When it came to exploring colleges over the last seven months, Reagan Stuke found more doors closing on high school golfers in the Classes of 2021 and 2022 than those opening.
"The COVID-19 pandemic made the recruiting process very challenging," the senior at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales wrote in an email interview with Wisconsin.Golf. "I had to get creative. There were many schools that I reached out to that told me they were not recruiting ANY athletes from the 2021 class and some even said (they weren't recruiting) the 2022 class as well."
Against that backdrop of limited opportunities, Stuke knows how fortunate she was to find the door open to an opportunity in the heart of Tennessee and to be able to tweet this week she had made her oral commitment to Tennessee Tech University. The NCAA Division I school is located in Cookeville, Tenn., a community of 30,000 people and very much a bustling college town.
Stuke chose the Golden Eagles over offers from Division I Youngstown State and Division II Metropolitan State University-Denver and opportunities at Division III UW-Whitewater and UW-La Crosse. While those were her final five schools, she said she had also been talking with the University Dayton (Ohio), a Division I program but with limited scholarship resources.
"I have always known I wanted to go to a southern university, and after visiting TTU, I was hooked," wrote Stuke, who will major in Exercise Science. "I love the college-town feel that I immediately got as I stepped out of the car at a local breakfast diner. Everyone that lives there gets behind the university."
As for Stuke, she has always been behind the idea of playing Division I college golf. It just took her golf game a little extra time to get on the same page.
The two-time WIAA Division 1 state golf qualifier also plays soccer at Kettle Moraine and didn't start competing in golf outside the high school season until the summer following her freshman year. That was the season when Stuke's scoring average looked more like a radio frequency (105.7), but her focus remained dialed in on the destination she reached with her commitment.
"I knew what I wanted," Stuke wrote, recalling her vision for golf after her freshman season. "I wanted to play Division I golf, so I kept working."
The Lasers, who finished fifth at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament her freshman year, won the state title the next season with Stuke still fighting to crack the top five. That finally happened during her junior season and Stuke made the most of it, tying for fourth at the Classic 8 Conference Championship and finishing tied for 10th at the WIAA state tournament on the strength of a breakout 75 in the final round at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison.
After showing significant improvement this past summer on the WPGA Junior Tour, Stuke closed out her high school career at her very best. After missing the Classic 8 Championship sitting out a COVID-19 quarantine, Stuke returned to win the WIAA regional and finished tied for second at the sectional with a pair of 78s before finishing tied for ninth place at the state tournament in tough conditions on the Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run in Kohler.
"One of the questions Coach (Polk) Brown had for me was if I thought I would be able to come in and compete for a spot in the top five on the team," Stuke wrote about her next step at Tennessee Tech. "I believe with the work I put in during the winer and next golf season, I will have a good shot at making the lineup when I arrive at Tennessee Tech. I like to set the bar high and I am ready to take on the collegiate level."
If she takes on college golf as doggedly as she did the recruiting process, Stuke will be just fine.
The ongoing NCAA-imposed recruiting dead period kept Stuke from meeting Brown and assistant coach Amanda Smith in person. Instead, they communicated via Zoom calls and emails and the Golden Eagles coaches were among those on the receiving end of Stuke's extra effort to get her name and her talents in front of coaches from the aforementioned schools that made her final cut.
"It was unfortunate that coaches could not come and watch me play," Stuke wrote, "so I sent them many swing videos, clips of me playing on the course, putting stroke videos and strength-training videos."
Stuke and her family took a trip to Cookeville so she could see the campus, even if she couldn't meet face-to-face with the coaches. She played Golden Eagle Golf Club, where she ran into members of the TTU men's golf team.
"They were so welcoming," she wrote, saying that was important since Brown and Smith oversee both programs and emphasize performance training — right up Stuke's academic alley — with both squads, who work in harmony to make each other better.
So who's to blame Stuke for wanting to begin her college career, like, yesterday?
"Starting now, I represent TTU and I cannot wait to start my journey at a university with such a commendable tradition," she wrote. "I will wear the purple-and-gold with pride. I am up for any challenge the coaches give me because I want to represent them and my school well."