The Pursuit of Collegiate Sports

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Photos of Ally Beckman and Max Schrock courtesy of the College of Charleston and the Memphis Redbirds

The Pursuit of Collegiate Sports

D1 athletes say there’s a lot to consider before making the commitment

BY KURT DUSTERBERG

When a young athlete shows signs of excelling in a sport, it’s only natural for parents to wonder, “Is my kid good enough to earn a college athletic scholarship?” After all, a scholarship helps defray the cost of higher education, and it can open doors to once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

But determining how to pursue college sports is a complex issue. Many people are familiar with Division I, the NCAA schools with the largest athletic budgets. But there is also Division II, typically smaller institutions that offer athletic scholarships. At Division III universities, students receive nonathletics aid through grants and need-based scholarships. Division I schools typically require the most athletic commitment from students, while Division III schools put less emphasis on sports in general. There are also schools that participate in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, as well as junior colleges.

Beyond the classifications, however, are numerous issues that student-athletes and parents should consider. For most college athletes, the university years will be their last in competitive sports, putting additional emphasis on choosing the best academic experience. For other athletes—football, baseball, soccer and basketball players—the college experience could be a stepping stone to a professional career. 

Here are both perspectives from two Triangle athletes who made the most of their collegiate athletic experience.

Photo Max Schrock courtesy of the Memphis Redbirds. Photo of Ally Beckman courtesy of the College of Charleston

SETTING THE RIGHT EXPECTATIONS: Apex High School class of 2015 volleyball star loved her college experience, “but it was a job.”

 
Ally Beckman was an Apex High School sophomore playing at Triangle Volleyball Club when she first heard the chatter about playing in college. “Recruiters were coming to our court at tournaments and talking to our coaches after the games,” Beckman remembers. 
 
But before she ever set foot on campus, she realized her first steps came with a false start. After committing to Georgia Tech, the coach who recruited her accepted another job. “Ultimately, I decided I wanted to play for a coach who had recruited me and wanted me to play for them,” she says.
 
That’s how Beckman ended up at College of Charleston, where her name is all over the volleyball program’s record book. Her accomplishments came with some sacrifices. “Practices, workouts, lifting, study hall, meetings, travel, meals,” says the 2019 College of Charleston grad. “It was close to a 40-hour workweek. “It’s fun and it’s something you’re very passionate about. But it was a job.’”
 
As an exercise science major, that left little wiggle room with her remaining hours. “Broadly, I had more responsibilities,” she says. “I couldn’t skip class, whether I wanted to or not. There were already excused absences for volleyball, so absences in general were kind of detrimental to my education.”
 
The Division I athletic experience varies by school and sport, but playing at the highest competitive level of collegiate sports changes the way the athletes experience university life. “While I did have my share of fun, there were times where I wasn’t able to partake in all the typical college nonsense,” she says. “We were sort of discouraged as far as Greek life, which wasn’t a huge deal at Charleston anyway. It would have taken more time that I didn’t have.” 
 
But Beckman has no regrets about missing some elements of social life. “People say, ‘Oh I missed out on this college experience because of sports.’ I don’t know that I feel the same,” she says. “All the connections I made with everybody, whether those were with all my teammates or other athletes—we were very close-knit with all the other athletes at Charleston. I’m still really appreciative of that.”
 
Beckman has seen parents go to great lengths to advocate for their young athletes, often directing them to the top programs in the country. A better approach, she says, is to ask a few questions. “You need to step back and say: One, is this actually realistic? Two, is this actually what your child wants? Three, is this going to be a good experience for them, or are they going to get there and last a couple of months and put themselves in the transfer portal? Really talk to your kid and find the program and environment that fits best for their needs—whether that be academic needs, social needs or volleyball needs. A lot of people are going to school just for volleyball rather than looking at the actual school and education.”
 
Today, Beckman—a graduate of the University of North Carolina Physician Assistant Studies program—works in emergency medicine at a community hospital in Sanford. Her days are hectic and her hours vary. “I see a lot of crazy things. There’s never a day when you’re bored,” she says.
 
Beckman, who was a setter for both Apex High School and the College of Charleston, ranked second in career assists (5,016) for the College of Charleston and the Colonial Athletic Association. “I’m really grateful for how it prepared me for the real world,” she says. “It taught me how to work with other people to accomplish a similar goal. It taught me how to have a boss. It taught me how to be a leader, especially as a setter. There are a lot of very direct translations into the working world.” 
Photos of Max Schrock courtesy of the Cincinnati Reds

A SHORTSTOP TO THE PROS: 2012 Cardinal Gibbons grad chose college over the pros, and still made it to the majors.

 
For Max Schrock, playing baseball at the University of South Carolina was more than just an opportunity to continue his athletic career. It was a roll of the dice on determining the fastest track to playing professionally.
 
Major League Baseball teams can draft both high school seniors and collegiate players who have finished three years at a four-year college. When Schrock was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 28th round out of Cardinal Gibbons High School in 2012, it set up a familiar dilemma for baseball prospects: Take a signing bonus and start the climb through the minor league ranks, or go to college and hope to improve your draft position three years later.“On draft day, there was a decision to be made,” Schrock says. “My parents knew my ultimate goal was to play major league baseball, but they were very pro-college. I believe I made the right choice. My three years at South Carolina were three of the best years of my life.”
 
The shortstop was drafted again after his junior season, this time by the Washington Nationals in the 13th round. He received a $500,000 signing bonus. “What I was offered out of high school [compared] to what I ended up signing for out of college—I would give up the difference every day of the week,” Schrock said. “It wasn’t too terribly different, but I was in a scenario where I gave up a lot of signing bonus money to go to [South Carolina].”
 
While a Division I scholarship may not offer the financial value of a signing bonus for a top prospect, it’s important to weigh the risks and rewards. Major league organizations can often make a lesser financial offer to a college player who no longer has the leverage of choosing to accept a scholarship. On the other hand, three years of college baseball adds additional risks of serious injuries—or of just leveling off in skill development. Schrock had to weigh his options carefully.
“I was a 17-year-old, pretty reserved kid,” he says. “Being in a [minor league] clubhouse with guys who don’t even speak English—that would have been too much of a culture shock for me at 17. But there are some kids you can tell are just ready, and some families don’t put as high of an importance on education as mine did. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.”
 
With the benefit of hindsight, he recognizes that turning pro after high school puts players on the fast track. “In professional sports, having youth on your side is really nice. Being able to move up the ranks, you don’t have to wait those three years in college,” Schrock says. “It probably would have been a smarter idea from a standpoint of making it to the major leagues maybe. If they offer you a financial commitment that is sizable—$1 million or more—you’re going to get every opportunity [in the minor leagues]. You can fail and fail and fail, because they don’t want to invest all that money in you and have you not make it.”
 
But Schrock is quick to point out that he enjoyed South Carolina, particularly playing a high-profile sport. “We were not on the same pedestal as the football players, 
but a lot of students go to the games and know who you are,” he says. 
 
“I had a pretty conventional college experience. I still had my fun.” Eight years after he was drafted out of college, Schrock’s choice is paying off. He logged time in the major leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds from 2020 to 2022, even going 5-for-5 in a 2021 Reds game. Shrock currently plays in the minors in the San Diego Padres system.
 
“When I was drafted, the goal was to play in the major leagues as long as I can,” Schrock says. “If my career ended tomorrow, I think I would be OK. I would be able to hang my hat on the career I’ve had.” 
Max, Sarah and Scarlett Schrock. Photo courtesy of the Schrock Family

Photo by New Depth Creations

4 Tips for Collegiate Athlete Hopefuls

Joy Caracciolo, a Durham-based food influencer featured in our “Triangle Trendsetters” story on page 29, knows a thing or two about collegiate sports. Before her social media career took off, she played NCAA women’s basketball for Boston College and the University of Delaware. Caracciolo later got a master’s degree in strategic communication from Queens University of Charlotte. She offers these tips to young athletes hoping to play at the college level. 

1. Be coachable. College coaches are going to see a lot of talented athletes as they travel across the country to scout players during the recruitment process. They are not only looking for athletes who are great at their sport, but they are also looking to see who has a good attitude, works well with their team and listens to their coaches when they receive feedback during the games. They want players who are coachable and know how to bounce back and move on to the next play after they make mistakes.  

2. Do your research. Deciding where you want to spend four years of your life getting an education and playing your sport is an extremely tough decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s important that you not only love the coaching staff and team culture of the school you choose, but that you also choose a school that has the academic program that will set you up for a successful career after athletics. I’m not saying you need to know what you want to major in right away, but you should make a shortlist of careers that you’d be interested in so you choose a school that can equip you with the knowledge you need to enter that field.  

3. Set boundaries. The recruitment process can be very stressful and draining if you don’t set boundaries to protect your mental health. Of course, your parents and coaches will play a huge part in your recruitment process, but you will want to be transparent with them when you’re feeling overwhelmed or getting bad vibes from anybody you’re communicating with. You should be focused on enjoying your last years of amateur sports and working to improve your game; don’t allow the stress of being recruited to affect that.  

4. Work on your time management skills. Once you get to college you will need to have great time management skills to keep up with your schedule, which will usually include multiple workouts, meal times, classes, team meetings and study hall periods. Start getting into the habit of being at least 10 minutes early to everything.

Photo courtesy of Joy Caracciolo

NOT YOUR TYPICAL COLLEGE STUDENT: Furman athlete combines D1 athletics with military services

Cary native and Grace Christian School alumna Kaeli Braswell is a senior at Furman University who carries a heavy load, literally. The four-year Army ROTC scholarship awardee and D1 volleyball player for the Furman Paladins is the only player in the school’s history who will graduate as a second lieutenant. While most students are sleeping at 4 a.m., Kaeli—who is double majoring in communications and religion—may be in the woods on a 6-mile ruck, or preparing for a volleyball workout.

Kaeli’s ROTC journey started when the U.S. Military Academy at West Point’s volleyball program showed interest in recruiting her while she was in high school. During her official visit there she experienced life as a cadet, which ignited a fire inside her. She received a congressional nomination to West Point, but chose to begin her military journey with the Paladin ROTC program. “I knew I wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than me,” she says.

During her junior year, Kaeli competed on Furman’s Army ROTC Ranger Challenge team, which consists of the school’s most physically fit and mentally tough cadets, since each team member must pass a U.S. Army physical fitness test and compete in patrolling, marksmanship, weapons assembly, one-rope bridge-building, a grenade assault course, land navigation and a 10-kilometer road march. Kaeli led the Alpha team, which won the Ranger Challenge’s small school division, besting 18 other small unit schools in the fourth brigade. Kaeli has also received Furman University’s Military Order of the World Wars award and Iron Paladin, given to the top female cadet for physical fitness.

This past summer, Kaeli was selected to attend West Point’s Air Assault School, where she trained to conduct air assault operations and won the highly coveted Air Assault Badge. Less than half of the participants typically make it through this experience, often referred to as the 10 toughest days in the U.S. Army. 

On July 2, Kaeli graduated from Air Assault School and traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky for five weeks of cadet summer training, where she graduated at the top of her class and received the Magellan Federal High Performer award. She returned to Furman University in August to begin volleyball practices and her senior year. She offers these tips to students considering a military path after high school. 

1. Do well academically. Develop strong study habits. Good SAT and ACT scores help determine ROTC military scholarship winners.

2. Participate in a sport, or exercise regularly. Prepare for the physical fitness tests required by the military branch you’re interested in. Be disciplined with your workouts and develop good eating habits.

3. Visit and spend time with those who have served in the military. Ask lots of questions. It’s a choice that will change your life forever.

4. Practice your interview skills. Presenting yourself well will serve you well.

5. Never settle for doing the minimum on anything. Always do your best in the classroom, in the gym or on the field. 

— Midtown staff

Photos of Kaeli Braswell courtesy of the Braswell Family
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