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The few, the proud, the college athletes
At the top of their athletic class, some local athletes are moving on to bigger and better things
BY SARAH E. THIEN

Date: 05/08/2008

The numbers are against them, yet despite the odds, each year a few students from the Central Coast manage to reach the Holy Grail for high school athletes: a college scholarship.


Sacramento bound:
Decathlete Sam Schur has received a scholarship to attend Division I Sacramento State. He said it's always been his dream to attend college on an athletic scholarship.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
For the first time ever, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) released data on the number of scholarships given out and the amount of money awarded to athletes for Divisions I and II. The data is from 2003-04--the most recent available--but the numbers show what coaches, athletes, and parents have known for a long time.

It's a tough market.

Gone are the days of full-ride scholarships. Only a few student-athletes in the country land one through an elusive mix of talent, experience, and luck. The reality of college scholarships is far less glamorous. Each coach receives a certain amount of money from the college and spreads it out over his or her team. How much is allotted to each sport depends on the size of the school and the source of its income.

Statistics from NCAA Division I and II schools, including both private and public, show the average athletic scholarship to be about $10,000 per player, per sport, per year. In some sports, like basketball, players can receive $16,000 or more. Conversely, baseball or track and field scholarships are commonly much lower.

The amount of money awarded depends on a basic mathematical exercise: how much money the sport gets divided by how many people play. For example, according to the recently released report, football had the most money to work with--a total of $367 million--but the average scholarship awarded was $12,980. That's because the football fields are flooded with players, and all that cash was spread out over roughly 28,000 quarterbacks, defensive tackles, and the like.

The best chances for a scholarship seem to fall on ice hockey rinks. That sport has less to give out overall, but what there is spread over relatively few players. A boy who gets a hockey scholarship stands to receive an average of $21,755 a year. A girl's average is $20,540.

Still, a scholarship is more than just money in the hand--or bank--for local athletes. It's a validation, and a step toward fulfilling a dream. These hard-working students aren't looking at a bottom line, but are trying to find a program that suits their needs, while allowing them to keep playing. A few of them have found that balance.


Soccer star:
Marissa Miller is a tough mid-fielder. She's looking forward to some increased competition at Cal State Northridge, where she'll be playing in the fall.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
"You know when you're little it's something you dream about, but I didn't know if it would happen to me," said Marissa Miller, a Righetti High School senior.

Miller is headed off to play soccer for California State University Northridge, a Division I school. Soccer is one of the most popular sports for female athletes. According to the NCAA, 270,273 girls played during the year that data was gathered. About 9,000 of those girls received scholarships. Strictly by numbers, that means the top three percent of players got a push toward higher education courtesy of their sport.

Sometimes players get lucky. Miller was noticed by a Northridge coach who had come to one of her games to watch someone on the other team. He spotted Miller instead. Once the ball started rolling--both literally and figuratively--Miller quickly signed to a team that she says is a perfect fit.

"We needed financial help, and we got it, and it's not too far away, and it's Division I," she said. "It's perfect."

Miller didn't need to shop around the ideal scholarship came to her, though it took years and years of hard work, and she's not done yet. Her new coach told her to get extremely fit before school, which starts in August, and she'll play right away instead of red-shirting. That's why, on any given weekend, Miller can be found running sprints on the high school track.

Logging serious track time is something that Sam Schur can relate to. A St. Joseph senior, Schur has accepted a scholarship to Division I school Sacramento State as a decathlete. He picked that college over a few others that had contacted him because of its record. Sac State has won its conference a few years in a row now, and has track facilities worthy of hosting the Olympic Trials, which Sacramento State has in the past.

Track is second only to football when it comes to numbers of players. The NCAA counts 713,000 boys competing on high school track teams. Of those, about 8,000 received scholarships, meaning that a high school track star has roughly a one in 100 chance of running in college.

"It's one of my biggest dreams to get a scholarship," Schur said.


Center court:
After helping the St. Joseph Knights win all season, Devin Riezebos is more than ready to play for Cal State Monterey Bay. She's said that she's especially excited to live right near the beach in Monterey.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
An all-around athlete, Schur also played basketball for St. Joseph and at one time aspired to continue that sport in college. He truly excelled at track, however, and that's where the college coaches wanted him.

Two local basketball players have opted for Division II and couldn't be happier.

"I'm so happy," said Devin Riezebos, a St. Joseph senior. "That's always been my dream, to go to a good school. I'm glad it's Division II and not as much pressure as Division I."

Riezebos will be playing basketball for Cal State Monterey Bay. In a twist of fate, her new team is in the same league as that of her longtime friend, Righetti senior Desiree Domingues, who has signed on with Cal State Los Angeles. They didn't play against each other in high school games, but they will now.

Domingues is looking forward to meeting up with a friend on the court, but she's really looking forward to proving herself. At 5-feet, 2-inches tall, Domingues said that she's had to answer to a lot of people over the years who told her she couldn't succeed in basketball.

"One of the things I'm really good at is proving people wrong," she said.

According to the NCAA, basketball is the second most popular sport for female athletes, with 451,000 players (Track is No. 1 with more than 600,000). In basketball, 8,000 players were awarded scholarships to the tune of about $15,500 a year.

Once again, by the numbers, that puts Riezebos and Domingues in the top two percent of all girls who picked up a ball and aimed it at that basket.

"I wasn't going to be satisfied by playing in high school only," Domingues said. "That's one of the things that has made me the most happy, to play in college. I've had to work really hard."


Spike:
Outside hitter Nikki Doyle isn't traveling very far. She'll be playing for the UCSB Gauchos, a fulfillment of a dream. She said that she's always wanted to play volleyball in Santa Barbara.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Nikki Doyle has been working on her game since the fifth grade. That's when she first picked up a volleyball. She knew right away that her goal was to play on a college team.

Doyle said she used to go to UC Santa Barbara volleyball games as a kid and dream of playing on that court one day. As she got older, she began to realize how tough realizing her dream would be. Volleyball is competitive, and UCSB has a high-ranked Division I team. Doyle sent them letters and a video of her playing, and attended UCSB volleyball camps in a bid to get noticed. It worked. She's headed there in the fall.

"I was really excited," she said. "It kind of just hit me a few months ago when everyone started filling out college applications that I already knew where I was going and why."

After years of hard work these kids have earned the ultimate reward, the chance to work even harder against bigger and better foes. Miller is looking forward to it.

"Locally it's the same competition," she said. "I want to get worked, that's what I want to do, because when you get worked you get better."

These local stars of the court and field are all about to get worked. Heading off to the big leagues means that they'll be going up against every other high school athlete deemed worthy to play in college. It could be a shock at first, but they'll all adjust.

They've had to be tough, after all, to get this far.

 

INFOBOX: Up-and-coming Central Coast athletes

As of press time, the following athletes had signed letters of intent to attend college with athletic scholarships. The Sun was unable to get lists from Nipomo High School, Cabrillo High School, and Lompoc High School.

Pioneer Valley High School:

Martin Ruiz, wrestling--San Francisco State

Nikki Doyle, volleyball--UCSB

St. Joseph High School

Maggie Evans, water polo--Cal State Bakersfield

Sierra Peltcher, water polo--Cal State Bakersfield

Devin Riezebos, basketball--Cal State Monterrey Bay

Sam Schur, track and field--Sacramento State

Righetti High School

Adam Wilson, football--Colorado State

Desiree Domingues, basketball--Cal State Los Angeles

Marissa Miller, soccer--Cal State Northridge


Contact Sports Editor Sarah E. Thien at sthien@santamariasun.com.


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