Luke Graham

Luke Graham

Luke Graham: Making Division II sports a goal

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Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Luke here.

— Spend enough time around high school sports, and it becomes apparent what the objective of a lot of athletes is.

At least in American culture, high school athletes are taught to strive for the Division I scholarship.

It’s a great goal to have, but for most, it doesn’t apply. Honestly, knowing your own ability is sometimes a tough thing to decipher.

The NCAA puts out numbers to support this. If you’re a high school baseball player, you have the best chance of playing in the NCAA. Eleven percent of senior high school baseball players make the NCAA.

For basketball, football or soccer, those numbers drastically decrease to 3 to 6 percent.

It’s also why Division II, junior college or NAIA options are good to look at.

In Routt County each year, there might be one or two athletes good enough to compete at the Division I level. For most others, especially those with Division I goals, Division II seems like a step down.

But it’s not.

Talking to 2006 Steamboat Springs High School graduate Tara King this week, it became clear she’s the perfect example of what Division II can do.

King is a redshirt senior at Mesa State College in Grand Junction. She’s the reigning Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Setter of the Year.

She also had aspirations to play Division I volleyball and probably had the talent to do so. But recruiting is an exhausting and often harsh thing. King could have gone to a Division I school, sat for a couple of years and then maybe played.

Instead, she found Mesa and coach Dave Fleming. Once King visited, she knew she could handle going to Mesa. She played as a freshman, recovered from an injury her sophomore year and became one of the best setters in Division II the past two years.

For King, playing Division II has been everything she’s wanted.

It fuels her competitiveness and allows her to keep playing a sport she loves.

“I know if I went to a (Division) I school, I would have sat the bench for a couple years,” King said. “I knew I wasn’t going to UCLA or anywhere great. But this year, our team has a chance of going far. It’s not ridiculous for us to say that. I feel better than any other team I’ve been on that this team can go far.”

Leaving behind Division I athletics for Division II also hasn’t hurt King’s prospects for playing after college. Those NCAA percentages of athletes that go from college to the pros drop to less than 2 percent in many cases.

But King already has received some interest regarding her playing professionally overseas, and Fleming said there’s no question that she can.

King’s case sets a great precedent for high school athletes wanting to compete at the collegiate level. Her ability probably would have allowed her to be a Division I athlete, but she found the right spot, even whether it was Division II.

So in a year or two when she is making money playing volleyball overseas, feel free to ask her if Division II was the wrong decision.

Here’s guessing the answer is pretty simple.

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