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Wayland Student Press

The student news site of Wayland High School

Wayland Student Press

The student news site of Wayland High School

Wayland Student Press

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ICYMI: June 10 - The Class of 2024s graduation, volleyball state championship and Junes Fashionista of the Month
ICYMI: June 10 - The Class of 2024's graduation, volleyball state championship and June's Fashionista of the Month
June 17, 2024
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Ava Balukonis: A future Tar Heel

Credit: Courtesy of Ava Balukonis
Senior Ava Balukonis commits to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for rowing. “It felt like the right fit for me,” Balukonis said. “I am so excited for what’s next.”

Senior Ava Balukonis glides across the water, wind behind her and boats on either side. To her, this is the ultimate feeling. Starting with Wayland-Weston Crew in the spring of her freshman year, Balukonis has come a long way, announcing her commitment to row D1 at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC) in May of her junior year.

“I had just moved to Wayland during the pandemic year, so my mom made me start crew to make friends and because I didn’t have much else to do,” senior Ava Balukonis said.

For Balukonis, the beginning of the crew season was a difficult adjustment, because crew was unlike any sport she had done in the past. However, she soon became acclimated to the physical demands of crew.

“At the beginning, I was scared of the mile warmup that we had to do, because when I started rowing, I was so unathletic,” Balukonis said. “However, when you get in the boat and learn what to do, it’s an upwards learning curve.”

Balukonis soon realized that crew was not just another sport to check off a list, but something that she could see herself continuing on a collegiate level.

“Crew just seemed more sustainable to me,” Balukonis said. “For example, at the end of a swim season, I am so burnt out, yet I am just naturally good at crew and I love being out on the water.”

Balukonis was approached by a UNC coach trying to recruit her at a regatta during her sophomore year, but wasn’t able to accept due to age restrictions. Coincidentally, this coach ended up being the person who recruited her. Once Balukonis reached junior year, the age restriction was lifted and she was able to do more with the recruiting process.

“I began emailing all of the coaches, telling them my name, my stats and asking to set up a call,” Balukonis said. “I had recruiting calls three times a week.”

Balukonis toured a variety of schools in different locations, working down the east coast from Northeastern University and Brown University to the University of Virginia, UNC being among these. To avoid confusion amidst all the colleges she toured, Balukonis set an informal criteria for herself, which depended on the school’s social climate between students and coaches.

“When I would get to the schools, I would see how the athletes interacted with each other,” Balukonis said. “I would see how they were with the coaches and went off that. I had obviously learned about the school and the academic aspect beforehand, so it just came down to whether I liked the atmosphere and the environment.”

While the experience was very exciting for Balukonis, there were several stressful periods throughout the process.

“I’m a person who likes to rehearse everything, so it was really stressful for me to be on a call with a coach three times a week,” Balukonis said. “I wanted them to like me, but I didn’t really know what to say when they asked me overarching questions, like what my greatest failure was.”

Along with the anxiety that came with the Zoom calls, Balukonis felt pressured to constantly improve her racing times during her recruiting process. This was something that proved to be difficult while being a multi-seasonal athlete.

“The thing about Wayland-Weston Crew is that we don’t do a lot of erging, which is where all of our times come from,” Balukonis said. “For me, it’s really hard to get up early, on top of whatever other practice I have, and to pull out a best time.”

Balukonis fell in love with UNC as soon as she stepped onto its campus. The downsides to the recruitment process became worth it to Balukonis once she visited UNC for the first time.

“When I got to North Carolina, I knew I liked the location because it was sunny and the blue sky brought good vibes,” Balukonis said. “I go to camp on Lake Winnipesaukee during the summer, and I remember going to morning practice at UNC thinking that the lake reminded me a lot of Lake Winnipesaukee. It seemed like a sign.”

Once Balukonis committed to UNC, she felt an immense amount of relief. However, the fact that she is done with the recruitment process doesn’t mean that she never experienced the stress of applying to college.

“I have a place to go now, and I’m sure I’ll improve a ton when I get to UNC,” Balukonis said. “Everyone tells me, ‘I bet you’re so relieved that nothing’s due’ and I am, but I already went through all of the stress back in February and March.”

Balukonis recognizes that she is fortunate enough to have gone through the unique experience of recruiting, and is excited to see what the future brings her.

“It was really stressful in the moment, but it truly becomes so worth it in the end and I’m super excited to get to UNC,” Balukonis said. “Some of my best memories are from crew, so I am looking forward to seeing what’s next.”

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About the Contributor
Tina Su
Tina Su, A&E Editor
Tina Su, Class of 2024, is a third year reporter and A+E editor for WSPN. She is a captain for the Wayland swim team and runs the Best Buddies club. Outside of school, she swims for her club team, Crimson Aquatics and enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with her friends and family. Contact: [email protected]
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