On August 30th, Andra Espinoza-Hunter made the tough decision to opt out of her last season at Mississippi State, a team that entered the season ranked sixth in the AP Poll and was fresh off an appearance in the SEC Tournament Championship Game. The senior, a former UCONN recruit that averaged 37.0 points per game in her last season of high school ball, had decided that the risk of playing basketball during the COVID-19 Pandemic was not worth the potential rewards.
“I love the game of basketball” Espinoza-Hunter told me over a Zoom call. “But it came down to the point where my health was more important than the game.”
What further fueled the paranoia in her head about the virus were the horror stories told by Espinoza-Hunter’s mother, who works on the frontlines of three hospitals in patient admittance.
“She’d come home every day and I’d see how tired she was after working a 12 hour shift, and she’d tell me stories about how many people have passed, how the bodies were backed up at the morgue so there were just bodies in the hallway…and I was just so scared of contracting it.”
Terrifying statistics backed up the horror stories that were told by Espinoza-Hunter’s mother. Westchester County, where she is from, has had over 2,000 deaths related to COVID-19. Yet with words of encouragement from her mother, the following of safety protocols, and a providential blanket waiver curtesy of the NCAA has Espinoza-Hunter leading the Seton Hall Pirates to a renaissance season for the program.
Seton Hall is currently fifth in the Big East standings with a 7-5 record in conference play. Prior to their current three-game skid, in which they lost to the mighty UCONN and feisty Creighton and DePaul, the Pirates had rattled off six straight wins, thanks to the emergence of Espinosa-Hunter on the squad. Over that win streak, she averaged 28.6 points per game, and established herself as an experienced leader on the team.
Have yourself a day, Andra Espinoza-Hunter!
— BIG EAST WBB (@BIGEASTWBB) January 20, 2021
The decision to come back on the hardwood, closer to home with Seton Hall, was made by Espinoza-Hunter after having conversations with her mom.
— blossum 💞 (@andra_ehunter) November 28, 2020
“My mom told me that I couldn’t live in fear. She told me that as long as I was taking care of my body, socially distancing, and wearing a mask, it would work out.”
Not only was Seton Hall an ideal place to transfer to because of geographic proximity to her home, it also worked out that Espinoza-Hunter was familiar with the roster and coaching staff. She played with Kailah Harris at Ossining High School, and played at the AAU level with Desiree Elmore, Alexia Allesch, and Lauren Park-Lane.
As far as the coaching staff goes, head coach Tony Bozzella and assistant coach Lauren DeFalco began a relationship with Espinoza-Hunter in the seventh grade. Although they were the first to offer her a scholarship, Espinoza-Hunter went on to choose UCONN. She eventually found her way home however, and was given an immediate opportunity to play thanks to a blanket waiver put out by the NCAA on December 16th. The waiver ruled that any student who had transferred from another Division 1 four-year college would be granted immediate eligibility for the season.
The opportunity to suit up for a new team that’s closer to home in the face of a global pandemic has given Espinoza-Hunter a refreshed outlook on life. “I’ve learned to appreciate the moment that I’m living in, rather than looking past it and what has yet to come.”
What’s next to come for Espinoza-Hunter in the immediate future is a showdown with Georgetown on Wednesday at 11 am. As for the long-term, the future is wide open for the graduate student with a new outlook on life.
Dalton Allison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org