This past Wednesday was the last day of the early signing period for high school student-athletes in the Class of 2018 to decide where they wanted to continue their athletic careers in college.
Athletes who weren’t sure could wait until the spring to sign. Milledgeville senior Rebecca Waite knew where she wanted to go and figured, “Why wait?”
The three-sport star will continue her track & field career at Illinois State University in Normal in the spring of 2019, specializing in the sprints. She has yet to take her official visit, but took a normal trip to see campus and visit with her future coaches and teammates.
“They were really interested, and I was interested already,” Waite said. “So I said ‘Let’s get it done now.’ It’s a good town with a friendly atmosphere. They had a great coaching and team that I met, and they’re the next level I was looking for.”
Waite will become the first Milledgeville athlete to compete at the Division I level since 2010 grad Keali Engelkens did so for the Loyola University-Chicago softball team. She will also be the first track athlete from the Milledgeville-Eastland co-op to go D-I since 2011 Eastland grad Kevin Glastetter signed with Loyola.
“It definitely makes me stand out at a small school,” Waite said. “But no matter where you go to school, you’re going to have to work hard to go to a big school.”
Milledgeville-Eastland girls track & field coach Jason Wroble knew pretty early on that Waite had the potential to turn into a Division I athlete.
“She performed really well her freshman year at the conference meet, and got even stronger as a sophomore,” Wroble said. “Sometimes there’s a regression between those years, but not with her.”
Waite has made it to the state meet in Charleston in her first 3 years of high school. She won the NUIC 100-meter dash title her freshman year, and qualified for state in the 100, 200 and long jump. Her 11th-place finish in the long jump finals was a sign of greater things to come.
In the spring of 2016, Waite burst onto the scene in Charleston, finishing second in the 100 and fourth in the 200 at state. She won the long jump and 100 title at the Bureau Valley Sectional, and was the 100, 200 and 400 champ at the NUIC meet.
Waite picked up second-place finishes in the 200 and 400 at last spring’s state meet, and also finished sixth in the 100. She qualified for state by winning the long jump, 100, 200 and 400 titles at the Bureau Valley Sectional, and won all four events at the NUIC meet the week before to lead the Missiles to the team title.
The coaching staff at ISU easily noted Waite’s dominance on the track, but marveled at her overall athleticism and passion to not specialize in just track & field. She was selected to the all-NUIC East first team in volleyball after her sophomore, junior and senior seasons, and was an all-NUIC East honorable mention pick in basketball after averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the Missiles.
“They like how natural I am as an athlete,” Waite said. “That was definitely a big factor. The coach came to some of my volleyball matches and basketball games, and he wants athletes who are athletic enough to do multiple sports.”
Some help from outside of Milledgeville also helped ISU notice Waite. Sammy Biggs, a 2006 Morrison grad and the 2006 Class A 100 and 200 champion, saw her run, and used his Division I contacts to get coaches in touch with Waite. Biggs ran track from 2007-10, and played football in 2007, 2008 and 2010 for Southern Illinois, a program that competes against the Redbirds in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Waite has never been one to slow down in a sprint, so complacency shouldn’t be an issue according to her or her current coach. Just because she’s signed to a Division I program doesn’t mean she’s going to ease up as she nears the finish line of her high school career.
“It should motivate her too to put her best foot forward going into college,” Wroble said. “We had a good team last year, and our relays were borderline on making it to state. I’m going to focus on putting her in the best position possible to succeed, and hopefully this year she can help with the relays. She can also be a role model for the younger kids to learn something from.”
“It’s relieving, but I know that I still have to push hard and do my best,” Waite said. “Thinking of the future and competing at the Division I level, I know I have to work hard and have the commitment to stay with the best.”
FYI: Qualified for state meet in first three seasons. …11th place in long jump freshman year. …2nd place in 100 and 4th in 200 at state sophomore year. …Won long jump and 100 at 2016 Bureau Valley Sectional. …2016 NUIC 100, 200 and 400 champion. …Finished 2nd in 200 and 400, 6th in 100 at state last spring. …Won 100, 200, 400 and long jump at 2017 Bureau Valley Sectional and NUIC Meet. …3-time first-team all-NUIC East in volleyball