On Wednesday, April 15, we celebrated six Holton Panthers continuing their athletic careers at the collegiate level next year. Five of these seniors are committing to play NCAA Division III athletics and one is off to Division I next year!
Brooke Evans '20 will play tennis at Washington University at St. Louis; Eliza Gichner '20 will run track at Dickinson College; Aisling Mockler '20 will row for Hamilton College; Sydney Pham '20 will play lacrosse at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Tatum Zupnik '20 will join the swim team at Bowdoin College; and Rachel Blackwell '20 looks forward to being able to continue her swimming career at the University of Pennsylvania. These girls join classmates Francesca Cetta '20, Jillian Johnson '20, and Sophie Whiteway '20 as NCAA-bound student-athletes.
For Brooke, Eliza, Aisling, Tatum, Sydney and Rachel, the recruitment journey started earlier than the normal college process. All four girls knew they wanted to compete at the collegiate level well before this year. These athletes took their training seriously, giving up other sports, sacrificing free time, dedicating long hours to practice, and perfecting their craft. Not only did the girls dedicate themselves to hours of practice, but also to hours of recruiting work. For most of them, the process began early in their high school career which included emailing and calling coaches and visiting campuses.
In celebrating their commitment, we recognize not just this milestone day, but the years of hard work that led to the occasion. We are proud of Panthers who have found a place where they can both compete in their sport and continue to receive an outstanding education.
Rachel Blackwell, University of Pennsylvania, Swimming
Rachel considered committing to a school during the recruiting process, but it was her dream to attend the University of Pennsylvania, so she decided to forgo athletic recruiting for the chance to attend Penn. This was her top choice because of, as Rachel said, "its great academics, commitment to diversity, and the opportunities that accompany an Ivy League school." Now that she has gained admission to Penn, she will be walking onto the swim team. During her junior year, Rachel explored a number of recruiting opportunities. "I think the recruiting process for any sport can be very mentally draining, but it teaches you how to deal with rejection and that no two schools are alike," said Rachel. She adds, "I think my biggest advice for the recruitment process is that rejection is inevitable, but it is important to not give up, because there is a place for everybody." She says she has plenty of practice balancing the demands of a rigorous academic program and a busy swim schedule. She adds, "Holton athletics and Holton swim, in particular, has prepared me for life as a student-athlete because I think the coaches, as well as the swimmers, hold you accountable for not fulfilling commitments, which is going to be what I will experience at the collegiate level. I want to thank my parents, friends, and the entire Holton swim team, coaches included, for always supporting me through all of my decisions and never giving up on me. "
Brooke Evans, Washington University at St. Louis, Tennis
After dedicating years to the sport and putting in countless hours of preparation, Brooke couldn't image her college experience without the presence of tennis. Brooke thought that the Division III level would give her best balance between tennis and academics. In addition to Washington University at St. Louis, Brooke considered a number of other options, including Tufts, Amherst, Washington & Lee, and Williams College. While these were all incredible schools, they did not offer all of the things Brooke was looking for. Brooke is looking forward to the putting her Holton training into action and balancing all her responsibilities on the court and in the classroom. She wants to thank her high school coach Yann, "who has taught me so much about competing and mental toughness during tennis. For always believing in my potential and always pushing me to do my best. He taught me how to fight, compete, and play with heart."
Eliza Gichner '20, Dickinson University, Track
After running in the Penn Relays her sophomore year, Eliza was stopped by a Holton alumna who went to UPenn. The alum asked Eliza if she planned to run in college. This was the first time Eliza thought about it, and it fueled her journey to the collegiate level. Early in the recruiting process, Eliza considered running track at the Division I level. However, during her recruiting process, she realized how great a fit Division III could be. Eliza said, "I loved the environment of a DIII team and that I could participate in other things outside of my sport if I ran DIII." Through this process, Eliza considered a number of schools, including Connecticut College, Denison, Kenyon, and Dickinson. "I chose Dickinson because I loved the school environment, the town around the campus, the education/teaching program, and I especially loved how close the team was. I visited a bunch and did a track clinic there, but knew I wanted to go to school there after my overnight visit." Eliza is ready to take on the challenges of being a collegiate student-athlete, thanks to Holton's preparation. In the classroom, she said, "I have learned how to overcome hard tasks. I have also learned a lot about the importance of a strong mentality. Through sports at Holton, I have learned to be very strong mentally." She added, "I would love to thank Coach Valmon for working with me and helping me develop as an athlete and as a person. I would also like to thank Coach Mac for helping me understand the importance of mentality in sports. And most importantly, I would love to thank my mom for all of her endless support and time she has given me to help me get to where I am."
Aisling Mockler, Hamilton College, Rowing
The balance of Division III athletics has always appealed to Aisling. A student of many talents, Aisling always knew she would row at the DIII level because she felt it would give her time to explore her many interests. A number of other schools appealed to her, but according to Aisling, "what drew me to Hamilton was the unlimited amount of friendliness that I saw on campus and with every student or alumnus I met." Even though Aisling started the recruiting process later than most, she never doubted her desire to compete at the next level. Aisling is eager and ready to continue her journey as a student-athlete. She said, "Holton does not shy away from hard work and I have learned how to balance a busy schedule as a student and an athlete. I have learned during my time as a Holton athlete that I am much stronger mentally and emotionally than I think I am. I had to learn to not be afraid of making mistakes or 'failing.' I want every student-athlete to learn how to love playing their sport both for their team, and their self." Aisling added, "Thank you to Coach Acerra for supporting me during every step of this process, whether she was offering to reach out to schools or helping me draft my emails to coaches. I remember being 14 and meeting her at the end of eighth grade to tell her how excited I was to join the crew team."
Sydney Pham '20, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Lacrosse
As Sydney went through the college recruiting process, she gained clarity about what she wanted in her collegiate experience. In the end, it was the opportunity to attend a rigorous academic institution that would not only challenge her but allow her to explore her multiple passions and interests, including the opportunity to play on and impact the lacrosse team. The lacrosse recruiting rules changed Sydney's freshman year, and while this gave her more time to make her decisions, it also required a lot of her time and attention over three years. Throughout this process, Sydney stayed focus on pursuing opportunities that fit her interests and vision of a college experience. In the end, MIT stood out as the perfect fit. Sydney is ready to take on the challenges of a college student-athlete. "Holton's challenging curriculum has constantly pushed me to not settle. By having sports after school and other clubs or activities during the day, I've also learned how to manage my time well and work efficiently. Through Holton athletics, I've become more confident in myself and grown as a leader. I've learned a lot about what it means to be a part of a team and that sports are so much more than just what you do on the field," Sydney said. "I thank my parents and my sister for supporting me through the whole process. From driving me to practice and tournaments and sitting in traffic on 495 to catch the second half of a game, to just being great mentors I could talk to and get advice from, they've been my biggest supporters since day one."
Tatum Zupnik '20, Bowdoin College, Swimming
Spending the last six years swimming for Holton, Tatum knew that she wanted to continue swimming competitively beyond high school. "I still have more that I want to accomplish," she said. Considering both DI and DIII schools, Tatum ultimately selected Division III for the balance it provides its student-athletes, offering a shorter season without compromising on the rigor of athletics or academics. Tatum looks forward to fully engaging in all that the Bowdoin community has to offer. During this process, Tatum leaned on her network to guide her. Coaches, teammates, and teammates' parents were all invaluable resources. Throughout her tenure at Holton, Tatum has been challenged both in the classroom and in the pool to help prepare her for life as a collegiate student-athlete. Time-management skills are something she knows she has and will need at the next level. "The Holton swim and dive team has taught me that hard work and commitment to your team pays off," she said. "It's also showed me how amazing a close and supportive team community can be. The many strong relationships I have developed with the swimmers and coaches during my time have been so meaningful to me. I am proud of what I have accomplished on the Holton swim team, and I know it has prepared me well for swimming at Bowdoin. I'm looking forward to working hard and continuing to improve! I also want to thank my parents, sister, Mr. Westerberg and all the other Holton coaches, Mrs. McEnroe, my club coaches, and the Holton swim and dive team members for their help and support!"