Getting into college is a priority for most high-school students. Once they “get in,” they can figure out what to do next.
But for a special group of students — the scholarship athletes — the situation is a little different. For these kids, college often becomes a question of who wants them more than a mere acceptance letter.
“The recruiting process can be a little stressful at times, especially coming from a small town like Hood River,” said 2000 HRV graduate and University of Wisconsin scholarship swimmer Bethany Pendleton.
“You have colleges calling you all the time and you don’t always know much about the schools you’re talking to. Sometimes you don’t know what to say, and that can be pretty intimidating,” she said.
And, all that happened before she even set foot on a college campus. Then came the recruiting trips, the endless batch of letters, and the knowledge that her every move was now under the microscope.
But Pendleton was lucky to have the support of a group of coaches throughout Oregon, who made the process much easier for her to cope with.
“The swimming community in Oregon is a pretty close-knit family,” she said. “I found out a lot about the NCAA rules and the different programs by talking to people who had already been through it.”
However, not all athletes are as fortunate. Some, like HRV seniors Christy Paul and
Jacobe Krizman, have to learn as they go.
“All the calls and letters can be bothersome, but it’s also kind of fun to know that there are people out there watching you,” said Paul, the 2001 state cross-country champion who completed her high-school career with three top-five finishes.
“I’ve had four or five schools trying to get me to come for a visit, and it’s tough because I don’t want to lead anyone on if I’m not really interested in going there,” she said.
Paul has narrowed her list down to two colleges, Princeton and Santa Clara University, and will visit both in January. She is considering both schools for academics as well as cross-country, and thinks of running in college as more of a way to help finance her education than an opportunity to turn pro like her coach and mentor, Kristen Uhler.
Similarly, Krizman, the new 4A state rushing record holder, isn’t yet thinking about life after college. He’s just excited that he is being considered by a top Division I program like the University of Oregon.
“To play for any Division I school would be pretty amazing,” he said. “But since I’ve grown up watching U of O football, it would be even more special.”
The three-sport star (football, wrestling, lacrosse) also plans to tour Linfield College, and said that any opportunity to play football beyond high school would be a huge bonus.
“I would miss the other sports, but it’s worth it,” he said. “If I were given a scholarship, that would keep me motivated to keep up on my studies. The competition level is so high, and I know I would need to stay focused year- round to maintain it.”
Krizman said his biggest support throughout the recruiting process has come from his coach Mitch Sanders, who also serves as the HRV Athletic Director.
“If I had any questions, coach Sanders knew exactly how to answer them because he’s been through it all before,” Krizman said of the 1989-90 all-state linebacker who was recruited by the University of Idaho before landing at Willamette University and later, Oregon State University.
“My advice to the kids going through the process right now would be to sit back and enjoy it,” Sanders said. “That, and don’t rule out a school because it’s too small, too far away or whatever.
“There’s no way I thought I’d wind up at Willamette, but I got bumped off the list at the last minute by the University of Idaho. At the time, I was glad I had a choice.”
Sanders noted that, while HRV has had a number of high-profile athletes over the years — most recently Pendleton, Dana Huseby (track, University of Nevada), Kellen Maurer (golf, Mississippi State), Krystal Draper (softball, OSU), Haylie Mazza (volleyball, University of Texas, U of O) and Cary McGonigal (football, University of California) — this year’s class of athletes is somewhat special.
“This kind of thing doesn’t happen all the time,” Sanders said. “But, while a number of students are being recruited, people need to remember that nothing is set until the papers are signed.”
Not only that, but once an athlete is given a scholarship, he or she must maintain a certain level of performance to be awarded scholarship money in the future.
“My scholarship most definitely depends on my performance,” said Huseby, a 2000 HRV graduate and pole vaulter at the University of Nevada. “I did really well my freshman year and my scholarship money increased the next year. But I didn’t do as well last year and the money stayed about the same.”
Huseby said that, while there
exists a lot of pressure to maintain an elite level of performance, she is also being “paid” to do something she enjoys, which makes it all the more worthwhile.
“In high school, practicing the pole vault was my job,” she said. “I worked extra hard in high school so I could take advantage of my athletic abilities at college. Now, instead of having to work a part-time job, I get paid to do something I love every day.”
Krizman and Paul, among others, hope to have a similar scenario next year. Intermountain Conference Player of the Year Becca Meierbachtol has already committed to the University of Portland to play soccer, while boys soccer standouts Matt Dallman, Dereck Ponce and Corey Vandlac have all garnered interest from West Coast colleges.
Another local soccer player, Jordan Thompson, is in the first year of his scholarship at Chico State University in California.
A handful of others — including juniors Alex Ponce, Lisa Tedford and Acer Lopez — all hope to receive similar interest during their senior campaigns.
Another possibility for some of these players is attempting to make the team as a walk-on. But, for that to be a feasible option, the athlete must keep up his or her grades.
“By doing well in the classroom, these kids will increase the probability of walking on somewhere,” said Sanders, a former 3.6 GPA student who walked on at Oregon State after playing one year at Willamette.
“Students need to be sure they take care of their academics so that the road will be smoother for them wherever they wind up.”
One more piece of advice for the aspiring scholarship athlete is, “don’t be afraid to put your name out there.”
“Go out and find the school you want to go to,” said Pendleton. “If you depend on passive recruiting, you may not end up where you want to be, so it’s important to go after what you want.”