‘It’s like a full-time job’: Local athletes gear up for rigors of division-I college programs
Tre Maronic isn’t even on campus at Western Illinois University yet, and he’s already learning what it’s like to be a student-athlete at the NCAA Division I level.
“It’s like a full-time job,” said the recent Bear River grad whose talents on the gridiron landed him a scholarship to attend Western Illinois and play on its football team. “I really don’t have a day off besides for Sunday sometimes. It’s just crazy going from high school, where you only have a few hours (of football) a day in the fall. Now, it’s every single day. It’s like a full on full-time job.”
Maronic said he was originally due on campus for summer training on June 1, but due to COVID-19 team activities are being done virtually.
With team-provided workouts spanning six days out of the week and around six hours of virtual meetings most weekdays, Maronic is getting just a taste of what is expected of him at the next level. And, classes haven’t even started yet.
“It’s going to be difficult with all the work and meetings, but I’m more prepared now than I’ve ever been,” he said.
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Maronic is one of a handful of recently graduated local student-athletes who defied the odds and will be making the jump to the highest levels of college sports.
Also taking their talents to the upper echelon of NCAA athletics is fellow Bear River grad Sarah Aanenson (University of Colorado/track and field), Forest Lake Christian grad Amber Jackson (Oregon State/soccer, track and field) and Nevada Union grad Faith Menary (Louisiana Tech University/volleyball).
Of the nearly 8 million high school student-athletes in the United States, only a small fraction go on to play at the collegiate level. That number gets even smaller when it comes to those who play for Division-I level programs.
“There’s a lot of factors and there’s a lot of kids in competition for exposure for a limited amount of spots,” said Nevada Union Athletic Director Dan Crossen. “The first thing is you have to be talented. You have to be someone regarded in your sport as being at the very top of the talent chain. I also think some of those interpersonal skill sets are important. The determination factor. One connecting factor I find among the D-I athletes that I’ve known and studied is a determination level. They are driven by their dreams and their goals. That is what they pour their time and effort into.”
Crossen added an athlete’s ability to collaborate with coaches and other players, as well as their mental strength, is a key trait D-1 programs look for.
There are more than 1 million high schoolers who play football, but only 7.3% of those players will go on to compete in college at any level, according to an NCAA breakdown that estimates the probability of high school athletes competing in college athletics. Only 2.9% move on to play D-I.
Looking at women’s track and field, just 6.2% of high school athletes will run, jump or throw themselves onto a college team, and just 2.8% will do it at the D-I level.
When it comes to women’s soccer, 7.2% score a roster spot in college. Only 2.4% play D-I.
Volleyball has the lowest percentage of all women’s sports, with just 3.9% of high school players making the jump to college, and just 1.2% landing with D-I programs.
“I definitely am not 100% prepared,” said Menary, who starred on the NU volleyball team. “But, I took a heavy load my senior year to not let off the gas, and continued pushing myself school-wise and schedule-wise with club volleyball, track, going to the gym and school volleyball. I just kept my schedule pretty filled. So, I’m hoping that I won’t get completely tackled by all the stuff. But I know it’s going to be a huge change.”
It’s a change she said she is ready for.
“I’m really excited to be in a new environment,” Menary said. “Definitely excited to learn new things and compete in the sport I love at a high level.”
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
For Menary the decision to attend Louisiana Tech, a school nearly 2,000 miles away from her Nevada County home, came down to an affinity for the team’s coaches and hours of contemplation.
“I chose (Louisiana Tech) because of the coaching staff and by praying about it continuously until it was made clear that it was the right decision for me.”
Aanenson’s decision to attend Colorado was more immediate.
“After I visited it wasn’t a tough decision. I knew right after that I had to go there. I loved it,” said Aanenson, who won four Pioneer Valley League titles (100-meter, 200, long jump, triple jump) and a Sac-Joaquin Section Championship (long jump) in 2019.
For Maronic, who did just about everything on the field for Bear River, the opportunity to play offense — more specifically the super back position — was a big draw for him.
“Super back is a unique position,” explained Maronic. “It’s a wildcat quarterback, slot receiver and a running back. So, I’m going out in the flats, running wheel routes, running the ball, throwing the ball, everything.”
For Jackson, Oregon State simply checked all the boxes.
“It had all the things I was looking for in a school, including: good sports programs, a beautiful area, exercise physiology and nutrition (major), and allows me to attempt to do two sports.”
Jackson said she reports to campus in early August for soccer team activities, and plans to run the 800 for the track and field team in the spring.
LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT
Menary, who as a senior was named the Foothill Valley League MVP and Optimist All-Star Game MVP, said she has no intention to redshirt — taking a year off from competition, but still being a member of the team. She plans to make an impact any way she can her first year at Louisiana Tech.
“Hoping to hop right into it,” she said. “I have no plans to redshirt. I also have no real expectations for play time, just looking to get after it. … I just really want to help the college and the volleyball team get stronger. Just do my part.”
A season ago, Louisiana Tech went 13-15 overall and 3-11 in Conference USA play. Menary, who led California in kills (656) as a senior, said she plans to play outside hitter for the Bulldogs.
Maronic doesn’t plan to redshirt this year either, and said he is looking to get some game reps this season in Western Illinois’ up-tempo offense.
Western Illinois competes in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Leathernecks are coming off a 1-11 season in 2019.
Aanenson said she will focus on jumping events at Colorado, but left open the possibility of competing in the heptathlon.
“The plan is to start off doing jumps,” she said in a December interview. “I could potentially become a heptathlete. It would be cool to see what I can do with those events.”
A season ago, Colorado’s women’s team placed third at the Pac-12 Championships and ninth at the NCAA National Championships.
BUILDING BLOCKS TO SUCCESS
For the D-I bound student-athletes, their path has been an arduous one in which they had to work extremely hard in the weight room, on the field and in the classroom. The dedication needed to succeed in D-I is even greater.
“Doing extra work,” said Maronic on what got him noticed by colleges and what has prepared him to take the next step. “I always put in extra hours, as much as I could. I had people pushing me and I pushed myself because it’s what I wanted.”
In addition to their dedication and talent, they’ve all had coaches, mentors and experiences that have given them tools to succeed at the next level.
“I learned a lot from (high school) sports, but the biggest things are teamwork and patience,” said Jackson, noting discipline has also played a major role in her success. “If you want to get good, you have to put in the work, but you will be rewarded for that.”
Menary added, “Through school sports I learned respect and patience. Having patience with yourself and teammates, and trusting that the people that are in higher positions are there to help you get better.”
With fall sports — which football, women’s volleyball and women’s soccer are — there has been a bit of an unorthodox start for the incoming freshmen athletes. Rather than being on campus, Jackson, Maronic and Menary have all received training regimens from their programs to do at home, and take part in multiple team and position meetings virtually.
“It’s tough because we’re not actually out on the field running the plays,” said Maronic. “We’re learning them through meetings and stuff like that. It’s kind of hard, but I’m getting it and will get it even more when I get there.”
All three sports seasons are planning to go ahead as scheduled.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4232.
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