The long and short of a recruiting process that led Elle O'Reilly to Milwaukee School of Engineering boiled down to the big and the little.
"The phrase 'big little school' was used a lot across my various tours," the senior at Westosha Central High School in Paddock Lake wrote in an email interview with Wisconsin.Golf. "I love the small-school aspect of one-on-one opportunities, but I would not thrive in a school formatted that way if it wasn't in a city like MKE. I can experience a big-school atmosphere (with surrounding colleges and the city), while also reaping the benefits of a small-school education and team environment."
O'Reilly, a two-time WIAA Division 1 state qualifier, liked what she saw of MSOE so much that she gave Raiders coach Kevin Hurd her verbal commitment Dec. 15 without seriously considering other schools. She wrote that many of the NCAA Division III schools in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference had reached out to her about their programs, but the likely Business Management major (with a minor in User Experience) didn't budge on MSOE, which is located less than a mile across the Milwaukee River from the Fiserv Forum, home of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.
"Mentally, I committed (to MSOE) long before that," O'Reilly wrote of her conversation with Hurd making it official. "But that was the first time I had said the words 'I want to commit to MSOE.'"
Her impact for the 2-year-old Raiders program, which finished sixth out of 10 teams last fall at the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference Championship, promises to be significant.
There are six Wisconsin golfers among the eight on the MSOE roster this season and only one (Mackenzie Rynes of McFarland) competed at the varsity level in high school. O'Reilly, who is No. 15 in the Wisconsin.Golf girls Class of 2023 state rankings, teamed with Kylie and Katelyn Walker, a pair of top-five golfers in Wisconsin's Class of 2024, to lead Westosha Central to back-to-back WIAA Division 1 state championships and believes she can lead a similar climb at MSOE, where in choosing the Raiders she relished the idea of being a big fish in small pond.
"I believe with enough practice and commitment, I could have played at a very high level," wrote O'Reilly, whose improvement from her junior year to senior year at the WIAA state tournament — going from a T-33 finish (86-82) in 2021 to a T-18 showing (81-79) in 2022 at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison — would support that evaluation. "But I think (Division III) is going to be a good fit for me. It is competitive while also being more laid back than trying to play at a higher division.
"I think I will get more benefits out of a team if I am a high-ranked player on a growing team as opposed to the low-ranked player player on an already established team."
Moreover, during her visit to MSOE, O'Reilly got a good idea of how tightly knit that campus community was and how much of a presence Hurd is there.
Hurd, who grew up in Portage the son of a basketball coach, came to MSOE in 2021 to start the women's golf program and serve as an assistant men's basketball coach under Brian Miller. When Miller was named athletic director in November, Hurd stepped in as interim men's basketball coach and led the Raiders to a 10-14 record.
"One thing I noticed through the tour that stuck with me was how many athletes knew Coach Hurd and said hi to him as we were walking through the workout facility," O'Reilly wrote, referring to multi-purpose Kern Center on campus that includes workout facilities, a basketball arena and a hockey rink. "This made me more interested in the program. Every coach I have ever had, I've been close with, and that's something I was hoping to continue through college. Luckily, I think I found it."
In O'Reilly, the Raiders found a low-mileage golfer with a mighty swing that gets people's attention.
After playing a modest summer schedule in 2020 and '21, O'Reilly upped her volume in 2022 and played in three of the four events on the WPGA Players Tour with her best finish coming in her last start (an eighth-place showing at the GCs of Lawsonia in Green Lake). She qualified eighth out of 62 golfers for match play at the Wisconsin State Junior Girls Championship before falling to Westosha Central teammate Kylie Walker 3 and 2 in a first-round match before Kylie edged her sister 3 and 2 in the second round.
"I think I will fit in well (at MSOE)," wrote O'Reilly, who finished T-5 at the Southern Lakes Conference Championship (86), third at the Union Grove regional (76) and seventh at the uber-tough Janesville Parker sectional (87). "On my high school team, I had various experiences and positions that have prepared me to fit in anywhere. My freshman year of high school, I was the No. 1 (golfer) on a team full of upperclssmen. Even as a younger individual, I successfully took on a leadership role.
"However, the next year, I bumped down to the No. 3 spot (behind the Walker sisters) and became more of a supporting role. I believe I fulfilled this role successfully as well. I will fit into the golf program at MSOE in any position I am given."
At the same time, O'Reilly believes MSOE will be as good for her as she is for it.
"Being around such intelligent, motivated people will help me excel in all areas, not just my education," she wrote. "Since I will be surrounded by such hard-working people, I wholeheartedly believe this will rub off on me, and make me a better person and teammate."