Even though the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted sports seasons at home, local high school student athletes have their sights on the big leagues next year.
Homer High School seniors Jessica Sonnen, Madison Story and Harrison Metz all recently signed National Letters of Intent to play their respective sports at colleges in the Lower 48.
Sonnen, a soccer player, will attend Simpson University, a private Christian college in Redding, California, where she’ll play for their program.
“I started out looking for schools that were close to home — as close as they really can be — and ones with a nursing program,” Sonnen said of the search.
From there, she started emailing coaches. All three student athletes said the process of finding colleges and pursuing collegiate sport programs was complicated this year by the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. The virus limited physical college visits and made a lot more of the recruitment process virtual.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Sonnen said.
While COVID-19 made it more difficult, Sonnen was able to visit some schools in the fall. Simpson University was the first one she visited, and she said she knew right away it would be a good fit. The Christian focus is also important to her, she said.
Sonnen also said she could tell the school’s soccer program had a focus on bonding and that it was family oriented.
“It’s really just my favorite thing ever,” she said of the sport.
It’s what she looks forward to every day, although the pandemic threw a wrench into last spring’s season.
Sonnen said it’s been challenging to keep engaged in soccer throughout the pandemic, but that she’s just tried to stay positive and keep working to improve herself in the sport.
“I am so grateful for the Homer program,” she said.
The high school and greater community soccer programs “basically raised” Sonnen and her soccer career, she said. She thanked her coach, Mike Tozzo, for all his support.
Like Sonnen, Story has been involved in her sport, swimming, for many years. She comes from a swimming family, and has spent this year’s season breaking some of her mother’s previous Homer High School records.
Story recently signed her letter of intent to swim at the University of Utah, a Division 1 school that’s part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Pac-12 Conference.
“I am really, really excited,” Story said of the prospect of swimming in the Pac-12. “… I never thought I would be competing against schools like that. I’m really excited to be in a competitive field like that — it’ll be super cool.”
She’s always known she’d want to swim in college, because it means getting to the next level of competition, Story said. She, too, found it more difficult to search out schools and athletic programs during a pandemic. Also complicating the process was the fact that the NCAA put in a “dead period” where prospective athletes couldn’t make campus visits, Story said. The situation was also making people commit to schools sooner, so rosters were filling up quick, she said.
“We went on a lot of websites, and did it like that,” she said of the recruitment process. “This summer I had two or three calls a week just talking to the coaches and asking the same questions, and trying to figure out what’s the benefit.”
Story said that as soon as she had a phone call with the Utah team’s assistant coach, she got a feeling that the other phone calls hadn’t given her.
Looking back at her time swimming for Homer in Alaska, Story said she’s been lucky. Especially during the pandemic, she said the Alaska swimming community has reached out and been there for its members.
“We’ve all been treated as a community,” she said.
For example, when Homer’s pool was closed, parents within the greater Alaska swimming network made it possible for Story and a teammate to practice in an Anchorage pool, she said.
“I’ve just been really lucky to be a part of Alaska swimming,” Story said.
Story plans to pursue a teaching career.
Metz, a baseball player, is headed to Valley City State University in North Dakota.
“Baseball’s always been the one thing that interests me the most, and I’m always working on something with baseball,” he said.
Metz said he narrowed his choices down to about five different colleges. He, too, described a more virtual process to finding the right sports program.
“We did a lot of research online, and emailing coaches and just trying to reach out to them as much as we could,” he said.
Metz also filmed skills videos to send out to prospective colleges. Once he got connected with Valley City, he realized it would be a good fit.
“I really liked the coaches at Valley City,” Metz said. “We talked a lot and it just seemed like it would be a really good fit for me.”
Metz said he likes that it’s a smaller school with a fall season as opposed to a spring season. It was also important that the school has his planned major, software engineering.
Because the team is on the smaller side, Metz said the team creates connection and friendships throughout the program.
He, too, said he’s grateful for the opportunities he got growing up and playing baseball in Homer.
“I definitely want to thank all my coaches for pushing me along and giving me the opportunities that I’ve got,” Metz said.
He extended his thanks to Rich Sonnen, Steve Fuson, Robb Quelland, Tyler Krekling, Lance Coz, Mike Hayes, Joe Karlick, Robert Green, Gave Munoz and John Rummery.