Midtown alumni take on collegiate athletics


Courtesy of Army West-Point women's soccer

West Point USMA striker Kaitlin Palaian attacks the ball against Loyola University- Maryland.

Carolyn Harty

Midtown has showcased many athletes, playing a variety of sports and using different techniques, but very few make it to the next level. 

Class of 2021 Midtown graduate Jade Lewis plays guard on Georgia Southwestern’s basketball team. 

“College is an adjustment in itself, but going in as a college athlete definitely makes it easier and harder in different ways,” Lewis said. “As an athlete, we have a ton of resources at our disposal to help us succeed and make the transition as easy as possible; however, the difficulties are still there and the schedule is very demanding.” 

 Lewis thinks her game was best suited to GSW.

“Part of the reason I chose GSW was because their style of play already matched mine,” Lewis said. “They allow me to make mistakes and learn from them, which has boosted my confidence and my level of play.”

Although Lewis has been playing basketball her whole life, the competition and level of play have risen in college. 

“The root of both college and high school ball is the fundamentals, but in college the game is ten times faster and the basketball IQ is on a different level,” Lewis said. 

Kaitlin Palaian, a 2020 graduate, plays soccer at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY as both a center forward and an attacking midfielder. 

“West Point has been quite the experience for me,” Palaian said. “I can safely say that I am not the same person I was when I first came to the academy. I have grown as an individual and become much more outgoing and vocal in comparison to my high school self.”

Palaian acknowledges her increased confidence she gained at West Point. 

“I also have grown into a much more confident individual,” Palaian said. “West Point has allowed me to try things outside of my normal comfort zone and experience things I never thought I would. I have flown in helicopters, taken a survival swim course, combatives, boxing, slept in the woods in the rain and more.” 

Playing at West Point presents a different opportunity than other colleges around the country, she said.

“Army presents unique challenges outside of normal civilian colleges and universities,” Palaian said. “Soccer is not the only priority on our list as we have to navigate physical, military and academic pillars on top of our collegiate sport. Girls on the team can be taking up to 20 plus credit hours per semester, be in a leadership position in their company and also have to take regular fitness tests each semester while simultaneously being in-season and traveling to and from games every week.” 

Outside of the soccer season, Palaian and her fellow cadets participate in summer training and leadership development programs. 

“Every summer, cadets at West Point partake in summer field training for three to five weeks,” Palaian said. “This past summer I was part of the Cadet Leadership Development Training, which was three weeks and required an eight-day field training exercise with ruck marches through the woods. This training exercise ended just short of a couple days before our pre-season started up. All other Division 1 athletes at West Point share similar experiences.”

In Champaign, Illinois, Class of 2021 graduate, Christian Smith, begins his first year playing baseball at the University of Illinois for the Fighting Illini, after transferring from Vanderbilt University. 

“I’m still new to Illinois, but I am really liking the experience so far,” Smith said. “The experiences have been different and similar in some aspects. Here at Illinois we put in a lot of time at the field, which is similar to Vanderbilt. The difference is mainly just the fact that it’s a different program.” 

Continuing as a student athlete for the second year, Smith has learned to prioritize and balance his schedules and activities to better his college experience. 

“I balance baseball and school by keeping track of my time on a schedule,” Smith said. “I schedule out at the beginning of every week what assignments are due and when they are due so I can make sure I get everything done. I’m learning to manage my time better, as well, and that has helped a lot, too. Time management is really key.” 

Although playing collegiate sports continues to be the end goal for many student athletes, there are sacrifices that have to be made to fulfill this dream. 

“The main sacrifice I have had to make is some aspects of having a social life outside the team,” Lewis said. “Another big sacrifice is being able to come home on the weekends. Everyone usually travels home for the weekend, but I stay up here because we have training all weekend.” 

Palaian understands most college athletes make similar sacrifices, no matter the school or sport. 

“I think the biggest sacrifice any college athlete makes to play is lack of free time while trying to balance their social, academic and athletic lives,” Palaian said. 

Lewis has words of advice for high school students looking to follow the collegiate path. 

“Make sure you love the game and are ready to sacrifice for it,” Lewis said. “If you go into college ready to play the sport and you don’t love it … you will resent it. Be in shape prior to going into college, and take care of your body. Playing a sport in college is officially a job.”