The journey from high school to college sports is difficult yet exciting


Jada Burgin (right) is playing soccer in college, Maya Holser (middle) is playing softball in college, and Ellie Latunski (left) is rowing in college

Senior Ellie Latunski’s last year on the high school rowing team began with a bang—or rather, a fairly large splash. 

“My [favorite memory] from being on the rowing team is probably falling out of a four-boat,” Ellie said. “It really isn’t supposed to happen because fours are bigger so it’s really hard to tip them. But, it was the furthest [me and the people in my boat] had ever been upriver, and we changed seats and were trying to turn the boat around. Someone let go of the oar and the entire boat ended up flipping, and we all fell into the water.”

I’ve met so many of my closest friends through high school sports. I learned so many life lessons throughout my time on the team, and I’ll be sad to leave.

— Maya Holser

After learning about rowing from the Homecoming parade, and then again later at the tailgate booth, Ellie decided to sign up. She had been looking for a sport to play, and rowing called to her in a way that nothing else did. 

Unfortunately, the year she would have started rowing, her freshman year, COVID-19 hit. Between the frustration of not being able to start rowing right away and the overall annoyance that came with the 2020 lockdown, once she finally was able to join the team, it was all the more exciting.

Despite rocky but entertaining moments like having a late start to her rowing career and falling out of a usually untippable boat, Ellie and her team had some major successes in her final rowing season. 

“One of the most exciting times during rowing was when [our team] made it into nationals for rowing,” Ellie said. “That was what really made me decide that I did actually want to keep rowing in college, and from then on, I started to really pursue it.”

Unfortunately, no matter how much Ellie has improved in her sport and bonded with her team, this section of Ellie’s rowing experience will soon come to an end. For Ellie, this ending is bittersweet and more like the end of a chapter than a whole book.

Not only is she continuing to row in college, but she also couldn’t be more excited about it. That being said, there are things about her current rowing team and experience that she will always miss.

“I’m going to Eastern Michigan University,” Ellie said. “It was my first choice, and I wanted to go because it’s close to home but still in a somewhat bigger area. I can’t wait to be able to meet new people, especially the ones who are on my team and also to be able to have some bigger regattas than we did in high school. But, I’m definitely going to miss my team. Both my teammates and coaches are going to be really hard to leave.”

Ellie isn’t the only person going into college who’s bringing the nerves and excitement of joining their college team with them. 

When senior Maya Holser’s parents put her into softball in the first grade, they weren’t expecting her to be applying to colleges she could play it for more than 11 years later. Even Maya herself wasn’t expecting to continue her journey with softball for that long. 

It wasn’t until her freshman year that she realized she wanted to play on a college team, but now that she is committed, many factors are playing into her excitement about the sport and college in general. 

“It wasn’t until freshman year that I actually realized I had a chance to play in college,” Maya said, “and ever since then, I’ve been working really hard to make it possible. I’m so excited to be able to meet my new teammates and join the [Hope College] softball team.”

Once Maya realized how much she wanted to play softball in college, her passion and dedication for the sport grew even more. 

Getting into college is hard and stressful work for any student, but add the pressures of getting into a school that will help to achieve both your academic and athletic goals, and the overwhelming strain of work can quickly become too much.

Maya discovered this early on and quickly realized the sacrifices she had to make to keep doing the sport that made her happiest. It wasn’t easy for her to make those decisions, but she had people supporting her the whole way. From helping make tough choices her sophomore year to being a constant stream of support in her softball career, certain people will always have her back.

My dad definitely [inspired me the most],” Maya said. “He was always a huge support for me and always wanted me to do my best. He would keep the stats and everything for every game. [He would] always cheer me on, help me, and coach me.”

While Maya is excited to experience the new team, more years to play, and the overall environment that going to college will bring her, she is still disappointed to have to leave certain things behind in Grand Rapids. 

“[Softball] was a great way to meet people,” Maya said. “I’ve met so many of my closest friends through high school sports. I learned so many life lessons throughout my time on the team, and I’ll be sad to leave.”

Moving on from an old sports team is one of the most difficult parts of going to college. This is a struggle that senior Jada Burgin knows too well. 

Not only is it hard to leave behind teammates, coaches, and clubs that one has spent their whole life with, but finding a new team at a college that fits with the image one has in their head can only make it more difficult. 

However, joining a team with coaches and teammates that one is already friends with alleviates many of the nerves and stress that accompany these choices. 

“I am going to be attending Western Michigan University to play Division I soccer,” Jada said. “The whole coaching staff changed this summer, and my old club coach is the new head coach. I also chose to go to Western because I know a couple of girls on the team already, and it’s close to home.  The most important thing for me was to have my family be able to come to a bunch of games.”

Her family has always been a major part of her journey playing soccer. Not only do they come to almost every one of her games, take her to practices, and support her all along the way, but—as it is for many athletes—they were also the people who started her in the sport in the first place. 

“I play soccer and have been playing for 13 years now,” Jada said. “Soccer is one of the easier sports to understand the concept of and [there are] not a lot of rules.  At the younger age, you kind of just kick the ball and run, so my mom thought that would be a perfect sport to get all my energy out.”

The nerves, stress, and sadness of the last year of high school are only amplified if one plays on a school team. It is a well-known fact that leaving high school behind can be truly difficult for people, but the hope and excitement of starting college shine through despite this. 

“If you play a high school sport and play on a team, you develop really intense bonds with your teammates,” Maya said. “It’s such a fun way to get to know more people in your grade. I can’t wait to be able to keep playing softball for another four years. Obviously, I don’t know exactly what playing in college will look like, but I’m really looking forward to making even more life-long friendships with my teammates then.”