Sometimes athletes are forced to choose between their club and their school
Senior soccer player Ben Bakke fulfilled the dreams of many athletes playing youth sports when he was offered a Division IÂ scholarship. Bakke committed to Creighton University in Nebraska this summer.
He plays for the Minnesota Thunder Academy (MTA), which is the only Metro-based club affiliation with the US Soccer Development Academy, but he didn’t play for Minnehaha’s varsity team (11-5-2) his senior season.
MTA practices and plays home games in Blaine Minn., but travels on weekends. During this school year, Bakke has traveled to Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.
Because of that, there are many recruiters at MTA’s games, and that’s how Creighton found him.
Creighton saw him play in Texas, got in contact with him and eventually asked him to fly down to see the campus.
With sports becoming more and more competitive, many high school students are resorting to playing on “club” teams, which are serious teams that travel and practice year-round to get better.
But other than just the advantages, Bakke has experienced some of the drawbacks of these teams.
“Creighton wanted me to play in the Academy’s league and didn’t want me to play high school,” he said. “It’s hard because you are giving up a lot. I miss [the Minnehaha soccer] guys but I think it will pay off in the long run.”
Even though he misses playing with his old friends, Bakke understands the commitment he has given them as a Division I athlete.
“[Creighton] kind of owns you in a way, and you have to listen to them, but they also give you a lot of help,” said Bakke. “I’ll have my own tutor and academic adviser at Creighton. But whenever they tell you to practice, you have to practice, and your schedule revolves around what they tell you, and you can’t skip practice. They have a lot of influence over you.”
Senior Natalie Zobel also played soccer with MTA but did play her senior season with the Redhawks (14-4-1) earning All-State Honorable Mention honors.
MTA helped her find a college and also gave her a leg up because colleges were looking at Zobel at premiere level games. Zobel is excited to play at a Division II school with a high intensity level.
“The coach is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had [at Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall, Minn.],” said Zobel. “He really knows what he is talking about. They have a brand new stadium sponsored by Schwans, so that’s a plus. I also wanted a campus that wasn’t that big. It’s around 4,000 [students]. I was also looking at [other schools farther away from home] for soccer, but with Southwest Minnesota State, my parents can come to my games and stay on campus, which is nice, and they have family weekend and the girls are phenomenal. They are extremely welcoming, and the campus looks brand new.”
Minnehaha’s volleyball team (20-7-2) had several varsity players who play on elite club teams. Sophomore Olivia Barr is one of those athletes but doesn’t know how her volleyball career is going to turn out.
“I’m not sure if I want to [play Division I],” said Barr. “I mean, there are other things in my life that I like to do, so obviously there is a give and take, but I just think going so far and working so hard, it would be a good payoff.”
Barr played for the Minnesota One (M1) club team and will most likely be playing there again.
Senior Natalie Welsch has some of the same experiences as Barr.
“I played for both Northern Lights and M1,” said Welsch. “They helped me to be seen by recruits and to become better at volleyball.”
Welsch has committed to the College of the Holy Cross, a Division I school in Worcester, Mass. To maintain her scholarship, she must keep her grades up and continue playing for her club team.
With Zobel’s success, she thinks anybody who shares the same dream as her should consider MTA as well.
“I would highly recommend it because we are such a well known club team, college coaches are already set that you have had good training and you are serious about the sport,” said Zobel.
Club teams have been a mixed blessing this year for Minnehaha’s fall athletes. These club teams have helped develop players, but, this year it has kept a key player off varsity.
Bakke knows what it is like to compete at the top level, and he has learned a lot from that.
“Work hard and give it your all every practice and game,” said Bakke. “If you don’t there is somebody waiting to take your spot.”