Wednesday was the first day Class of 2021 high school athletes could sign a national letter of intent to officially receive college athletic scholarships. Getting to that point was a very different road this year because of the coronavirus pandemic – but the end result was just as satisfying.

Kennebunk senior Emily Archibald, flanked by her parents Michelle and Keith Archibald, signed her national letter of intent to play basketball at Providence College on Wednesday. Steve Craig photo

“It was definitely different because of COVID, but the coaches were great in terms of getting me all the info I needed and the virtual visits were as well,” said Kennebunk High senior Emily Archibald, the 2020 Maine Gatorade Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year

Archibald signed her letter of intent to accept a full scholarship offer from Providence College of the Big East on Wednesday in the Kennebunk High gym, with her parents, Michelle and Keith, basketball coach Rob Sullivan and a few other close friends and family in attendance.

“I don’t think there was anything else I needed to know. I feel confident in my decision,” Archibald said.

The national letter of intent is a mutual guarantee between a college and student-athlete regarding athletic-based financial aid. The current signing period is for all sports except football. Basketball players have until Nov. 18 to officially sign. The deadline for other sports is not until August. Ivy League schools are an exception in Division I. They do not offer athletic-based financial aid.

Several other southern Maine high school seniors have or are expected to soon formalize their college athletic plans with NCAA Division I or Division II programs, including:

 Brady Afthim of Windham, a right-handed pitcher who will play baseball at the University of Connecticut.

 Camille Clement of Greely, who has committed to play basketball at Northeastern.

 Amanda Kabantu of Portland, who has committed to play basketball at Division II power Bentley University.

• Annika Hester of Falmouth, the 2019 Varsity Maine Volleyball Player of the Year, who will be signing along with three other Falmouth athletes at a ceremony at the school on Friday. Hester is going to play at the University of San Diego.

• Jacob Humphrey of Bonny Eagle, a three-sport standout, who will play baseball as a middle infielder at University of Massachusetts Lowell.

 Sam Kidder of Falmouth, who played club baseball with Afthim and Humphrey for the Maine Lightning and will play for Division II Stonehill. The Lightning players will hold a commitment day on Friday at their training facilities at The Edge.

 Sofie Matson of Falmouth, the three-time Varsity Maine Cross Country Runner of the Year and the 2019 New England champion, who has committed to run at Columbia in the Ivy League.

• Karley Piers of Falmouth, runner-up to Matson in the 2019 Class A cross country meet and a winner of the Beach to Beacon High School Mile, who will be running at Division I Florida Gulf Coast.

 Kennebunk’s Jake Sullivan, who signed his letter of intent Wednesday to play lacrosse at Loyola University of Maryland, winner of the 2012 NCAA Division I championship and a program that reached the NCAA quarterfinals three times from 2016-19.

Once the pandemic hit in March, face-to-face interaction with Division I and II college coaches ended. Division II coaches were allowed to meet recruits and watch them play in showcase events starting in September. Division I coaches won’t be allowed to meet recruits until Jan. 1. Official on-campus visits have been off limits.

“For me, dealing with COVID and everything, the college recruiting process was really condensed,” Matson said. “There were no official visits for travel reasons, obviously. And kids were committing way earlier than in past years.”

“Me and my parents just drove around the campus, but all on our own,” Humphrey said.

Spring sport athletes like Humphrey, who entered the summer still in full college search, had it doubly tough. They lost their high school seasons and then had a significant amount of showcase-style tournaments with club teams scuttled or pushed back to September by the pandemic.

“It definitely made it harder,” said Humphrey, who plays club baseball with the Maine Lightning. “(The pandemic) eliminated a lot of the opportunities that our travel team would have had. We were planning to go to a bunch of tournaments with a bunch of Division I colleges there, and with corona, those tournaments kept getting pushed back.”

Still, Humphrey is confident UMass Lowell, a Division I program in the America East Conference, is the right pick for him. Similarly, Archibald and Matson said they felt strongly that they had a good enough feel for their future coaches and the culture of the school and the program to be confident in their choice, which they made over the summer or early this fall.

Sullivan, though, wondered what it would have been like if he had to make a choice without making an official visit. A rare Division I recruit from Maine for men’s lacrosse, Sullivan was spotted at a tournament in the summer before his junior year while playing for his club team, the NH Tomahawks out of Bedford, New Hampshire.

“They saw me and emailed me Sept. 1 (of 2019) and I went on an official visit right before COVID hit and I committed on the spot,” he said. It was, he said, “absolutely good timing.”

Sullivan said he suspects virtual recruiting adds stress on both sides.

Coaches can’t see the nuances of an athlete’s play and skill set they would see in person. Athletes are being asked to make a future-shaping decision based on Zoom meetings, phone calls and perhaps a drive-by, unguided tour.

“Meeting all the players and learning about the culture of a team and school is a big part, and that was a big factor in my school choice,” Sullivan said. “I needed to see that and I needed to feel confident that if I was going to be 13 hours away from home, that I was confident that’s what I wanted.”

Afthim, a club teammate of Humphrey’s with the Lightning, said he was glad he had already honed his search to two primary schools – Connecticut and Dayton University – when baseball was shut down. While he never made an official visit, he had been on the UConn campus.

“I was one of the lucky ones, having schools and coaches I was connected to prior to this, I just had to stay communicating with them,” Afthim said.

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