Mason athletes forming trend of continuing education and athletic careers at prestigious universities

Kaelyn Rodrigues | Managing Editor

Jamie Kim gets in position for a return. Kim has now been committed to Yale University for nearly 5 months.
Katya Sander poses after finishing her floor routine. Sander plans to attend Stanford University next fall.

While many seniors must wait patiently until next year to receive their college decisions, senior Jamie Kim is already Ivy-bound.

In late July, Kim announced her commitment to continuing her tennis career at Yale University. Although she made this verbal commitment the summer before her senior year, she started communicating with Yale and other potential schools towards the beginning of her junior year. 

The process of getting recruited to play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) can be lengthy for athletes– especially with Ivy League universities like Yale and other Division I universities. 

Senior Katya Sander, who committed to Stanford University to continue her gymnastics career, said that Stanford’s commitment process moved much slower than some of the other schools she was in contact with. Consequently, it was stressful for her to be unsure of whether or not Stanford would make her an offer since the spots were filling up on the gymnastics teams of the other schools. 

“The hardest part was definitely being patient and trusting the process,” Sander said. “I had to trust that my grades would be good enough to get into [Stanford] when the time came.”

Since Sander had been in contact with Stanford long before the COVID-19 pandemic, she had the opportunity to visit the school and experience the environment of its gymnastics program. Sander said she chose to commit to Stanford because of its top athletic and academic opportunities. 

“I know that when I’m there I’ll be pushing myself to do as best as I can, and it will prepare me for whatever I want to do [for] the rest of my life,” Sander said.

Unlike Sander, however, Kim was unable to make an official visit to Yale because of the ongoing pandemic. She faced many additional challenges during the recruitment process due to this unprecedented obstacle. 

“When COVID hit, the tennis tournaments were canceled so it was really hard to get that exposure to the coaches,” Kim said. “The coaches didn’t know how to deal with that as well, because it’s the first time that’s ever happened, so it delayed the process quite a bit.”

Nonetheless, Kim was able to complete a virtual visit and communicate with Yale Tennis to ensure that it would be the best fit for her, and she is confident in her decision to attend the university. “Their team culture was a very crucial part in [my decision] to go to Yale,” Kim said. “Not only that but the culture of Yale itself. I thought it would be a really good fit for me.”

While Sander and Kim both committed to their respective schools just before their senior year, Margo Mattes, a sophomore on the Mason Girls basketball team, recently committed to Princeton University. After receiving interest all over the country, Mattes said she felt it was the right time because she didn’t want to “drag out [her] recruiting process” though she is still early in her recruitment.

“Most people don’t commit this early on– I didn’t expect to,” Mattes said. “Being committed does put a weight off my shoulders because the recruiting process is over for me, but at the same time it’s also exciting because I get to go to a school that I’ve always wanted to go to.”

Like Kim, Mattes said that one of the risks of committing to an Ivy League school, especially so early in her high school career, is that they do not offer athletic scholarships. 

“If you commit, it really doesn’t mean anything until December of your senior year when admissions accepts you,” Mattes said. “I had an offer from Princeton but it didn’t mean anything until I took the ACT and they said it was high enough [to be admitted].”

Sander said a common misconception from other students is that her talent in gymnastics alone allowed her to be accepted to Stanford. Although she is grateful to be sure of what college she will attend, she still had to put a lot of time and effort into the application process in order to achieve her goal of committing– all while balancing her rigorous academic schedule with her equally strenuous gymnastics practices.

“I still had to apply and get accepted into the school before I was able to commit to the team,” Sander said. “I spent a lot of my summer working on applications. Even though it’s a little different with the timing, we all had to go through the same process.”

Gymnastics Photo by USA Gymnastics

Tennis Photo by YourGameFace