The student-athlete’s journey that led to commitment

Seated at the table with fellow peers, the National Letter of Intent is set before you. Your coach has spoken about your time on the team. Your friends are in the stands with enthusiastic posters with your name on it, and your family is watching you with smiles on their faces. Today is National Signing Day.

According to, about 7% (or 1 in 13) of high school athletes go on to play a sport in college. However, before the official day of commitment, there are years of playing, goal-setting, and help from others that go into an athlete signing their Letter of Intent. This document ensures that an athlete has a spot on a collegiate team.

It all starts with how one started to play the sport in the first place. Senior Skyler Nielsen, who committed to Columbia University for lacrosse, said she started playing in fifth grade when her dad took her and her sister to a lacrosse clinic at a local park.

“I’ve been playing sports my whole life and I’ve tried probably every sport out there,” Nielsen said. “I used to play soccer, I swam, rode horses, gymnastics, everything.” But lacrosse was the sport that Nielson “really fell in love with”.

Senior Ryder Henares, who committed to Loyola Marymount University for golf, said he started playing golf at 3 years old. His dad was the person who got him into the sport since he played growing up in the Philippines.

“I just loved it ever since I first picked it up,” Henares said.

As an athlete progresses and gains more experience in their sport, an important factor in their journey is those who support them with advice and encouragement through successful and frustrating times. This support system can consist of family members, friends, teammates, coaches, and even faith. This was the case for senior Lauryn Sweeney, who committed to Fordham University for volleyball.

“Even at [my] lowest points over the past few years, I have relied on my family’s strong faith, teaching me to always trust in God’s greater plans,” Sweeney said. “I learned that all I can do is work to get one percent better each day and to trust that God will take care of the rest.”

However great an achievement signing into collegiate sports might seem, it’s not necessarily an easy decision to make.

“I definitely took the time thinking about what my options were. I talked it over with my coach and my family [to] make sure it was the right decision to make, and ultimately it was.” Henares said. “I’m super happy and relieved it’s finally done.”

When it came time for Nielsen to decide her next step for college, she said it came down to the fact that lacrosse became “a large piece” of her identity as a person. When she received the opportunity to play for her dream school, Columbia University, her family was fully supportive.

“I couldn’t see myself giving it up yet and not further pursuing it,” Nielsen said. “My family was thrilled, especially my dad. He’s been with me since I first started playing and has helped me through all the ups and downs of playing a sport full time.”

Sweeney said she hadn’t considered collegiate volleyball until freshman year, but it became a goal of [hers] to continue playing at the next level. Even more so after realizing that volleyball meant a great deal to her due the important lessons and values she gained from playing on the team.

“Volleyball is a true team sport that has allowed me to grow so much both on and off the court while bringing so many amazing people into my life,” Sweeney said. “I realized that I couldn’t picture the next four years in college without the discipline, commitment, and community aspects that come along with training and competition.”

Sweeney and Henares signed their Letters of Intents at Mater Dei on the November 11th National Signing Day, and Nielsen committed verbally on Instagram on November 13th.

“It was like a sigh of relief,” Henares said. “Like all the hard work I put in, all the lessons I took from my coach, parents, and also high school experience has helped me along the way…I think the best moment was seeing the smile on my mom’s face.”

All three athletes recall their commitment days full of celebration with family and friends, feeling relieved. The years of dedication and effort they put into their sport is what resulted in their accomplishment.

“I think committing has shown me that hard work really does pay off and I can’t wait to grow more as a player,” Nielsen said. “I’ve always wanted to play for a sports team in college, and be a part of such a big organization.”

With sights set on the next chapter in their lives and athletic careers, these athletes said they are advancing forward with gratitude and excitement.

“My parents have sacrificed so much for me to be able to play volleyball at the level I have for the past few years, and having the opportunity to sign to Fordham was my way of saying thank you to them,” Sweeney said.