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The Dartmouth
April 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

From NARPdom to stardom: Walk-on athletes share their experiences

College walk-on athletes from track and field, lightweight rowing and men’s and women’s lacrosse reflect on their experiences transitioning from students to student-athletes.


The College offers a variety of different athletic opportunities, with 35 Division I Varsity sports, 34 club sports teams and many intramural sports offerings. Although many athletes are recruited, any student can become a walk-on athlete with the right amount of talent and dedication. Several students shared their experiences on crossing the line from NARPdom to student-athlete after arriving at Dartmouth.

Women’s lacrosse walk-on Kourtney Bobb ’25 said she had a lot of experience playing lacrosse in her youth. 

“I grew up playing lacrosse,” she said. “I started playing in middle school. I had a really good time and was excited to keep growing in the sport.”

While Bobb played club lacrosse and participated in her high school’s Varsity team all four years, she made academics her first priority.

“When I was in high school, I didn’t really care about being recruited for lacrosse,” Bobb stated. “I wanted to go to a place to prioritize my academics first.”

However, once Bobb got accepted to Dartmouth, she promptly tried to get on the team.  

“I came up for the recruiting camp for middle and high schoolers, and then from there, I was invited back to a tryout,” she said.

Julia Fortier ’26 was also a talented lacrosse player in her youth, attending a high school with a very competitive program. Fortier said she knew she wanted to try to play lacrosse in college, as she spoke with the team’s coach prior to coming to Dartmouth. 

“I reached out to the coach when I applied to Dartmouth to say that I was interested in joining the women’s lacrosse team,” she said. “I came to a summer camp that she recommended I go to. I was offered a spot at the summer camp before I came to school — I was technically a preferred walk-on.”

For men’s lacrosse player Kellen Seeley ’26, an injury during his senior year and the COVID-19 pandemic prevented him from playing a considerable amount of games in high school. He didn’t get recruited to play men’s lacrosse at Dartmouth, so he underwent the walk-on process.

“I talked to [the coach] once I had gotten [into Dartmouth] and had to go through the whole walk-on process and tryout,” Seeley said.

Rowing walk-on Brendan Chia ’25 and track and field walk-on Mia Balestra ’25 had little to no experience in their current sports. Chia, who is currently in the men’s lightweight rowing program, never rowed in high school.

“Originally, I was going to join the triathlon club,” Chia said. “I had been training for triathlons during COVID-19 and senior summer. My mom said she wanted me to give rowing a chance, and I told her I would give it a try before the triathlon club. She was right about it.”

Balestra said she mostly focused on other sports in high school but dipped her toes in track and field.

“I did track only my senior year and threw javelin and ran the 400,” said Balestra. “I primarily played volleyball and soccer [in high school].”

Balestra joined club volleyball her freshman year but missed the lifestyle of a varsity athlete. After trying her hand at club volleyball for a year, she reached out to the track coach the fall of sophomore year and made the team. 

According to Chia, the light-weight rowing team makes the walk-on process more accessible than some other varsity teams.

“They do a walk-on program every year,” Chia said. “You don’t have to have any experience rowing, they will teach you how to row. If you have picked up the skills, then you are asked to join the team for a winter training trip. After that, you are merged into the team.”

Once these athletes officially made their respective teams, they worked hard to perform at the collegiate level. 

“I had never played at the Division I level,” Bobb said. “My body had to get used to different speeds.”

“The transition was something I was nervous about,” Fortier said. “There’s a lot of support on campus for student athletes and the coaches are understanding,”

Adjusting to a new team doesn’t just involve the coaches, though. To become a part of a team, the team itself needs to embrace its walk-ons.

“The captains did a really great job incorporating us into the team,” Chia said. “You really do feel like you are a part of the team.”

“Coming on as a walk-on, everyone made an effort to make me feel included on the team and welcomed,” Bobb said.

The women’s lacrosse team had a great season this year, especially towards the end as they defeated Princeton University, ranked 24th at the time. Bobb and Fortier said they were excited to share this moment with their teammates.

“I loved being on the team and traveling,” Fortier said. “We did very well, and it was fun to be a part of that and contribute in the ways that I could.”

But for each of the walk-ons, simply joining the team was never the end goal.  

“Over the next few years, I can hopefully get better and play more,” Seeley said. “We had a good start to the season, as we won our first Ivy League game in a long time. There is still a lot of room to grow, and hopefully we can play better as a team.”