Five seniors commit to continuing athletic careers


Andrew Burke-Stevenson

Alongside his peers, senior Colin Leslie participates in the signing ceremony in November. Five seniors have committed to continuing their athletic career after high school.

Five seniors have committed to continuing their athletic career after high school. (Midway Staff)

Email. Practice. Compete. Visit. Interview. Repeat.

For most of the Class of 2022, the summer of 2020  was a period of relaxation after a hard sophomore school year unexpectedly going virtual due to a global pandemic. The stress only worsened for student-athletes trying to continue playing their sport in college. The time had finally arrived when college coaches could contact them. They spent countless days emailing college coaches, weeks missing pivotal practices and competitions, and months worrying “How am I going to get into college if I can’t even talk to my coach face to face?” 

After an unusual 18 months filled with a lot of hard work, some pressure was finally alleviated for the committed college athletes with the future looking bright. 

Five seniors are committed to continue their athletic career in college: Emma Baker, Colin Leslie, Amanda O’Donnell, Emilee Pak and Zach Smith.  

David Ribbens, athletics director, said it’s great to have so many high-level athletes in the Class of 2022 and that the school has a part in helping students through recruitment. 

“On average there are only two to three Division I athletes every few years,” Mr. Ribbens said, referring to the most competitive division in the NCAA. “Oftentimes our coaches, counselors and myself are a big part of supporting the student’s decision to commit. It’s kind of a collective effort.”

Amanda is an épée fencer committed to Yale University in Connecticut, which competes in the Division I Ivy League. She began fencing at age 7 and competes for her club, Windy City Fencing, on both a national and international level. Amanda is ranked 13th for all fencers under 20 in the United States and has received nine medals at national competitions. 

Recruitment was Amanda’s long-term goal, and she said the process was more stressful than anticipated. 

“Recruiting has always been in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t the reason I was doing the sport,” Amanda said. “The coaches can definitely put some pressure on you,” she said, explaining how college coaches curate teams. “In general, the schools were all on different timelines, which was pretty stressful.” 

Amanda said she is looking forward to the bond of being a part of a college team but doesn’t expect much difference in terms of competitiveness.

“Right now, we have one to two team events a year as a club, but in college there is much more of a team feeling and I’m super excited for that,” she said. “But I’m also not too nervous. The schedule is just a little more than my club has right now.”

Emma committed to play tennis at Cornell University, another Division I Ivy League school. Emma has won the individual IHSA State Championship this year and has won a state championship with the U-High team twice

Because her father used to play tennis as well, Emma began playing at the early age of 5. She competes individually for the United States Tennis Association and played two years for the U-High varsity team. 

Emma said she wants to use her college experience to achieve her goals and better her game.

She said, “All-Ivy singles or doubles is something I want to achieve. I just want to win matches for my team, perform well, and have a good relationship with my coaches to develop my game.”

Tennis teammate Emilee committed to Wellesley College in Massachusetts, a Division III school in the ​​New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference. She also plays individually and for the U-High varsity team, contributing to the two state titles.

Through her junior and senior year she was communicating with coaches and felt some pressure with the process. 

“Colleges were looking at tournaments and rankings, and it was stressful in that sense,” she said. “But it wasn’t that bad because in the second semester of junior year I was at a tennis academy, so I had a lot of people helping me so it was actually kinda exciting.”

Zach committed to play basketball at Oberlin College in Ohio, a Division III school in the North Coast Athletic Conference. He plays for his club team, the Illinois Stars, and he has played four years of U-High varsity basketball. 

Throughout high school he reached out to many colleges and attended showcases to introduce himself to different schools. However, he found that the coronavirus pandemic negatively impacted his recruiting process. 

“For basketball, the junior season is a really important year for AAU and school because you commit in senior year […] and I kinda lost that. Also, colleges were behind on recruiting because of that year, too.”

Colin committed to play baseball at College of Wooster in Ohio, another Division III school in the North Coast Athletic Conference. 

He plays for a travel team, J. Rush Athletics, and played four years of U-High varsity baseball. 

He started contacting coaches at the end of sophomore year and verbally committed to Wooster before his senior year after showcases and visits. 

Finally committed, the soon to be collegiate student-athletes of the U-High can celebrate not having to worry about the pressures of recruitment and have a lot to look forward to in the next four years.