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College athletics: Sports boost academic prospects

For two local student athletes, their on-court prowess helped them get into prestigious universities

Posted: December 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Saugus senior Megan Dawe gained admission to New York University thanks, in part, to basketball.

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Here’s a message to all Southern California kids interested in attending prestigious academic colleges on the East Coast: Give sports a try.

Santa Clarita Valley athletes are starting to figure out the secret formula for acceptance into the coveted Ivy League schools and others with high academic reputations.

Good grades and high test scores don’t hurt, but students like Golden Valley’s Alec Schlossman and Saugus’ Megan Dawe have an ace in the hole.

Schlossman — who is entering his third year as a varsity outside hitter for the Grizzlies’ volleyball team — committed on Oct. 31 to Harvard University, where he’ll likely begin playing next fall.

“Everyone there is exceptional at something, and you look at most people and that’s academics and they are these genius students,” Schlossman said. “For me, it’s sports.”

Earlier this month, Dawe verbally committed to New York University to play basketball.

She’s headed into her senior season at Saugus, where she averaged 15 points, 8.9 rebounds and 52 blocked shots last season as a junior for the Centurions

“I’m really excited about it,” Dawe said. “It’s kind of been going back-and-forth looking at all the colleges. It’s an overwhelming process so I’m really happy to finally make a decision.”

At schools like Harvard and NYU, maintaining a high GPA often isn’t enough to distinguish one applicant from another, given the reputation and exclusivity of the universities.

Then again, the exclusivity is part of the appeal.

“We’ve noticed a lot of West Coast kids have interest in moving east, and I think a reason for that is a lot of the high academic schools are on the East Coast,” said NYU women’s basketball head coach Stefano Trompeo.

With that in mind, coaches like Trompeo have to recruit players carefully, keeping in mind that athletic recruits have to go through the same rigorous application process any student would have to, including teacher and counselor recommendations as well as personal essays.

Neither school offers athletic scholarships, so athletes aren’t necessarily given any kind of preferential treatment.

“It’s a very, very competitive university to get admitted to ... My first question to (coaches) is, ‘Who could possibly get into NYU?’” Trompeo said.

Like any other athletic program though, both schools recruit players they believe will help them win, and players like Schlossman choose schools based on how it will help him in the future.

“I could have stayed in Southern California and played somewhere where I’m familiar, but the biggest thing for me is I’ll probably come back to Southern California after I’m done with college anyway, so why not just try something else for these four years?” Schlossman said.

And thanks to his 4.28 weighted GPA and his dynamic skills on the volleyball court, he’s landed at one of the country’s most prestigious universities.

Schlossman said he also visited the campuses of NYU and Princeton University, but he was ultimately won over by the facilities at Harvard.

“I never would have thought an Ivy League school would be in the picture,” the senior said.

Dawe, on the other hand, said her decision-making process was more focused. NYU is the only school she’s applying to or has visited.

“I like the idea of not having the typical college campus and having it be right in the middle of the city,” Dawe said of NYU, “which is really the exact opposite of Santa Clarita.”

The NYU women’s basketball team is a member of NCAA Division III and competes in the University Athletic Association conference. The team finished 12-13 overall and 6-8 in conference last year.

Before even considering Dawe as a possible candidate to play at NYU, Trompeo made sure she had the grades and the dedication for a school of that caliber.

At that point, he was able to evaluate her athletic abilities.

“For us, our model is basically the opposite of 95 percent of other coaches at our level or even at division I,” Trompeo said of his recruiting tactics.

However, the Saugus senior power forward is working just as hard at maintaining her GPA, which currently stands at a weighted 4.53.

“I want my education to stand above basketball and so I was never really going after the big (Division I school), not that I could play in the big DI, honestly,” Dawe said. “But I really wanted the academics to be a bigger part of it.”

At Harvard, Schlossman will be playing for a Division I men’s volleyball program. Most of his matches will be played against teams in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, among other East Coast schools.

For the next four years, these athletes have a chance to play at the next level of their respective sport.

Beyond that, the future looks even brighter.

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