Three West High athletes sign to compete at Division-I schools

Three West High athletes signed their National Letters of Intent to play Division-I athletics in the West High cafeteria on Nov. 13. Even Brauns ’20 committed to play at Belmont Unviersity, Lily Ernst ’20 signed to swim at Northern Iowa and James Pinter ’20 forged his commitment to serve, swim and study at West Point Academy.

The smell of cupcakes and cookies drifted into the main commons after school on Nov. 13 as two West High swimmers and a Trojan basketball player signed their National Letters of Intent to compete and study at the Division-I level next fall.

A crowd filled the West High cafeteria as athletic director Craig Huegel listed accomplishments from each signee, followed by a short appreciative message from each athlete.

The crowd then settled in to watch the three student-athletes put pen to paper, sealing their academic and athletic fate at the school of their choice.

Joe Goodman
West High senior athletes Even Brauns, James Pinter and Lily Ernst pose for a photo in their school’s colors on the fall sports signing day, Nov. 13.

Senior post player Even Brauns signed to play basketball at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee while senior swimmers James Pinter and Lily Ernst committed to swim at West Point Academy and Northern Iowa, respectively.

Brauns saw his recruitment take off this spring and summer playing with the Iowa Barnstormers AAU program, where he picked up offers from Division-I schools Appalachian State, Wofford, Belmont, Bradley, Indiana State and South Dakota.

After flying out to Nashville in June for an official visit, Brauns decided to verbally commit through Twitter, sealing his fate in the navy and red. Instead of holding out for offers from high-major Division-I schools, Brauns committed to Belmont before his senior season, citing an unparalleled level of commitment and personal connection from the Bruin coaching staff.

“[Belmont] would call me weekly, along with my parents. That made a huge impact on us when making the decision,” Brauns said. “They were the most honest and open with me and my family and really made me feel a part of something that was bigger than just me.”

After wrapping up her high school season with a fourth-place team finish at state, Ernst signed to Northern Iowa where she will focus on the butterfly stroke for the next four years.

Battling back from hip surgery last February, Ernst put forth a strong senior campaign that included a third-place conference finish in the 100 butterfly at Linn-Mar.

Ernst was featured on the latest episode of The Recruiting Trail, where she delved into the swimming recruitment process and the responsibility that is put on athletes in order to get themselves noticed and get the ball rolling on their recruitment.

After filling out some recruitment forms online, the University of Chicago and some other smaller, Division-III schools reached out to Ernst before she made her verbal commitment via Instagram to Northern Iowa on Oct. 3.

“I chose UNI because I love everything about the school- the size, the location, the campus, and the people,” Ernst said. “I am excited to swim at UNI because the coaches and the team are amazing and it’s a perfect fit for me.”

Allie Schmitt-Morris
Lily Ernst ’20 swims breaststroke in the 200 IM in 2018. Ernst qualified for state in the event this fall.

Growing up in a military family, James Pinter is well-acquainted with the respect and integrity it will take to be successful at one of America’s military branches. As a result of his father’s job in the military, Pinter has been constantly moving throughout his childhood, but knew he always had a distant home at West Point, NY.

Iowa, Villanova and Wisconsin had been in contact with Pinter throughout his high school career, but when West Point Academy offered him a swimming scholarship in May it took him less than 24 hours to verbally commit to his dream school.

“I chose West Point because I wanted to surround myself with some of the hardest working college student-athletes in the nation,” Pinter said. “The coaches and team immediately made me feel like family. I also want to receive a world-class education and become an Army Officer.”