to be,” Suvak said. “She just wanted the opportunity to come to school here, and, if possible, play soccer.”
With the help of Emerson athletics’ staff, Suvak and Dezenzo compiled a waiver with every requirement that needed to be met and sent it to the NCAA. Within a month, he received a reply allowing Dezenzo to play her final year of eligibility at Emerson.
After 21 months away from college soccer, Dezenzo returned to the pitch.
Dezenzo has quickly found her niche in the team, Suvak said. In competition, the team’s starting center-midfielder scored a goal in both of Emerson’s two preseason games and tallied two in the team’s 6-0 victory over Newbury in the season opener on Sept. 1.
Alyssa Giannone, a senior midfielder, said she has enjoyed the pace at which her teammate plays.
“She has a really good control of the game,” the journalism major said. “So, I think, with her footwork, she really can help us move forward in a better way than we have in the past.”
For Dezenzo, bringing a team that went 6-11-1 last year into the playoffs in 2015 is the priority.
“Last year [Emerson] had a lot of 2-1 losses or 1-0 losses,” Dezenzo said. “As a center-midfielder, I think I can help get us some of those wins that were lost last year.”