Four Clackamas student-athletes confirm college game plans
Clackamas High School's Kiah Wetzell seriously considered two opportunities to continue her soccer career in college — one at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls and the other at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande.
"It was super-close," she said. "I had to make a pros-and-cons list. It took me about a week. It was a very close decision."
Both schools field strong teams that compete in the NAIA's Cascade Collegiate Conference, but Wetzell's final decision had more to do with academics than athletics.
Wetzell wants to pursue a career in radiology.
Oregon Tech offers a degree program in radiological science. Eastern Oregon doesn't.
She chose OIT.
Wetzell made her decision official as she and three other Clackamas student-athletes confirmed plans to continue their athletic careers at the next level during a Nov. 7 signing ceremony in the high school library.
Joining Wetzell at the ceremony were twin sisters Katheryn Rhine and Madison Rhine, who accepted an offer to compete in acrobatics and tumbling at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, and Paige Vancil, who signed a National Letter of Intent to play NCAA Division II women's golf at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.
"It's a great opportunity," said Wetzell, a three-sport standout who at this point in her prep career has lettered three times in soccer, twice in basketball, and once in track. "I've been striving for this my whole life. That's all I've wanted to do is play college soccer.
"The fact that I actually got to talk to coaches and go through this process has just been a wonderful experience. I'm just so excited that I get to continue playing the sport that I've loved my whole life."
Wetzell started playing soccer when she was 5 and eventually honed her skills at the club level with both Clackamas United Soccer Club and Eastside FC in addition to playing for the high school team.
"I kind of found OIT through some of my coaches," Wetzell said. "My cousin also talked about going there, and I was like, 'Oh, let me check this out.' So, I looked into OIT and found it really interesting. Then I reached out to the coach and kind of went from there."
Wetzell said it was sometime in July that she sent an email to Oregon Tech coach Brandon Porter, who responded with an invitation to a tryout camp with about seven other prospects that very weekend.
"It was kind of a last-minute decision, but I decided I might as well do it because this might be my only opportunity," Wetzell said. "After the camp, they said they liked how I played and that they would be willing to offer me a scholarship.
"It was my best option and I loved the school, so I was like, 'This is the perfect fit for me.'"
Wetzell is joining a program with a number of players from this area, including Oregon City's Maddie Miller and Hailey Willett, Putnam's Abigail Herbert, Gladstone's Rielee Jaekel, Molalla's Amanda Seward, and West Linn's Alyx Burkhartzymeyer.
The Owls recently made school history when they defeated Evergreen State College 3-0 and finished conference play undefeated to earn the program's first regular-season title and an automatic berth into this week's opening round of the NAIA National Championship tournament.
Kathryn and Madison Rhine drew from their experience with Clackamas' competitive cheerleading squad in making the decision to pursue acrobatics and tumbling in college.
They used the online social media platform Instagram to create their own recruiting webpage at "clack_twins24.' Then as as they filled out prospective recruiting questionnaries with the programs they liked, they directed coaches to their Instagram site.
"It basically has all our tumbling videos and shows the coaches what we can bring to the team," Kathryn said.
They heard back from seven schools and received scholarship offers from four NCAA Division II schools. In addition to Gannon University, they also had offers from Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu, Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Fairmont State University in Fairmont, West Virginia.
"We found Gannon to be the best fit for us," said Madison, who plans to study medical laboratory science, while Kathryn plans to major in business with an emphasis on supply chain management.
Acrobatics and tumbling is still in its infancy as a collegiate sport. In June, the NCAA Committee of Women's Athletics recommended that acrobatics and tumbling be added to the NCAA Emerging Sports for Women program.
A sport must have a minimum of 20 varsity teams that have competed in a minimum of five contests to be considered for the emerging sports program. The sport must reach 40 varsity programs to become an NCAA-sanctioned sport.
The National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association currently has 29 NCAA colleges and universities sponsoring the sport, which is a discipline of gymnastics involving tumbling, tosses, acrobatic lifts and pyramids.
"It was my dream to be able to compete in a collegiate sport and to be able to make it this far means a lot," Madison said. "Acrobatics and tumbling is unique and to be able to do this is such an honor."
Added Kathryn: "I'm really excited about the new adventure and the experience."
Fairways and greens
Vancil first learned to play golf while attending two-day junior golf camps in the summer as a kid, but she didn't get serious about the game until her freshman year of high school.
"I wanted to play another sport," said Vancil, a three-sport athlete who also played soccer and basketball. "I didn't want to sit at home and stuff, so I was like, 'I think I'm going to play golf.'"
The thought also came to her a week before the Cavaliers were scheduled to have tryouts for the golf team.
"I went to my dad and I said, 'I think I want to play golf,' and he went out and bought me a set of clubs and Dick's Sporting Goods and … there we go," Vancil said. I know my dad is good at golf, so I started thinking, 'Maybe this could turn into something some day, so let's see where it starts out now. After a year, maybe I love it and then maybe let's just keep on doing it.'"
The past two seasons, Vancil helped lead the Cavaliers to a pair of Mt. Hood Conference championships and to fourth place at the OSAA Class 6A girls golf championships in 2018 and 2019.
She has worked on her game while playing at Arrowhead Golf Club in Molalla, where she also got to know Taylor Entenman, a sophomore on the Northwest Nazarene women's golf team from La Center, Washington.
"She talked to me about NNU and the golf team and it sounded like something I'd be interested in, so I decided to look into it," Vancil said.
Vancil, who carries a 9-handicap, plans to major in international studies with a minor in Spanish. She would like to pursue a career as a certified translator and work for the FBI or another branch of the government.
"I'm so excited that I'm able to do this, especially with a program that has been super-welcoming," she said. "When I visited there, the coaches and the players made me feel like family. It means everything to continue playing at the next level, because I've put in the effort and it's kind of cool to see the work pay off."
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