With college application deadlines looming, many seniors are scrambling to perfect their portfolios and apply to their dream schools. However, some students have already committed to attending universities as college athletes. Two such students are senior Kendra Lee and junior Alyssa Weede.
“A lot of kids play sports their entire life and by the time to get to this point are ready to move on and just be a student and experience that life of being at a university,” girls’ basketball coach Stephen Kolodziej said. “It takes a special person to want to continue their love of the game.”
After graduating this spring, Lee will be playing basketball as a lion at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. Weede, who was recruited her freshman year, will be continuing her soccer career at the University of Illinois after graduating BG in 2022.
Although many students don’t start thinking about where they will be attending college until senior year, in order to be recruited, student athletes have to start considering their options earlier. Both Lee and Weede reached out to coaches at different colleges themselves, with Lee starting her sophomore year and Weede starting her freshman year. Coaches from different schools would then come out to see them play in person, in order to get an idea if they would be a fit for their school.
“Junior year, I put a lot of pressure on myself, knowing that coaches were there watching me,” Lee said. “I felt like I had to score and do everything, but this year, I think I’ll have a little bit of a different mentality and relax and play for my team.”
There’s a good reason for the recruitment process to be stressful. For college coaches, finding the right player to recruit is a serious task. In college sports, the coaches’ job depends on the team winning, meaning that more depends on having the right group of players. Similarly, playing on the team can require a larger commitment than a high school sport, with students dedicating large amounts of their time to the team.
“There are different demands in high school and college,” Weede said. “In college soccer, the level of play is dramatically increased along with size of players, talent, skill and the speed of the game. All of my work now with my club is aimed toward getting, not only me but other girls on the team who are committed, ready to play in college.”
The college recruitment process has recently shifted away from the high school. Although college coaches used to visit schools to see students play, the landscape of the recruitment field has changed. Both girls attended special camps, along with many of the other best athletes in the country, where coaches from many different universities would attend to scout for recruits. For basketball specifically, Amateur Athletic Union has created these opportunities to gather the best high school basketball athletes in one place. In soccer, Weede had attended an ID camp, where high school soccer players visit a college and play for the coaches to evaluate.
Although committed student athletes don’t have to go through the stress and difficulty of filling out college applications, school fit is still an important factor. Not only do they have to find a team that is interested in having them play on, they must make sure that their goals and strengths are a good match for the college that they will be attending. For this reason, when contacting schools, both Lee and Weede contacted many different schools and were seen by many different coaches before they matched with a college.
“Not every school is going to want you, and knowing that is a little bit frustrating,” Lee said. “Finding the right fit for you is also hard. Other than that, it was a really rewarding process.”
Despite the challenges of the recruitment process, students who go through it choose to do so out of a love for the game. By being on a college team, they are becoming part of a special, tight-knit community where they will be surrounded by other athletes with a similar dedication.
“I’m most looking forward to getting to play with talented girls, but, most of all, getting to know the team,” Weede said. “I’m just excited to have fun and play with a bunch of girls who live the same lifestyle as me.”
For many students, athletics can be one of the highlights of their time in high school, along with being a significant time and energy commitment. By committing to play in college, student athletes such as Lee and Weede are committing to four more years of pursuing their love of the game and reaping the rewards of the work they put in during high school.
“Work at your craft, commit to the game, spend more time in the gym than anybody else and then we’ll find you a place to play,” Kolodzeij said.