Former Georgetown soccer player Claire Fuselier (MSB ‘13) had her fair share of experiences on the field for the Hoyas in her first two years on campus. Unfortunately, most of those moments weren’t the ones that made headlines. Fuselier, who described herself as more of a practice player, entered 12 games as a substitute and quit the team after her sophomore year.
Although collegiate sports have the ability to create national superstars and campus heroes, stardom is only a fraction of the picture. There are thousands whose play does not get recognized. The struggle to balance the rigors of Division I sports with academics, with a social life, and with the search for post-graduation plans—which, for this group, usually doesn’t include the chance to play professionally—can be a lot to handle.
Fuselier’s is just one of many different stories. Unlike some of her teammates, she hadn’t come to Georgetown expecting to be a star on the team. The defender came onto the team from a unique situation—she hadn’t been formally recruited by head coach Dave Nolan. Fuselier had been accepted to Georgetown on her own and expressed interest in playing soccer on the Hilltop. Luckily for her, the coach of Fuselier’s local club team knew Nolan because his daughter had been on the team. Needing players, Nolan offered Fuselier a chance to play on the team after talking with her club coach.
“I had a spot even before Dave had seen me play,” she said. “Technically I walked on, but I still went through preseason and everything.”
After that, she was expected to devote as much effort to the team as her recruited teammates. The Hoyas had an exciting run to the Elite Eight in the 2010 NCAA Tournament and went to Brazil the following March to train. But after playing through a great time in the program’s history, Fuselier took a step back and thought about her future on the team and whether she ultimately wanted to be a part of it.
“When I was starting to think about it, I knew, for instance, that I was seriously considering studying abroad and that’s something that isn’t very compatible with Division I athletics,” she said. “I knew I wanted to focus a little more on academics the last two years. There were a lot of factors but at the same time I loved the sport and a lot of my friends were still there.”
Making such a huge decision wasn’t easy for Fuselier. She made sure to talk with her teammates, Nolan, other coaches, and her family. After consulting everyone she could think of, there was only one person that could make the move.
“In the end it’s really your decision and people leave for different reasons,” she said. “My reasons just happened to be more academic, more personal than anything else. It was a tough decision.”
PURSUING OTHER INTERESTS
Fuselier’s story, while unique in some ways, is one that has been heard on every collegiate team before, whether by coaches or athletes. But because of Georgetown’s rigorous academics, it’s even more common here, for both walk-ons and recruits.
Rowing has a much more limited scope. Rowers only make up about 2 percent of college athletes, according to the NCAA. Because of this, some take up the sport in high school to look more desirable to colleges. Still, there are many who row because they like it and see the admissions process as secondary. That’s where Taylor Dana (NHS ‘12) fits in.
Dana, who rowed for four years at St. Ursula Academy in Ohio, was interested in Georgetown even without being formally recruited. It wasn’t until she made up her mind to apply that she contacted Glen Putryrae, the women’s rowing coach at the time, who has since left Georgetown. Dana wanted to see what it would take to join the team. She let Putryae know that she was fully committed if he wanted her.
Six months later, in the fall, Dana applied during the early action period, even though she was told that crew couldn’t help her gain admission then. After she was admitted, she was then treated as if she had been recruited because of the commitment she had made earlier in the process. During the three years she was on the team, Dana usually rowed in the second Varsity boat, but occasionally rowed in the first boat. She said the experience that collegiate rowing gave her was a valuable one and a great step after rowing in high school.
“High school rowing was a big thing for me, and I thought it would be an awesome thing to be on a team in college, which it was,” Dana said. “I learned a lot from committing my time to that sport for as much as I did.”
After rowing her first two years at Georgetown, Dana missed some time in the fall of her junior year after having her appendix removed. In the spring, she decided to go abroad, since it was something she planned on doing ever since coming to Georgetown.
“I talked to the coach at the beginning of the fall saying, ‘I need to go abroad, I need some time away,’” Dana said. “I kind of put it on the back-burner when I started rowing.”
Dana said that her coach was fine with the decision, but made sure she knew that she was missing the important spring season and it’d take a lot of effort to keep up her fitness to come back senior year. Even after getting back from studying abroad, Dana was committed to making a return to the team. But the more she thought about it, the more she felt like dropping rowing.
“Being abroad in the spring, which is the biggest season, I missed so much of team bonding [and training],” she said. “It was an easy out.”
Putryrae also left Georgetown the same summer Dana decided to quit, so there were no real consequences of her leaving, at least from the coaching staff. She said the freedom she felt abroad, combined with the time she’d have to spend improving her fitness, were two main factors of her decision.
AN EARLY OUT
Even though she left the team before graduating, Dana stayed on longer than many of her other teammates.
Her teammate during the fall of freshmen year, Alex Kloppenburg (COL ‘12) had a similar experience in high school. Like Dana, Kloppenburg rowed in high school and was committed to continue rowing when she came to Georgetown. Putryae wouldn’t support her with a bid and waited until after she was accepted to offer her a spot on the team.
“I just submitted my application and ended up talking to Coach Putryae after I submitted my application, saying ‘I’m really interested in rowing, I’m really interested in Georgetown,’” Kloppenburg said.
Kloppenburg said that her experience rowing in high school at Middlesex School in Concord, Mass. was a lot less intense than what she found at Georgetown. Middlesex’s crew season was only two months long, only had “fours” instead of the more traditional eight-seat boat, and wasn’t focused on doing any additional work outside the water. The difference caused her to make a decision to quit after the fall of her freshmen year.
“It takes up so much time, and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to do other things,” Kloppenburg said. “But the one factor that I would say was hard about it was leaving the team.”
Although she decided early in her career to quit, it wasn’t an easy, black-and-white decision. In fact, she didn’t quit at first, she just wanted to take a break and evaluate her stance. When she made the final decision to leave, Putryrae was somewhat resistant, but there wasn’t much he could do. She said that decision ultimately made her college experience better.
CONVINCING PLAYERS TO PLAY
Georgetown’s head football coach Kevin Kelly has seen a few reasons why players end up walking away from the sport. He said students frequently tell him, “My heart’s not into it anymore. It’s not like it used to be.”
Kelly has to be creative with his recruiting from the beginning. The Patriot League holds each school in the league to an academic standard based on high school GPA and SAT scores. Although Kelly didn’t go into detail about the league’s baseline for scores, he did say that Georgetown has the highest standards in the league. Despite the difficulty of overcoming the school’s tough academic standards, Kelly sees it as more of a selling point to hundreds of recruits for whom academics as a priority.
But early in the process, it’s sometimes hard to tell which players will stay on the team for the long haul.
“Each coach will have 200 players that they’re actively recruiting, so you’re talking about eight coaches,” he said. “Then we whittle it down to a class of about 25 to 30. It’s hard to get to know each kid, so you never know when they get here; some decide that maybe football’s not quite as important as they thought it was.”
That inexact science puts a lot of pressure on the program, and the fit is rarely completely right.
For football players, there is also no financial incentive to stay on the team, because the Patriot League is a non-scholarship league. Any assistance a player receives is either from a grant or financial aid. Because of this, Kelly has to give other reasons to stay on the team.
An important incentive for players is the future business contacts they will get after coming out of the program. The Hoya Gridiron club has a mentorship program that matches up football alumni that work in the same fields that graduating seniors want to pursue. These alumni understand the dedication college sports require.
“If you stay with a Division I football program for four years, I think it helps you down the road as far as potential employers,” Kelly said. “You played a Division I sport; they understand the time commitment that you put into it.” Kelly said sometimes it’s the players who don’t have as much playing time—but who also don’t give up—who look the most valuable to future employers.
“I respect the guys that stick it out and may not play much. I always remember those guys,” Kelly said. “It’s easy to remember the guys that play, because it’s easy to be here. The guys that don’t play so much, that stuck it out four years—those are the guys that you respect the most.”