Concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic had abruptly ended her in-progress senior season, a campaign the Saints started with great optimism following their program-best season in 2019. The NCAA ended up allowing all spring athletes — and, eventually, fall and winter ones, too — an extra year of playing eligibility because of the disruption, but heading back to Siena was not a given for a player who has been at the heart of the improvement for a program that experienced only two winning seasons in its first 22.
“It was a really hard decision to make; I had been accepted into a graduate program when COVID happened, so I was pretty certain that I wasn’t going to come back,” Brennan said after the Saints’ win earlier this week against Marist.
But . . .
“I had committed to Siena with hopes of coming away with a MAAC championship — and I’ve yet to have one, and we were so close back in 2019,” said Brennan, referencing when the Saints lost in overtime in the MAAC final. “So I’m not leaving here without a ring. That’s the goal.”
Brennan was the only Siena senior from last year to come back for this season, as the team’s other four seniors — Kaitlyn Lembo, Therese Pitman, Megan Power and Catherine Quinlan — graduated and left the program. Brennan — a fifth-year senior — will celebrate her much-delayed senior day as part of today’s 4 p.m. MAAC game against Monmouth at Hickey Field, a crucial matchup for the Saints as they continue to chase after the league’s regular-season title.
For Brennan, securing the win means more than the ceremony of the day. A psychology major at Siena, Brennan delayed her start in Roberts Wesleyan College’s clinical psychology doctoral program for a year to try to lead this year’s Saints to their first-ever MAAC tournament championship.
“She put her life on hold for this,” Siena head coach Abby Rehfuss said of her three-year captain.
While Brennan faced a difficult decision, the one she reached didn’t necessarily surprise the Saints’ fourth-year head coach.
“Annie is three-time captain for us for a reason,” Rehfuss said. “Her teammates have always seen leadership qualities in her, and just really value having her experience and leadership in the locker room.”
After her five-goal game Tuesday against Marist, Siena freshman Laura Bonomo credited her veteran teammates for helping her along during her rookie college season — and, when asked which teammates in particular had helped her, Bonomo offered up a “definitely Annie Brennan” without any hesitation because of how positive the fifth-year senior is with her.
“She just gives me a lot of confidence,” Bonomo said.
Beyond her leadership, Brennan is one of Siena’s most-productive players despite playing with a knee injury suffered during the preseason’s first week. Brennan said her right knee likely will require surgery when the season is done, but that hasn’t stopped the 5-foot-7 midfielder from registering 17 goals and two assists during Siena’s first nine games. A Rochester native, Brennan ranks third on the team in goals this season, and is two away from 100 in a career that’s seen her honored by the MAAC both for her stellar play and academic success.
“That’s just who Annie is,” Rehfuss said of Brennan’s contributions this season despite her injury. “She’s a competitor and she knows what’s at stake.”
With two games left on its regular-season schedule, Siena is 7-2, but there is currently a lack of clarity regarding whether one of its wins — its victory last week against MAAC member Iona — counts in the league standings. If it doesn’t, Siena is 6-2 in MAAC play, which would put the Saints in third place behind 7-2 Monmouth and 8-1 Fairfield. Siena, though, beat Fairfield earlier this season in a rematch of the 2019 final the Saints lost, and Rehfuss’ team now gets the chance to topple the other squad the Saints are battling with atop the standings.
While some of Siena’s current seniors could opt to use the extra year of playing eligibility they possess next season, all of the Saints’ seniors will be honored today along with Brennan. Additionally, the seniors who weren’t able to be honored a year ago — Brennan’s classmates — will be recognized during the Saints’ senior-day festivities.
Brennan said she “would be lying if I said I didn’t second-guess myself numerous times” regarding her decision to head back to Siena for one last shot at a MAAC championship.
“But,” Brennan said, “every time I step out on the field and am around my team, it reaffirms I made the right decision. I love lacrosse and I’m just so happy to be here.”