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Archive for June 23, 2017

June 23, 2017 — From early commitment to early matriculation

There have been plenty of stories about the excesses of college sports, where coaches have gotten verbal commitments from middle-schoolers in the revenue sports.

More recently, the controversy was about how non-revenue athletic programs, such as those found in field hockey and lacrosse, were seeking verbal commitments from ninth and 10th-graders. And it even got to the point where a verbal commitment from a seventh-grader got the NCAA lacrosse coaches to write regulations preventing that from happening again.

In field hockey, there have been plenty of pressures felt by players as young as ninth grade to make a commitment. And it’s gotten to the point where high-school seniors have begun to gray-shirt (or green-shirt, depending on the terminology) onto college teams as students who finish their high-school curriculum a semester early.

Because of spring field hockey, it is thought that bringing in second-semester seniors would help in their overall development not only as an athlete, but as a student.

Chantae Miller, who was a six-year varsity player with Williamsville (N.Y.) North last decade, was persuaded to join the Michigan State team six months early. There have been others, including prominent youth national teamers such as Mayv Clune, who left Bethlehem Moravian Academy (Pa.) just weeks after leading them to a state title and joined up with the University of Maryland.

But more recently, there have been players who have taken an even greater leap. At least two Division I players have, or are in the process of, skipping their senior years of playing field hockey to join up with a college program a year before schedule.

It’s happened at Princeton University, where Elise Wong finished up her high-school credits at Lake Forest (Ill.) and by the fall of 2015, was starting for the Tigers before she could earn a learner’s permit in some states.

This past week, goalie Emma Likly of Wilton (Conn.) graduated from high school a year early so that she could attend Syracuse University.

“It was definitely a difficult decision because I wasn’t thinking about going to college next fall,” Likly tells The Hour. “But I already was so excited to go there and I just know that it’s such a great program, it’s such a great school, so I thought, ‘Why not get a head start on it?’ ”

But given the talent identification and development apparatus for USA Field Hockey now targeting younger players such as Erin Matson for senior duty, having colleges coming in and getting early matriculations of high-school players is a different matter altogether.

You see, in many athletic competitions, having an extra year’s maturity is seen as a plus. Preparatory schools in the northeast U.S. give football and basketball players a chance to get one or two years more size and speed before entering college a year or two later than their peers.

Yet, at least in the case of Wong and Likly, it’s the polar opposite.

Asking young people’s bodies to adjust to situations more suited to the mature athlete is a risk. Just ask legions of burnt-out and injured gymnasts, soccer players, and figure skaters. I’ll be interested to see if this trend works out for all concerned.

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