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Coronavirus creates challenge for college-bound Niwot athletes


April 22, 2020

Jocelyn Rowley

A dramatic finish by Jack Kenkel in the boys 4x400 secured Niwot's team title at the 2019 Class 4A state track and field championships

Playing collegiately is a goal for many high school athletes across the country. It takes talent, hours of work, and equally important, the ability to get recognized and connected with a college coach.

Niwot High School counselor and Head Track and Field Coach Kelly Christensen has not let the coronavirus prevent him from helping student athletes connect with colleges.

"We're doing more than we normally would as far as really reaching out to coaches of these programs that kids want to go to and trying to make sure they're heard and they're not being ignored," Christensen said, "whether that's our coaches reaching out to contacts that might know the coaches or the recruiters. It is different and it is heartbreaking for some of these kids that might not get a chance who could've definitely competed at the next level that won't be."

Christensen was thrilled when he found out his senior track and field standout Jack Kenkel was able to find a match with Princeton University amidst the pandemic. For other athletes, a missing senior season could be devastating.

Senior track and field athlete Milo Ostwald has struggled to find a fit according to Christensen. Ostwald has even been training, and outperforming college runners during his time off. But with no senior season, it's nearly impossible for him to gain the exposure he needs at meets.

"It's been challenging," Christensen said. "Luckily, a lot of our seniors were already committed, but there were still some that needed a final season to showcase their fitness or at least that they belong at the level they were hoping to get to."

Niwot's class of 2021 will also feel the effects according to Christensen. He believes with both potentially an absence of fall sport revenue and a smaller incoming class, colleges may have less financial flexibility to hand out scholarships.

Another adjustment colleges will be making is how they are forced to evaluate talent. With the ever-important eye test to evaluate character out the window, Christensen said college coaches are relying on projections. Relying on previous race times and other metrics is risky, but a route that colleges are willing to take.

"It's just going to be interesting, especially even just for the junior kids," Christensen said. "There is no season for them, it looks like, to show their improvement and right now, I've had a few college coaches reach out to me. ...They're using data to see if they can predict the trajectory of these junior athletes to take their best guess on where they would be if there was (in-person) recruiting."

Fortunately for Niwot's student athletes, they have plenty of support. First-year Niwot Athletic Director Joe Brown also won't let the coronavirus impede his students' futures.

"I still think that this opportunity that's presented itself in a unique way has given us the opportunity to look at things from different lenses, and recruiting is definitely one of those lenses, but we are still actively working as hard as we can contacting coaches and promoting our kids through all of this," Brown said.

Monitoring the St. Vrain Valley School District's athletic department is former Niwot Athletic Director Chase McBride. McBride believes that from the college's perspective, not much will change in acquiring student-athletes. The NCAA recently allowed its spring sport athletes an extra year of eligibility that will play another factor according to McBride.

Jocelyn Rowley

Milo Ostwald competed for Niwot's title winning 4x400 team in the 2019 Class 4A state track and field championships.

"I don't foresee much changing in that realm of things," McBride said. "There's athletes that certainly could return, but that still wouldn't change the impact numbers of the amount of scholarships that a program is allocated."

These are still unprecedented times in the world of recruiting and Niwot's goal won't shift from helping its athletes any way they can.

"My heart goes out to all of our kids and coaches," Brown said. "We just love all of them to death and we want to help them and support them in any way, shape, or form that we can, and as coaches and as an athletic director, that focus hasn't changed. We're still loving and helping and working with our kids to talk with (college) coaches about them and what their potentials are."

CHSAA reconfirmed that it will announce a decision on spring sports on or before May 2.


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