National Signing Day and other committed athletes
November 12, 2015
After school on Wednesday, Nov. 11, the cafeteria looked a bit different than normal. On one side of the cafeteria tables were lined up, stretching from wall to wall, each table filled with balloons, colorful table runners and baseball hats each of a designated school.This collection of sports gear and party decorations was for early National Signing Day, with a second date to come in April. Nine athletes signed their National Letters of Intent to participate in Division I athletics. Three athletes signed to the University of Iowa: Taylor Libby for softball, Tia Saunders for track and field and Will Scott for swimming. Three athletes also signed to the University of Northern Iowa: Adara Opiola for softball, Tanner Lohaus for basketball and Matthew Schneider for track and field and cross country. The three other athletes that signed were Donovan Doyle to Harvard University for wrestling, Aidan Keen to the University of Missouri for swimming and Mark McGlaughlin to North Carolina State University for swimming. Staffers Aaron Carter, Nick Deerberg, Taylor Libby, Morgan Schmitt-Morris and Gabby Skopec got the opportunity to talk to the athletes about their future. (Note: Those with asterisks attended National Signing Day).
Mark McGlaughlin ’16- North Carolina State University*
Mark McGlaughlin will be attending North Carolina State University (NC State) starting Fall of 2016 for swimming.
Although other schools including Louisville, Michigan, Tennessee, and California Berkeley were all considered, McGlaughlin chose NC State based on the fact that “they are a rising program, jumping several places in the last four years.”
Although he will be a considerable distance from home, McGlaughlin chooses to focus on the positives of moving.
“It will be a good experience to move to a new place,” McGlaughlin said. “[North Carolina State] is a leading sprint [swimming] school, which is my main focus.”
McGlaughlin looks forward to the young coaching staff and interaction with the other swimmers on the team.
“They have a young coaching staff that is very energetic. The campus is beautiful, and the other swimmers are all very cool,” McGlaughlin said.
Aidan Keen ’16- University of Missouri*
Aidan Keen plans to pursue swimming in college at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) starting in the fall of 2016. After looking at Auburn, Ohio State, Mizzou and Tennessee, Keen picked Mizzou based on both their academics and athletics.
“After finding the major I wanted and finding a good program with a coach I liked, it came down to how much I liked the team and how much money in athletic and academic scholarships I was going to get,” Keen said. “Mizzou has a good engineering program and a quickly rising swim program, that is known for making its athletes much better than when they came in,” Keen said.
Keen hopes to meet new swimmers at Mizzou while also being able to swim with other Iowa athletes he knows.
Will Scott ’16- University of Iowa*
In the Fall of 2016, Will Scott will begin his career as a swimmer for the University of Iowa. Scott is excited to be working with the University’s swimming coach, Marc Long.
“I believe that [Marc’s] style of coaching best fits my beliefs as a swimmer,” Scott said, “I think that his beliefs in how one should train are perfect. Most coaches would call his ideas crazy, but he tries new things that now some of the top programs use.”
Scott always knew the University of Iowa was going to be his future.
“I kinda just knew it was the place for me,” Scott said.
Donovan Doyle ’16- Harvard University*
Attending Harvard University has always been a dream for Donovan Doyle, and now that is a dream that has been fulfilled.
“It [Harvard] was the best fit for me in every area,” Doyle said, “It’s the best education offered in the world, and I am looking forward to taking advantage of that while pairing it with the wrestling program.”
Aside from the education, the wrestling program is also on the rise.
“They have a highly competitive [Division I] team with a coach that I greatly respect, and their facilities are topnotch.” Doyle said.
Doyle also has a family connection to Harvard which makes the transition even easier.
“The strength coach worked for my dad so it’s comfortable to be able to work with familiar faces.” Doyle said.
Wrestling for West under Mark Reiland has also helped Donovan prepare for Harvard.
“I wouldn’t be close to the wrestler I am without Mark Reiland,” Doyle said. “Anything I’ve accomplished in wrestling, Mark has been right there with me the whole time.”
Taylor Libby ’16- University of Iowa*
Taylor Libby always had a pull towards the University of Iowa, and it was only a matter of time before she made her decision to attend in the fall of 2016.
“I always had a pull towards Iowa. At first my mom [Larissa Libby, Women’s gymnastics coach] wanted me to have my own, separate life, but she eventually warmed up to the idea.” Libby said.
The influence of her mother had an obvious impact on her decision, but there were other reasons Iowa was the place for Libby.
“The team atmosphere was great. It was really like a family.” Libby said.
Libby also was drawn by the academics.
“They had the major I wanted as well. I think I want to major in either graphic design or sports marketing and they have good programs for both,” Libby said.
Libby was also looking into Minnesota State, but the bigger campus, the atmosphere, and her mom really sealed the deal for Libby to become a Hawkeye.
“I liked Minnesota State, but Iowa just felt like home. I always wanted to go to a big university and Iowa gave me that and more.”
Tia Saunders ’16- University of Iowa*
Tia Saunders recently committed to the University of Iowa for track.
Saunders, who also plays soccer, considered the University of Northern Iowa where she could participate in both soccer and track, but ultimately chose Iowa.
“[I chose Iowa] because they have a really great track program and are a really great school. The coaches are super awesome and they have a very personal plan for making me a better runner.”
Saunders is the school record holder in the 400 meter dash and recently placed 16th in the state in cross country. Saunders has personal best times of 0:57 for the 400 meter dash, 2:17 for the 800 meter dash and 18:59 for the cross country 5000 meter race but is looking forward to improve those times at Iowa.
“I’m really excited [to continue my running career] I am just ready to become a great runner.”
Matthew Schneider ’16- University of Northern Iowa*
Matthew Schneider has committed to the University of Northern Iowa for cross country and track and field.
Schneider, a senior, chose UNI for athletic and academic purposes.
“I chose UNI because they fitted my needs both academically and athletically, they had really good programs for the majors I am going into and the coaching staff up there is really amazing,” Schneider said.
Schneider has participated in both sports since junior high and is excited to continue in them in college.
“[The opportunity] is amazing because I’ve always had this dream of continuing on my running career. I’m really happy about it.”
Adara Opiola ’16- University of Northern Iowa*
Adara Opiola has committed to the University of Northern Iowa to continue playing softball.
Opiola chose UNI because of the environment surrounding of the University that made her feel comfortable
“I liked the campus, I liked the atmosphere of Cedar Falls and I liked the population at UNI of not too many students, but just enough,” Opiola said.
With a coaching staff and a group of girls that made Opiola feel right at home, UNI emerged as her top choice.
“It’s a dream come true of mine to play at the highest level possible for collegiate athletics.”
Tanner Lohaus ’16- University of Northern Iowa
Tanner Lohaus ’16 has recently committed to the University of Northern Iowa to play basketball. Although he had offers from other schools, UNI ended up being the school for Lohaus.
“I like that it’s a family atmosphere there and that they’re interested in not just making their players better athletes, but better students and people too.” Lohaus said.
Having to choose between Western Illinois, North Dakota State, Lehigh, South Dakota State, University of Omaha and UNI would usually be a difficult choice for most, but Lohaus was convinced UNI was the university for him to continue his career.
“They emphasize defense which I like because I believe that defense does win championships, and it’s familiar to me coming from Coach Bergman’s system,” Lohaus said.
Connor McCaffery ’17- University of Iowa
Unlike most high school sophomores, Connor McCaffery had already decided where he was going to college. This decision helped McCaffery, now a junior, to focus on playing basketball instead of having to worry about where to go to school.His father, Fran McCaffery, is the Head Coach for the Iowa Men’s Basketball team.
“I have always wanted to play for my dad–ever since I was little,” McCaffery said. “[My dad] always joked about how he was going to recruit me, so about three-fourths of the way through my freshman year he sat down with me and we talked about it.”
Although it was obvious that both Connor and his father wished to be together at the next level, Connor still listened to other offers.
“Getting recruited sounded interested to me,” McCaffery said. “But once you combine the atmosphere of Carver, with the great guys on the team, and obviously my dad, it was the best choice.”
McCaffery gives credit to his Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) experiences with the All Iowa Attack and the Iowa Barnstormers, as well as Coach Steve Bergmann, West High boys basketball coach, for helping him prepare to play at the college level.
“I play in the [Nike Circuit] with some of the best players in the country. It is a lot different from playing ball at West though,” McCaffery said. “AAU is a lot more free. You don’t run as many set plays and you get more chances to showcase your ability, but with [Coach Bergmann] we play with a lot more structure. We run plays, play defense and work on playing as a team.”
Jack Chen ’16- Wartburg College
Making the transition between positions in a sport is a difficult, and risky task. In the case of Jack Chen ’16 the risk proved to be rewarding.
Last year Chen decided to switch from playing a midfield position to goalie in soccer. After this switch occurred, Chen was put into the starting lineup for the West High varsity soccer team. His performance led to him being able to play at the college level at Wartburg College.
“[I chose Wartburg because] they had what I wanted for education, and I really liked the players along with the program in general,” Chen said. “The transition was difficult, but it was definitely worth it, and I enjoy it.”
Chen also knew other people going to Wartburg as well as current players on the team which creates an easier transition.
“I already know some people and have some friends going to Wartburg too so that will be fun,” Chen said.
Chen also said he liked the fact that it was close to home, which played a big part in his final decision.
There was also an opening on the team which finalized Chen’s decision to choose Wartburg.
“A spot opened up on the team for me, so all of that, [the proximity to home, the education and the rotation opening], all fit me perfectly,” Chen said.
Chen was also looking at other small schools, like Luther College, but concluded that Wartburg was the best overall option.
“I felt a lot more comfortable at Wartburg, and I think that helped me a lot,” Chen said.
Wali Parks ’16- Indian Hills
Wali Parks ’16 has been involved in basketball since a young age. it was only a matter of time before Parks went to the next level. Parks recently committed to Indian Hills (JUCO), and hopes to continue escalating his basketball skills like he has under Bergmann.
“[Indian Hills] have a good history, and have a new coach that has had success in the past,” Parks said. “[Hank Plona] was really nice to me when I met him and I haven’t heard anything but good things about him.”
Ultimately Parks’ grades held him back, but Parks wants to put that in the rear view mirror, and just focus on basketball.
“My grades weren’t the best so that played a role,” Parks said, “but my main goal is to go there for two years, get my Associates degree, and then go to a division one school after that.”
Bergmann and Parks’ teammates have helped shape the player he is today.
“The competition I play at has always been at a high level,” Parks said. “My teammates are big time players who are just as talented as anybody, so they have molded me into the player I am today.”
Austin Miller ’16- Kirkwood College
Senior Austin Miller has always envisioned success in playing baseball. Miller can now showcase his skills and talents on a bigger stage at Kirkwood Community College.
One of the main reasons Miller decided on Kirkwood was the coaching staff.
“I liked the coaching staff a lot,” Miller said. “They seemed to have the same goals and see things the same way I do.”
Miller was also intrigued by the atmosphere.
“I also liked that you get to stay in an apartment with three other guys, and the facilities were also nice.”
Miller also has plans to continue playing after Kirkwood.
“Right now I am just focusing on succeeding at Kirkwood, but I plan on going D1 after my time at Kirkwood.”
Spencer Wiskus ’16- Kirkwood College
Spencer Wiskus ’16 battled injuries last year playing baseball, but was still able to attract offers from colleges. In the end, after getting looks from big and small schools alike, Wiskus decided to attend Kirkwood Community College, along with his teammate Austin Miller.
“I decided on Kirkwood because I liked the coaches a lot, and the players in my class are really good and I have played with most of them before,” Wiskus said.
Some of the other schools Wiskus looked into included D1 schools like Iowa and Western Illinois, but Wiskus chose the junior college (JUCO) route.
“I never really got the offer I wanted, so I decided to take the JUCO route because I have seen many guys have success doing that,” Wiskus said.
Wiskus’ post-Kirkwood goals coincide with his teammate Miller, in that they both hope to attend a division one school after graduating from Kirkwood.
Payton Pottratz ’16- Iowa State University
Payton Pottratz ’16 decided to commit to Iowa State University during her junior year.
Pottratz first started communicating with schools during her sophomore year when they would attend club and school soccer games, but she eventually decided on Iowa State.
“Obviously [one of the reasons I committed] was because of soccer and the location. I didn’t want to be too close to home but at the same time not extremely far away.” Pottratz said, “The campus is very pretty as well, but it was mostly the soccer program that drew me in.”
Pottratz also has a close connection with the coaches as well as one of the coach’s pet.
“I love them [the coaches]. My club soccer coach [Michael Printy] is friends with the Iowa State assistant coach,” Pottratz said. “I also love Tony Minatta’s, the head coach, bulldog. Me and the rest of the team really bonded with the dogs.”
Pottratz was also considering the University of Iowa as well as the University of Northern Iowa, but Iowa State set itself apart for her.
“Once I talked with the coaches and the players, and looked at the style the team plays it was the obvious choice for me,” Pottratz said.
Regan Steigleder ’17- Northwestern University
Regan Steigleder is no stranger to committing to college soccer. Steigleder originally found herself committed to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, but decided to decommit after the Commodores underwent a coaching change. Steigleder then committed to Northwestern University in Illinois last summer.
“I committed to Northwestern because it is an amazing academic school and is building a great soccer program,” Steigleder said.
As Steigleder prepares for her college career she continues to practice at the highest level by practicing with boys teams and continuing to work with her Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) team, the Michigan Hawks.
“The coach [for the Hawks] is the assistant national team coach,” Steigleder said. “He’s helped me a lot.”
While she prepares for her future, Steigleder is excited for what her future has to offer.
“I’m excited to be able to compete against the best players and teams out there,” Steigleder said.
Not only is Steigleder looking forward to what Northwestern soccer has to offer her, but what she has to offer her school both on and off the field.
“My goals are to be a good student and a great player who contributes a lot to the team,” Steigleder said.
Katie Olson ’16- University of Northern Iowa
Katie Olson is currently one of two captains on the Varsity girls soccer team with one state championship on her record. She hopes to continue her soccer success with the University of Northern Iowa after committing in January of 2015.
Olson first spoke to current UNI coach, James Price, at an Iowa state soccer camp in the summer of 2013.
“I was at an Iowa State camp the summer of my sophomore year and the UNI coach was there and I liked him, he was one of my eight versus eight coaches. I went to another Iowa State camp in the winter and he was there again and knew who I was,” Olson said. “He was talking to me a lot and then we set up a visit. On my visit they gave me my offer and I called them after I got home from the visit and said yes [to his offer].”
Olson decided to commit to UNI for various reasons involving school size and distance from home.
“I wanted to play division one soccer in college, and it’s a nice distance from home,” Olson said. “Not too far, but definitely not too close. I like the school and the size of it.”
Olson is looking forward to a close-knit team and meeting new teammates and friends.
“[I’m most excited to] meet the team and [have fun] with some new girls on the team. I just love that team aspect.” Olson said.
In order to prepare for her collegiate career Olson said that she will begin working out more this summer before she leaves for UNI. For now Olson said she will continue going to practices with her club, Iowa Soccer Club (ISC).
“The freshmen that I talked to said that they didn’t really have a certain fitness test, but now that there is a new coach it might change,” Olson said. “I’m just going to try to be in the best shape that I can be.”
Emma Cooper ’17- University of Michigan
Emma Cooper began playing soccer at the age of four, beginning her soccer career with the soccer club Iowa City Alliance and later moving on to the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) in 2014. Now, Cooper will continue her soccer career at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor after committing in April of 2015.
Cooper said it was a combination of factors that drove her to commit to Michigan.
“I committed to Michigan because I wanted to go to a big school, and I didn’t want to stay in Iowa because it just felt too close to home,” Cooper said. “The academics at Michigan are really strong. Their soccer program was [strong as well]. The coaches were super nice, the facilities were great and I loved the campus.”
In order to prepare for her time at Michigan, Cooper will continue to play ECNL with her team based out of Chicago, the Eclipse Select Soccer Club.
“I’m still playing ECNL because it prepares you better for college because it’s such a high level. It has the travel aspect and the team’s sequestered so you’re kind of independent of your parents more.” Cooper said, “It’s also the only place Michigan can see me still, since those are the only events they attend.”
Along with her continued ECNL participation Cooper also said that she is trying to work out more in order to prepare for fitness qualifications.
Although college soccer requires a lot of hard work Cooper said she is excited for her future at Michigan.
“I want to improve as a soccer player and I’m excited to actually be at that level. [I’m also excited because] the team is really close. All of the sophomores live in a house together on campus and the freshman all room together in the dorms,” Cooper said. “I’m looking forward to being a part of that atmosphere and community where everyone is involved and supportive of the other sports. I can’t wait.”
Claire McDonnell ’16- Wiona State University
“I am excited to challenge myself and see how good I can be against older and better players. I am also excited to be a part of a new team and meet all new girls,” said Claire McDonnell in regards to her upcoming college soccer career.
McDonnell will be attending Winona State University in the fall of 2016 to pursue soccer and academics after committing in September of 2015. McDonnell cites Winona’s soccer program and location in Minnesota as reasons behind her decision.
“[Winona] has a good soccer program. I also like the coaches, players and style of play the program uses,” McDonnell said. “I also committed there opposed to closer schools because it is a good distance away from home. It will give me a new experience in a new state, and will force me to be around almost entirely new people. I like the size of the school, and when I went on my visit it just felt like the best fit.”
With her college decided, McDonnell has begun preparing herself for the challenges she will face both on and off the field.
“I have been working harder at practices and started to work out on my own to get in shape, so I can compete with older girls,” McDonnell said. “I also am starting to work at managing my time between school, soccer and friends better because I know if I can’t manage my time now I won’t be able to in college.”
Although she was hard work ahead of her McDonnell is willing hard to achieve her goals as a future Winona Warrior.
“I would hope to someday become an impact player on the team, and hopefully play all four years without injuries,” McDonnell said. “I’m also excited and hopeful to be a part of a team that has had a few runs for the division two national title, so I hope to contribute to that in anyway that I can.”
Taleah Smith ’17- University of Northern Iowa
Taleah Smith ’17 committed to the University of Northern Iowa this September to play softball.
“I really like the coaches and that they are people I can sit down and have a conversation with. I also liked the fact that I knew a lot of people on my visit from things like track and so it just felt really familiar,” Smith said.
Not only did Smith like what the softball team had to offer in terms of athletics but also what their team policies are for academics.
“They all have to have study tables of six hours a week and I really think that that is going to help me,” she said.
Smith will sign with the rest of her class in November of next year.
Caitlin Ryan ’16- Wartburg College
Caitlin Ryan ’16 committed to Wartburg last month to play soccer.
“I really liked the campus and the coach. I also know the current goal keeper and I have heard nothing but good things about the school and its soccer program,” Ryan said.
Coming off of a state title last year, Ryan was in the perfect position to continue her soccer career into the collegiate level and Wartburg gave her everything she felt she needed.
“When I did my official visit , I met the team and I felt like I would really fit in and the environment was perfect for me.”
Photos by Sara Longmire: click on photo album below to view the whole album.