As Berkeley High School (BHS) seniors apply for college and await their letters of acceptance, some student-athletes already know the school they will attend and play for in the upcoming year. Lila Sayre, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), committed to Wesleyan University in early November of 2020 to play Division III (D3) volleyball. “I had always been looking at [Wesleyan] and I have a lot of family members who have gone there, so I had grown up hearing about it,” said Sayre.
Playing volleyball has been a big part of her life for many years, and seeing her friends and teammates commit to playing in college inspired Sayre to do the same. “I have been playing [volleyball] since seventh grade, and before COVID-19 hit, I played eleven months out of the year,” she said. Sayre plays for both the BHS varsity women’s volleyball team and Absolute Volleyball Club in San Rafael. From the first Absolute practice, Sayre was hooked on the game and her team. “What really drew me to the sport in the first place was not only the competitive nature but the team dynamic [and] commitment to your teammates,” she said.
Adding COVID-19 to the list of challenges students already face while looking to be recruited for their sport, the commitment process can be daunting. Sayre was not immune to these struggles when looking for a school to play for: “Normally a big part of the recruitment process is inviting coaches to watch you play [games] on the court in person, which coaches really did not have the opportunity to do once COVID-19 hit.” Luckily for Sayre, the Wesleyan coach had visited the volleyball college recruitment camp she had attended in January of 2020. “[The coach] did have an opportunity to see me play in person [at the camp] and I had the opportunity to meet him, which really helped me later on in the year when he could not see me play in person,” she said.
When reflecting on her commitment process, Sayre shares her best tips for other athletes looking to play their sport in college. Sayre recommends “being really persistent [with the coaches] especially during COVID-19, not being afraid to email coaches, being a lot more assertive than they may be used to, and having a good idea of what you want out of your college experience.” Despite the challenges she faced during her recruitment journey, Sayre is excited to attend Wesleyan University in the upcoming school year and continue her volleyball career at the collegiate level.
Jake Hilton, a senior in Academic Choice (AC) at BHS, committed to play baseball for Pomona College in mid-July of last year. Hilton has always known he wanted to continue his baseball career for as long as possible, so playing in college was a no-brainer for him. “I have never wanted to stop playing baseball, and I still am not ready for the day [I stop],” he said. Hilton plays two positions for the BHS varsity baseball team and the Zoots Baseball team: pitcher and outfield. When looking at possible colleges to play for, being able to continue in both positions was a priority for Hilton. “Pomona is an amazing school, so it is a great opportunity for me, as well as the opportunity to ‘two way;’ play both pitcher and outfield there,” he said.
Hilton’s journey through baseball started early and progressed through his whole middle and high school career. With the COVID-19 outbreak, most of his varsity playing time was cut short. However, Hilton has been finding ways to persevere through these hard times and stay in shape to play as soon as possible. “The Berkeley High [baseball] catcher and I have been able to go to the Berkeley High or Albany High School field and get our throwing program in.” Like many sports, baseball requires fitness in addition to technique, which can be hard to maintain during COVID-19. Nonetheless, Hilton has been finding ways to cope. “My friend has a home gym, so we have been able to continue working out and lifting weights,” said Hilton.
During the recruitment process, Hilton recalls the crucial tools and steps he took in order to get noticed by baseball coaches and recruiters. “I set up an account on a sports page where you can post videos and a bio about yourself for all colleges to see, and that was very helpful for me.” Important role models and family in Hilton’s life also made a big impact on his recruitment process. “My parents supporting me and driving me to every baseball game and practice for my entire life … My pitching coach, who is the baseball coach at Campolindo High School, was very helpful and had a bunch of connections and really reached out and vouched for me, which was a big factor,” Hilton said.
Through his time on the BHS team and the other programs he has played for over the years, Hilton has been a strong athlete and very dedicated to the sport. Hilton encourages other aspiring collegiate athletes to stay committed and outgoing during their recruitment journey. “Work hard as soon as you can, and get as much exposure as you can … always be confident in yourself when talking with coaches and playing,” he said.