The start of Abbi Jett’s college experience couldn’t have gone much better. Jett, a 2019 grad of Hillsboro High School, was able to play the sport she loved, train for a rewarding career in the field of physical therapy and made a bunch of new friends that she instantly clicked with. It was perfect... until it wasn’t.
On March 27, Jett and the other 500 or so students at MacMurray College in Jacksonville learned that the board of trustees voted unanimously to close the 174-year-old institution at the end of the semester due to continued financial struggles.
“Mac was definitely an experience I’ll never forget and it’s too bad it had to close,” Jett said. “All the connections were so genuine. I’m still going to talk to all of my friends there, especially the soccer team.”
After being part of a successful run at Hillsboro that yielded 46 wins and the first girls soccer regional championship in the program’s history, Jett made the transition quickly to the college game, earning the start in 14 of the Highlanders’ 17 games.
While she was predominantly a keeper with the Lady Hiltoppers, Jett found her spot outside the nets at MacMurray.
“I mostly played outside back on defense. It was better for the team for the other goalie to be in net and for me to be in the field,” Jett explained. “It wasn’t like, ‘I can’t play goalie, so I don’t get to play.’ I’ll probably give goalie another shot, but I like playing the field a lot.”
As good as her experience on the pitch was for the Highlanders, who went 7-10 on the season, it was even better away from it.
“If we weren’t together on the field, we’d be together off of it,” Jett said.
“There wasn’t one meal that I didn’t eat with a soccer player. We’d hang out after class and in between classes. We even had plans once spring break was over, but obviously, after spring break, we didn’t go back.”
Jett said that she wasn’t aware of the dire financial situation when she committed to attend MacMurray as a senior at Hillsboro. She said that even once she was on campus, she didn’t really believe that closing was a possibility.
“There were rumors about it, but I just thought it was like any other rumor,” Jett said. “I figured we’d get through it. All colleges are in a little bit of financial trouble right now, but they started reaching out to donors and I thought they would help us out and keep our school open. I guess it wasn’t enough.”
Jett and her fellow Highlanders were notified by email about the decision was made to close, although her coach had spoken to the team about that possibility earlier in the year. With no students on campus due to the COVID-19 quarantine, the feel of the closure was much different than it would have been in a typical year.
“Once the e-learning happened with corona, I started worrying about it (closing) a little more. When I had to go get my stuff, I thought, ‘What if this is the last time I get to come to my school? It would be pretty easy for them to close down the school while we’re not there,’” Jett said. “Obviously if they told us when we were on campus, the whole environment and atmosphere would be really depressing. Still, whenever I got that email, it was really devastating. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it really closed.”
Since then, Jett has returned to Montgomery County, where she is working and recently finished her class online. She has also been searching for a new college, with Eureka College and Elmhurst College currently at the top of her list.
“I’m leaning more toward Eureka because they will match all of my scholarships and financial support that I had at Mac, so I’ll be paying the same,” Jett said. “It’s really nice that they did that and all my classes will transfer to there, so I won’t be behind.”
The school, which is east of Peoria and two hours away from Hillsboro, also competes in the SLIAC, the same conference as MacMurray.
“We played them last year so I know the level of competition there,” said Jett, whose MacMurray squad defeated the Red Devils 4-0 last season.
Jett said that several players from MacMurray are also interested in continuing their educational and athletic careers at Eureka, another check mark in the school’s favor for Jett.
“I’ve never been so close to a team outside of soccer,” Jett said. “It really sucks that MacMurray is closing, but it’s just another opportunity to meet new people I guess.”
Whether that new opportunity comes at Eureka or Elmhurst or somewhere else, Jett will always remember her time at MacMurray, no matter how short.