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Keeping her focus, a star athlete copes with a lost season

When she heard last week that one of the joys of her young life would be taken from her, she began crying.

Speaking on Monday about learning the news, Lauren Gurney laughed a bit, although she still feels the hurt that playing her senior year of varsity softball had vanished in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“I think I cried through the first two periods of school,” she said.

Calm and wise counseling from Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio and School Superintendent Brian Doelger got her back on track, and the poise and clarity that she has shown on the athletic field kicked in to deal with the disappointment.

She’s going to the beach every day, she said, for fresh air and to stretch her legs, “but I’m keeping my distance,” she said.

In the spring of 2019, Lauren joined Sag Harbor’s Pierson High School varsity softball team since Shelter Island didn’t have a varsity program. She fit in right from the start, said Pierson Head Coach Woody Kneeland last year, despite being the only player from the Island commuting to play softball. Shelter Island does have a junior varsity team, but no other players have had the same level of commitment as Lauren, who played travel softball last year for the Long Island Express.

She was hooked early on bat-and-ball sports, she said. Her father, Dave Gurney, the kind of Mets fan who bleeds orange and blue, got Lauren involved in T-Ball when she was about five. “I loved it right away,” she said.

When she was 8 she started playing softball, “which I didn’t want any part of,” she said. “I wanted to play baseball.”

Her dad got some videos of Jennie Finch, the All-American collegian, Olympian and All-star professional pitcher.

“Watching her pitch got me,” Lauren said. “I was hooked.”

She emulated the softball star and became a brilliant pitcher with a moving fastball and wicked changes of speed.

“My experience at Pierson has been amazing,” she told the Sag Harbor Express as the season came to a close last spring. “The coaches are amazing, as well as my teammates. At first, it was a little strange being the only one playing from a different school, but the girls on the team really took me in.”

One of her most important accomplishments last year — at least for her dad’s sake — was getting a driver’s license. At the start of the season in 2019, Mr. Gurney was her wheelman, driving the budding star to Sag Harbor for practices. It was a tight schedule, since practices started at 3 p.m., so it was a race for Lauren to finish classes and make it to the field.

Lauren at South Ferry. (Credit: Dave Gurney)

But by the last days of April 2019, she got her license, so dad was relieved of duty. For Pierson’s away games, Lauren would get to Sag Harbor and take the bus with her teammates. Her commitment to the team and the sport made it an easy choice for Coach Kneeland to make her a starting pitcher for the Lady Whalers. The coach described her as a “lights out pitcher.”

A fine athlete in any sport she’s tried, Lauren was a standout volley ball player, and on December 14, 2019, she broke the Shelter Island High School record for the 55-meter dash with a time of 8.26 seconds.

“I enjoy all the other sports,” she said. “But for me it’s always been softball that I really love.”

A pitcher is always the main focus of attention on the diamond, which she thrives on as well as the chance “to control all my pitches, to control what happens. Throwing the ball as hard as I can is great.”

Her prowess on the field is matched by her classroom accomplishments. An honor roll student, with a passion for science, Lauren, along with classmate Emma Gallagher and 2018 graduate Francesca Frasco, collaborated with a team of Long Island high school students from seven districts in the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) Student Partnerships for Advanced Research and Knowledge. They scored a major accomplishment. For the first time, high school students’ work was published in the prestigious Protein Data Bank, the scientific equivalent to The New York Times.

She’ll be attending the University of Maine in September, studying biology at the university’s honors college.

It won’t be all lab work, however. She plans to play club softball at school.

There won’t be much time for pickup softball this summer, she said, but she’ll be getting a lot of fresh air. “I’ll be working at White Oak Farm and Gardens,” Lauren said.