Jessica Andronowitz found a sport for which she is naturally gifted when she was 11 and began taking horse riding lessons.
A few months after starting the lessons, Andronowitz was riding horses over jumps, a skill at which not every rider excels.
“It’s so different for each person,” she said. “Some people pick up on it fast; some don’t pick it up at all. I would say it’s one of my better things compared to other sports.”
Andronowitz is so proficient at horse jumping that she earned a scholarship for that sport from South Dakota State University, which she will attend in the fall. The McHenry West graduate will compete for the Jackrabbits' equestrian team.
Andronowitz rides at Birch Hill Farms in Wauconda and trains with Pete Nathan. She will lease a horse for the summer, but South Dakota State, one of about 20 NCAA Division I schools with an equestrian team, has a stable with about 45 horses for its athletes to ride.
South Dakota State was a school Andronowitz knew something about through a friend who competes there. She sent recommendation forms and a video of her riding.
“That was like a tryout, and the coaches will contact you,” Andronowitz said. “When the coach [Megan Rossiter] called, she said I was guaranteed a spot if I wanted it. I signed my [national letter of intent] when I was there.”
Bittenbender to Parkside: Crystal Lake South right fielder Troy Bittenbender will play baseball at D-II Wisconsin-Parkside next year. Bittenbender played mostly in junior varsity games as a junior coming off shoulder surgery on his right (throwing) arm. He hit .419 with three home runs and 24 RBIs for the Gators, who tied for the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division title with Huntley.
Bittenbender picked out Parkside as a school first, then contacted the coaching staff about wanting to play there.
“Ever since I was little, I wanted to play in college,” Bittenbender said. “I thought maybe I could try out or walk on or something.”
He did better than that. South coach Brian Bogda and Jeff Larkins, Bittenbender’s travel coach with the Crystal Lake Cardinals, called the Rangers’ coaches. Larkins produced a highlight video. And Bittenbender, whose play this season spoke for itself, landed a partial scholarship.
“It felt really good after having shoulder surgery,” Bittenbender said. “I didn’t think I’d be 100 percent again, but I worked out and got myself back into shape. It felt amazing going in and helping my team win.”
Schmitt commits early: Johnsburg’s Ashly Schmitt, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter who just finished her junior year, has committed to play volleyball at D-II McKendree College, starting in 2014.
Schmitt was a Northwest Herald All-Area honorable mention and has played with Sky High Volleyball Club since she was 13. McKendree coach Lisa Orlet contacted Schmitt after seeing her play with Sky High in Indianapolis this spring.
“When I visited McKendree, the coaching staff was impressive and a perfect fit for me,” Schmitt said. “ After spending two days there, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. I am also looking forward to playing in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, especially when I get to play my sister.”
Carly Schmitt plays at Quincy University, another GLVC team.
Underwood to Rutgers: Cary-Grove graduate Mike Underwood will continue his wrestling career at Rutgers this year. Underwood was a Northwest Herald All-Area second-team selection after posting a 40-10 record at 138 pounds. He was a Class 3A state qualifier.
“Through high school, me and my parents talked about it and [college sports] seems like a family tradition,” said Underwood, whose brothers Jake and Nick played football at Drake University. “I’ve always wanted to stay in touch with wrestling.”
Underwood will major in mechanical engineering and will be a preferred walk-on for wrestling, although he is receiving an academic scholarship.
Stenger to Platteville: Huntley wrestler Zach Stenger will continue his athletic career at D-III Wisconsin-Platteville. Stenger was 29-8 and finished second in the FVC at 113 pounds. He was a second-team All-Area selection.
Reich to St. Thomas: Huntley defensive lineman Hayden Reich (6-3, 250 pounds) will play this fall at D-III St. Thomas (Minn.).