Several Mason athletes choose to play on club teams
Rahul Parikh | Sports Editor
For some standout athletes, wearing the green and white isn’t part of the plan.
Recently, a rise in popularity of club and individual sports has caused Mason athletics to lose high-quality players, who have chosen a team or program not affiliated with the school.
Senior Aliyah El-Naggar committed to play soccer for The Ohio State University her sophomore year, which was her last year of playing for the school. For the past two years, El-Naggar has played for Cincinnati Development Academy, which is run by the U.S. national team, where El-Naggar ultimately hopes to play.
“The national team scouts come to all of our practices, and all of our games, and they see us whenever we play,” El-Naggar said. “It’s not that Mason soccer doesn’t prepare me for my future, but the exposure to the national team from my club gave me the best opportunity of being prepared for college – and reaching my goals.”
Junior Natalie Mishu, who played school soccer her freshman and sophomore year, now plays with El-Naggar on Cincinnati Development Academy. For Mishu, the national team subjection was also a major factor in her switch to club, as well as her desire to play college soccer.
“Along with the national team exposure, club soccer gave me college scouting opportunities that school soccer couldn’t provide,” Mishu said.
A common reason athletes tend to play club sports only is because they do not have time to play for the high school simultaneously. Club and individual sports typically go year-round, while school sports are only a designated 3-4 month season. El-Naggar said her decision to play for a club was dependent on the comfort of being able to play all year at a high level.
“Every state has different regulations, but since I play a fall sport in Ohio, I wouldn’t be allowed to play for the high school and continue my club season,” El-Naggar said.
Mason Senior Aliyah El-Naggar fends off a defender in a club soccer game. El-Naggar plays for a sublevel national team, called Cincinnati Development Academy.
Mishu and El-Naggar are both still exposed to a team atmosphere while playing for the Development Academy, but Junior Saiprakash Goli, who played school tennis his freshman year, has only played in individual tournaments and circuits for the past two years.
“I decided to be more serious about tennis this year, because this year is critical to college recruitment,” Goli said. “I wanted to play more ITF (International Tennis Federation) tournaments, to help me in the recruitment process.”
Goli felt that school tennis was an enjoyable atmosphere with his team — who always played hard and had a competitive outlook — but thought it was easier to get more recognized through ITF’s, which would aid in his college recruitment process.
“In the ITF’s, the further you go in the tournaments, the easier it is to get more recognized,” Goli said. “Big tournaments like these help me getting recruited because it is much easier to get noticed and compete at a high level.”
Similarly, Mishu felt that individually playing for club outweighed the school team because she can receive individualized focus, rather than the focus being on the entire team and its success.
“High school soccer cares about their program, and prioritizes the success of the team, but club sports gave me a chance to get recognized and recruited more individually, which helped with my goal to play in college,” Mishu said.
These athletes chose to play club sports to get different opportunities or competition levels, but they all have one thing in common: in their time playing for Mason, they enjoyed the team culture and had great relationships with teammates and coaches. According to El-Naggar, the atmosphere of the team was extremely difficult to let go of, and she nearly returned for another year of high school soccer before deciding to play club.
“I was very close to playing again for the school last year, and I almost regret my decision to not play with the team this last year – I loved it,” El Naggar said. “The girls, coaches, and support were all amazing and I’m thankful I got to experience it.”
Goli felt that playing as a part of the team was extremely fun and beneficial to his confidence as a player and a teammate, which is something he does not get playing individually.
“During my time, the atmosphere and crowds with the men’s tennis team was great, and it was one of my most enjoyable years of tennis to have those guys by my side,” Goli said.
The influence of other athletes and the success of players in the same shoes as him, Goli said, was a contributing factor for his choice to play individually. He noticed a trend in other players by their success with choosing to play individually.
“I noticed the play of other kids around the country who took the ITF circuit route,” Goli said. “The kids who were in my position and chose to play those individual tournaments are playing at the highest level.”
Photo by Tanner Pearson.