Five senior girls sign National Letters of Intent to play collegiate athletics

Charlotte Tomlin

For senior Camryn Kowalewski, Wednesday, Nov. 8 was the day that it all came to fruition. She walked into the Auxiliary Gym at 2 p.m. and  sat down behind a table decorated with American University paraphernalia and adorned with her lacrosse stick. She was  ready to take the step into the next chapter of her life. .

After a grueling recruiting process, preceded by years of hard work playing the sport she loves, Kowalewski signed a seven page contract, a figurative end to her high school years.

“I’ve been playing lacrosse since I was 5 years old,” Kowalewski said. “I have been waiting for this day since February, and it was so exciting to finally make it official today.”

That same day,  five other senior girls signed their National Letters of Intent to continue their athletic and academic careers at the Division I collegiate level. Lacrosse players Kowalewski and Lily Tollison committed to American University and Radford University respectively; rowers Katherine Mote and Mia Harrington committed to Stanford University and the University of Miami; and soccer player Truth Byars committed to Southern Methodist University.

“It was a full circle moment to be able to sign with my friends because we all went through it together,” Kowalewski said. “We all were so proud of one another and glad we could continue to be there for one another.”

Committing to playing a sport in college requires a high level of commitment. Athletes are forced to prioritize their time, which may include leaving behind activities they love.

“I grew up playing soccer and entered high school playing three sports: field hockey, soccer and lacrosse,” Tollison said. “I enjoyed every single one of these sports, but it was my sophomore year when I realized that if I wanted to pursue lacrosse in college I would have to dedicate all my time to this sport to be the best player on the field I could be. I ended up quitting both soccer and field hockey and now only play lacrosse.”

Even though Harrington and Tollison had to make a choice between continuing to play other sports, or just focusing on committing for one sport, Kowalewski had a different experience.

“Playing other sports did not affect my commitment to lacrosse,” Kowalewski, a field hockey captain and former member of the varsity soccer team, said. “It actually really helped me because it showed [the colleges that were interested in me] that I was a multi-sport athlete, but it also helped with the burnout that could have happened.”

For athletes like Mote, the decision to focus on only one sport came later in her high school career.

“Originally at ESD I played basketball,” Mote said. “I continued to play basketball freshman and sophomore year but chose not to play junior year in order to compete in the off-season and get stronger for the [spring] rowing season. I thought at that point it made more sense for me to just continue rowing and not play basketball anymore.”

Depending on the sport, Division I universities can begin to reach out and offer athletes on Sep. 1 of the athlete’s junior year. Most athletes commit during their junior or senior year, after a long recruiting process.

“I committed Jan. 24 of my junior year,” Tollison said. “The recruiting process was the hardest thing I have been through. This process was long, stressful and time-consuming. There were many moments when I compared myself to other players and doubted my ability to play Division I lacrosse. I spent days worrying about finding the right place for me, but after time, I found my home.”

However, for some athletes, the decision to commit comes earlier than junior year. For Byars, the signing was five years in the making.

“For me, the recruiting process was very simple because I knew what school I wanted to go to, and once they knew I wanted to go to SMU, they gave me an offer,” Byars said. “I committed in seventh grade, which sounds early, but the great education and the community at SMU made me sure I wanted to go there. I committed two days before the Sept. 1 rule was created.”

It was a full circle moment to be able to sign with my friends because we all went through it together.

Cam Kowalewski

In contrast to Byars, Harrington’s journey to commitment was shorter than her peers. For crew, the recruitment process begins on June 15 of the athlete’s summer going into junior year.

“I started rowing my sophomore year,” Harrington said. “I actually quit soccer my junior year because I wanted to dedicate my whole winter to rowing, training and lifting so I could be fast enough to win races [in the spring] because I knew I wanted to row in college.”

For many athletes, as soon as they step on the college campus, they immediately feel at home — which makes the decision to commit even easier.

“I fell in love with Radford University right when I stepped onto campus. Many say ‘when you know, you know,’ and that is exactly how I felt,” Tollison said. “I have always been a Virginia girl at heart, so I knew I wanted to be in Virginia no matter what. I felt so welcomed by both the coaches and the players. It was the best decision I have ever made. Signing with Radford means that I am committed to the team, the coaches, working hard in the classroom and being the best version of myself that I can be.”

For all five athletes, signing day was a chance to celebrate their accomplishments with their friends and families.

“When I was signing, all I could think about was everyone in front of me when I looked up,” Tollison said. “I saw all of the people who have been supporting me since day one, and it was so great to feel that. I could not stop thinking about how thankful I am to be playing college lacrosse and how thankful I am for the people who helped me get to this point.”

On signing day, athletes choose a timeslot during the day to sign their NLI. They are allowed to wear their college’s merch throughout the day, as well as decorate their signing table to celebrate their signing. The athletes can invite friends and family to watch them sign.

“[On signing day] your coach sends you a NLI letter where you officially commit to the university,” Kowalewski said. “The day of, you get to wear your school’s merchandise, decorate the table with decorations like flags, hats, and for me, my lacrosse stick. My family, friends and coaches came to watch me sign my letter and support me.”

However, for some athletes, the commitment process is not over on signing day. For example, Mote must work all year to maintain her grades in order to be able to row at Stanford.

“Originally when I committed to Stanford in July, I was sent an application and filled it out within a week,” Mote said. “[I] received my acceptance the second week of August. Within my acceptance, there were a few contingencies including switching up my class schedule a little bit to add a few APs and drop electives like business management and accounting, as well as maintaining high grades throughout the year in order for my acceptance to still be valid.”

With signing day, all the hard work the athletes have put into their sport comes to a resolution.

“I felt really proud of myself [when I signed] because of the hard work and dedication I put in since I was little,” Kowalewski said. “It was a dream come true, and I am so grateful to have had my family, friends and coaches there supporting me and congratulating me. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

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