Academics lure athletes to Division III schools

Julia Cherner

Though many equate collegiate sports only with Division I universities, some have a broader definition that includes Division III. Seniors Kayla Rose, Zach Cohen, and Marguerite Spaethling will each play for Division III schools next fall, even though they were recruited by Division I.

Rose will play softball for Rhodes College next year, and said she couldn’t be happier. After being in communication with many schools, both Division I and Division III, Rose narrowed her list down to Rhodes, UC San Diego, Southwestern, Hillsdale, and Rollins. Rose ultimately chose Rhodes because she thinks she will enjoy all aspects of what the school said it has to offer.

Senior Kayla Rose will be playing softball come fall 2016 for Rhodes College.
Senior Kayla Rose will be playing softball come fall 2016 for Rhodes College.

“I knew I didn’t want to go into a program where they owned me,” Rose said. “That’s why I picked [Division III]. I wanted to go to a small, liberal arts college in the South with a cohesive campus and a great town. Rhodes fit all of those categories.”

Rose said that receiving a good education will be her main priority in college, and a main reason she chose to go Division III was that the school understands that.

“My coach described it to me as ‘games before class but class before practice,’” Rose said. “They take education very seriously. We don’t travel during the weekdays, we’re not missing class. So really education comes first and softball come second.”

With few post-collegiate softball opportunities, Rose was worried that a Division I career wouldn’t take her anywhere in the future.

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities to play softball after college,” Rose said. “There is a professional league, but it’s almost not worth it. You don’t get paid enough to sustain a good lifestyle. The only other opportunity would be to coach, which I was planning on doing anyway.”

Rose said that choosing where she will spend the next four years was “one of the most nerve-racking decisions” she’s ever made and added that Rhodes offers the programs in the fields in which she plans to study: religious studies and art history.

“By the time [I made the decision] I knew that the school was a fit for me. I was talking to big Division I schools, but I didn’t want to go to a huge school that was [science, technology, engineering, and math] based,” Rose said. “UCSD didn’t have what I wanted to study so it wasn’t going to be worth it to go and have to play softball as well. It’s the right campus, it’s the right part of the country, so that’s why I picked it.”

Rose said that ultimately, she has reached her athletic goals after playing softball for 14 years, even though Division III athletic programs do not carry the same prestige as those of Division I.

“There’s a huge stigma that if you want to play sports and you’re not playing DI, you’re not playing the best,” Rose said. “I feel like I’ve achieved my goal of putting in 14 years of softball by playing DIII. We’re getting the DI perks, but we’re not signing our lives over.”

Cohen, coming off of an MCAL and NCS championship, decided to commit to New York University to continue his pitching, despite receiving offers from multiple Division I schools.

Senior Zach Cohen will play baseball next year for New York University.
Senior Zach Cohen will play baseball next year for New York University.

“I made the decision early on to play Division III baseball because I knew I wanted more of an academic, education-based college experience versus fully for just sports,” Cohen said. “That being said, ever since I knew what college was, a dream of mine was to play ball in college.”

Although strong academics were the main factor in Cohen’s decision, he wouldn’t go to a school if he couldn’t play baseball, he said.

“For me it’s all about still playing. The academics might have been more of the ‘goal,’ but baseball was on the table as well, so it was perfect, and that’s why I went [Division III].”

Cohen added that the city location of NYU provides many innovative opportunities, perfect for Cohen’s desired career path of mathematics and economics.

Spaethling will play Division III volleyball at Colorado College next fall.

Senior Marguerite Spaethling recently commited to Colorado College, a Division III school, for volleyball.
Senior Marguerite Spaethling recently commited to Colorado College, a Division III school, for volleyball.

“I’d been doing the recruiting process for volleyball since I was a sophomore and I was looking at majority DI schools in the beginning, and that’s how the recruiting process goes––I had top choices that were mostly DI, but they didn’t really work out,” Spaethling said. “Once it came down to it, I had offers from DIII schools that are high academics and DI schools, but in the end those DI schools really didn’t fit the profile and academics that I wanted to have in my college experience.”

Spaethling added that earlier in the process, she wanted to play for an Ivy League school because, though they are Division I, their volleyball programs are not as demanding as other larger, public universities. In addition, they compete with higher level Division III schools such as Colorado.

“Being at Redwood and playing on the teams that I’ve played on, I really wanted to be at a competitive level, but also one that had the good academics and the programs I wanted to study: architecture and environmental science,” Spaethling said.

Spaethling was left deciding between Colorado and Wesleyan, but ultimately chose Colorado because she felt it was the better fit.

“I visited Colorado and I just kind of fell in love,” Spaethling said. “Everyone was wearing Birkenstocks, they had composting everywhere, I really felt at home. Everyone was super outdoorsy.”

Lizzie Ahern, a member of the Redwood class of 2012, also decided to play for a Division III team, though she had the skills to go DI. Ahern plays volleyball for Amherst College and said she is content with her decision.

“I chose DIII because I wanted to have experiences in college that a DI program wouldn’t allow me to have. Small class sizes, personal relationships with professors, and time to do other things in the off season besides training were all very appealing to me,” Ahern said.

Ahern added that she believes she is able to get the collegiate athlete experience of playing for a school, traveling around the country, and being involved in a tight knit athlete community, while benefiting from the opportunities provided by the Amherst athletic department. She has worked a number of jobs on campus and studied abroad in Italy, is active in student groups and dorm life, and believes she has a fulfilling life outside of academics and athletics.

Ahern advises seniors who are currently deciding between schools to try to picture themselves five years after graduating college.

“Make sure you choose a school that you would still want to go to if you couldn’t play your sport anymore,” Ahern said. “Injuries occur, people quit, things happen that end athletic careers early, so it’s important to be in a place that you still want to be, regardless of your sport.”