By Staff Writers Pradyumn Acharya & Kruthi Gollapudi
Every year, the Smoke Signal spotlights graduating seniors who will play a sport in college. This year, six college athletes were nominated through a Google Form solicited to MSJ Facebook groups and sports coaches. The form accepted responses from May 18 to 21, and all nominated athletes were interviewed.
Basketball, California Institute of Technology
It would have been impossible for Senior Saumya Chauhan to predict the impact that basketball would have on her life when she started playing for fun in fourth grade. Eight years later, she is about to study computer science and play collegiate basketball at her dream school, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Her journey with basketball, though, has not been easy. “In my freshman year, I tore my PCL [Posterior Cruciate Ligament] … I had to do therapy for six months, which was painful because I could not move it at all [for the first month] and [after that] it felt like it was not [my] body part,” Chauhan said. In addition, finding a balance between academics and athletics, especially in junior year, was something she had to overcome. “For me I wanted to have both the academic and athletic focus…so being able to compete at the highest level I can while having such a big load in terms of extracurriculars and classes… was adversity,” she said. Though she did not know she wanted to pursue basketball in college until eleventh grade, she did know that she wanted to attend Caltech in eighth grade because of its small class sizes, heavy emphasis on STEM, and a good balance between academics and athletics. Pursuing basketball throughout school was not possible without the tireless effort of her mother. “She always kept me grounded … and she’s always willing to drive me to all my practices and tournaments no matter how far they are,” Chauhan said. Her piece of advice for younger athletes: “Try your best … know that playing at a college has to be what’s best for you … and just make sure to have your priorities straight in terms of academics and athletics.”
Squash, Tufts University
Eight years after picking up a squash racquet for the first time, Senior Riddhi Joshi is excited to continue her playing career at Tufts University while concurrently studying computer science. Joshi has had a decorated career so far, from captaining the US National Squash team in the Battle of the Border tournament against Canada to traveling to Europe to represent her country in the Dutch Junior Open. She began playing squash in fourth grade when her family friends introduced her to the sport. She was watching one of their matches and thought it seemed fun. She practiced with them the next day and got hooked onto the sport. Soon, she started training seriously. Her aspirations to become a college athlete originated two years later, in sixth grade. “Once I started playing squash, I saw that there were college teams. Since squash is an individual sport, playing on a team has always been something that just sounds really appealing,” Joshi said. The recruiting process started in her junior year and was a combination of both her reaching out to college coaches and coaches contacting her. Though the pandemic prevented her from interacting with coaches at tournaments and visiting college campuses, she unofficially committed to Tufts University near the beginning of her senior year. “I love the location of Tufts for starters because it’s in Boston and … with the opportunities they gave [my older sister, Tufts ℅ 2021], and the people she met there, I just knew that that would be the right place for me to continue my academic and athletic endeavors,” Joshi said.
Soccer, Ohlone College
Senior Aris Safi kickstarted his soccer career at the very young age of 5. Influenced by his father’s passion for the game, he eventually started playing competitively in 6th grade. The rest is history: he practices every day and will represent the Ohlone College team in the fall. His journey was filled with many defining moments, but none more memorable than winning the state championship with his club team in ninth grade. In addition, the onset of the pandemic dramatically changed his normal soccer routine. “When the pandemic first happened, I didn’t touch a ball for a good couple months. My backyard is really small, so I didn’t have a lot of space to play, but eventually I started going to this field right next to my house … I definitely had to adapt because I … went from training with 20 people to only training with myself or with a small group of friends,” Safi said. He is currently facing the biggest test of his career: recovering from a partially torn ACL [Anterior Cruciate Ligament], which knocked him out for the season. Having been injury-free for almost his entire career, Safi is facing an unfamiliar challenge. “I’m thinking positively especially since I do want to play for Ohlone so I know it’s not the end of my career … I’m just focusing on physical therapy and making my knee stronger again,” Safi said. Choosing Ohlone was rather straightforward for Safi: having played for the college’s coach back when he played for the Washington High School soccer team as a freshman, Safi was eager to reunite with him. Safi’s advice for aspiring athletes is simple. “Don’t let anybody tell you what you can or can’t do. For instance … throughout my years, I’ve always heard people saying [things] like, ‘Oh, you can’t play college or high school [soccer] because you’re too small.’ But personally I think that if you apply yourself well enough and you actually train and practice, I definitely believe that anyone can make a collegiate team,” Safi said.
Basketball, Carnegie Mellon University
Senior Isha Nambisan fell in love with basketball ever since she started playing for Mission San Jose Elementary’s school basketball team in fifth grade. From playing competitively with her Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Girls Basketball team and joining the MSJ Varsity Girls Basketball team as a freshman, Nambisan’s dedication and passion for the sport has led her to a future of collegiate basketball at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). She’s faced many challenges along the way, including trouble balancing schoolwork with athletics and ill-timed injuries. “I got injured my sophomore year, where I tore my dorsal ligaments in my ankle,” Nambisan said. “I ended up having to be in a boot for about a month, and it was really tough because I was completely off of any type of working out.” Nambisan’s hard work and support from her friends and family, especially her AAU team, has been an integral part of her growth on and off the court, as they’ve offered her much guidance through her recruiting process and basketball career. Before being contacted by different colleges, Nambisan hadn’t fully set her eyes on college basketball. However, she first heard from coaches during her sophomore year, and after narrowing down her options, she committed to CMU this year as a neuroscience major. Even during the pandemic, Nambisan has been preparing for her collegiate basketball career on the court and in the weight room. “The step up from being a high school student athlete to a college student athlete is just going to bring a higher level of competition. So few people even get the opportunity to play collegiate sports, so you know that everyone there is going to be ready to work,” she said.
Tennis, California Institute of Technology
Coming from a family that plays tennis, Senior Anika Arora started playing competitively at 10 years old, choosing tennis over basketball and soccer. Because her older brother also played collegiate tennis, participating in college athletics has always been one of her goals. After years of competing in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and improving her craft, Arora reached out to university coaches during her junior year, leading to her decision to commit to Caltech in December 2020. “After visiting the school and seeing how supportive of a community it was and getting to know the coach and players that were currently on the team, I realized that it was a really good environment for me,” Arora said. “Also, I think that playing at a Division III school gives me the opportunity to focus on academics, while also pursuing athletics, something I’ve done at MSJ and want to continue doing.” The competitive journey wasn’t always a smooth one for Arora. In addition to managing a tough academic schedule between daily practices, finding the motivation to keep going despite losing wasn’t something she naturally acquired. During her freshman year of high school, she competed at the USTA Girls’ 14s National Championships in Georgia, where she lost all of her matches. “It taught me a lot about how to keep my composure after having so many losses in a row,” Arora said. “I kind of always looked back on that tournament as a defining moment because I saw how I could improve and how important mental toughness could be.” At Caltech, Arora looks forward to experiencing the team dynamic of tennis, and hopes to help her team improve their Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranking.
Water Polo, Ohlone College
Senior Brooklynn Remeneski started swimming competitively at the age of 4, but only began water polo in her freshman year of high school. After her friends asked her to come to a water polo practice, she immediately found an affinity for the sport and soon knew that she wanted to play it in college. Her most memorable moments have been the ones where she’s forged bonds with her teammates. “I’ve played year-round since I was a freshman. I’ve played for two different club teams and every team is just so different with the dynamics and … people, and getting to know everyone and having all those connections … means a lot,” Remeneski said. A consistent challenge she faced throughout her athletic career was adapting to the yearly rule changes in the sport and keeping them in mind as she was playing. In addition, the pandemic left her out of shape for the start of the 2020 season, but thanks to the help of her coach, she and her fellow teammates adjusted back to a high fitness level within weeks. During her recruitment process, coaches from various colleges, like the University of Arizona, reached out to her, but she was intent on enrolling at Ohlone College and then transferring to another university, which would be ideal for her. Remeneski advises younger athletes not to shy away from new opportunities. “Honestly, just do it. For me it was [a] you only live once and that’s why I decided to do water polo … why not take up the opportunity while you have it,” she said.
Cover image by Sports Editor Anika Arora
Photos courtesy of senior athletes