While COVID-19 posed a significant threat to the Tufts Class of 2025 athletic recruits, six incoming student-athletes were able to make the most of the situation and land with the Jumbos.
These recruits fit the mold of a typical collegiate athlete — organized, passionate and eager — with parents that encouraged them to play whenever possible.
Ella Lesperance, an incoming player on the Tufts women’s lacrosse team, remembers playing sports from a very young age.
“I have been playing sports since I could walk … My parents had me in soccer programs and playing baseball pretty young,” she said. “[I was doing] anything that could get me to move because I was a high-energy kid and sports was a really good outlet for that.”
Lesperance’s passion for athleticism runs in the family.
“I do have athletic genes; my brother’s actually playing baseball in college and my sister is hoping to play lacrosse in college. Both my parents played sports in college and high school and they loved it … so [we’re] a pretty athletic family,” she said.
Since she set her sights on playing sports in college at a young age, she made sure her standardized testing was set prior to junior year and met with many coaches before COVID-19 locked everything down. Even when she lost her high school junior season, she had a lot of her athletic moments recorded to share with recruiting coaches.
“I had all that stuff done … which was really lucky. I think I made the best out of a bad situation, but I had friends that were definitely less fortunate, which is tough,” she said.
Looking toward the fall, Lesperance is excited to be on campus.
“Everyone that I met [at Tufts] is incredible, the community seems incredible. I’m … counting down to move-in day,” she said.
A future teammate of Lesperance and incoming first-year Genna Gibbons has also been an athlete her whole life.
“I’ve played a lot of different sports … I stumbled onto lacrosse in 6th grade and had no interest in playing it, but my dad kind of forced me into it,” she said. “[I] started taking it seriously and figured out that I wanted to play in college [my first] year of high school.”
Gibbons also got an early start in the recruitment process.
“In California, there’s not a lot of [lacrosse] activity, so I flew east for a month and a half every summer going from camp to tournament and getting as much exposure to schools and coaches as possible.”
While some players had difficulty finding fields to practice on in the throes of the pandemic, Gibbons, a two-sport athlete, was able to stay in shape thanks to cross country.
“[My school] let cross country, which I’ve run since [my first year of high school], practice every single day … I got the opportunity to run cross country from September through February, so I was running a ton,” she said.
When possible, Gibbons would also shoot around with her best friend at a local field.
Due to COVID-19 and canceled tournaments, coaches had more time to spend on the recruit class — though they had to recruit differently. Women’s lacrosse coaches hosted virtual junior days and got to know potential Tufts athletes over the phone, which was something Gibbons appreciated.
“I just kept hearing such great things … getting to know the team was super pivotal because I felt like I vibed with them; they felt like my type of people and who I could connect with, which was super exciting,” she said.
Even though lacrosse was Gibbons’ first attraction to Tufts, she’s excited to join the academic community as well.
“I am excited to be in an environment with intellectually curious people who are super excited about what they’re learning,” she said.
Kerwin Teh, an incoming first-year from Malaysia, is also excited to get on campus and join the Jumbo community.
“I’m most looking forward to the people and the community. I’ve read a few articles about Tufts saying how diverse the community is and how united the whole college is … and I would love to be a part of the community,” he said.
As an international student, Teh did not always think it would be possible to play squash in college in the United States.
“I only saw the opportunity [to play in college] when I was 16 … I looked up to squash seniors in Malaysia, and I have a few friends that play in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s a dream come true, to be honest, to be able to go to the U.S. and play for a team and to study at the same time, so I’m definitely very excited.”
Though Teh didn’t think about playing in college when he was younger, he did have exposure to a variety of sports.
“I used to play a lot of sports when I was young: soccer, badminton, swimming, more racquet sports I would say,” he said. “Once I got into squash I really loved the game; I started squash when I was eight years old.”
While Teh is traveling to Tufts from afar, Dana Hall School senior Mia D’Angelo will be coming from around the corner. Another multi-sport athlete, D’Angelo had a similar experience of trying out different sports in her youth until she settled on field hockey.
“I’ve played all different sports my whole life but [lacrosse and field hockey] became the two front-runners, but then I realized I was better at field hockey than I was at lacrosse,” she said.
Similar to other recruits, D’Angelo’s family has a history of athleticism.
“My cousin played lacrosse at Wesleyan … I looked up to her a lot and realized I also wanted to [play in college],” she said.
Just like others, D’Angelo had to get creative in order to practice while dealing with COVID-19 restrictions.
“We got a little piece of turf and I would go out there or in my basement and practice,” she said. “When fields started to open up, I’d go with one person or my dad and he’d throw me balls or bring a hockey stick and play to make me move.”
The recruiting process over Zoom was less than smooth sailing, and at times chaotic for some Tufts recruits.
“They did some virtual clinics … For the first one, my laptop was broken, so I had to use my dad’s and it wouldn’t log on, so I was 30 minutes late to the Zoom and my Wi-Fi wasn’t working. I was literally crying,” D’Angelo said.
But, she feels lucky that her placement at Tufts was solidified amid the chaos, and is enthusiastic about the opportunity to further her academic and athletic abilities.
Another New Englander, Tyler Mackowski from Connecticut, always dreamed of playing baseball in college — beginning the sport at the age of four.
“I have played baseball since I was four years old,” he said. “I started T-ball, then started playing travel at age eight; since then I’ve been playing travel every single year.”
To keep up his training over the course of the pandemic, Mackowski hit the diamond with his dad.
“I’d go to the field every day with my dad, he’d hit my ground balls and threw me batting practice,” he said. “I tried my best to stay positive and know that there was going to be a season eventually.”
Luckily, a brief decline in COVID-19 cases allowed him to play in a showcase in August.
“That was the first time [Tufts coaches] really took me seriously,” he said. “A few weeks after that, they gave me a call.”
While Mackowski feels COVID-19 certainly limited his options, Tufts was always particularly alluring to him due to its strong focus on academics.
“When I talked to … the coaches, [they recognized] that baseball is important, but my future is also important as well, and academics do come first,” he said.
Jordan Cushner, an incoming member of the Tufts women’s soccer team, had her sights set on Tufts from early on in her high school experience.
“I loved the campus and knew since [ninth grade] that I wanted to go to the East Coast. Sophomore year I did a bunch of tours and I loved the Tufts atmosphere,” she said.
During the pandemic, Cushner was able to have Zoom fitness and technical trainings, which kept her in shape for soccer. Fortunately, she started the recruitment process early.
“I was really lucky because I started my process strangely early … I went to my first ID camp the summer after [ninth grade] … so the coaching staff got to know me better,” she said. “By the time COVID hit I had gone to two ID camps, and I’d already received super positive feedback … I got fairly lucky on that end.”
At Tufts, Cushner is excited to be a part of the team and to meet new people.
“I love being part of a team atmosphere … it’s great to be a part of a group, especially going in as a [first-year] knowing you’ll have some people looking out,” she said. “I’m just honestly excited to keep playing soccer. I kind of realized over quarantine how important it is in all aspects of my life.”
For these six recruits, the chance to play collegiate sports is a dream come true. Even though COVID-19 interfered with their high school careers and jeopardized their recruiting chances, they are all incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity to compete and study at Tufts next year.