By BRIAN CARSON
LEWISTOWN—Around 7% of high school athletes (about 1 in 13) play varsity sports in college, with fewer than 2% of high school players (1 in 57) competing at NCAA Division I colleges.
In plain English, it’s extremely difficult to be a Division I student-athlete.
Marissa Gingrich is now a part of that rarefied air after signing her letter of intent to play DI basketball at New Jersey Technical Institute (NJIT) on Tuesday.
The Mifflin County girls’ basketball all-time leader in threes and assists, and a 1,000-point scorer by her junior season, chose the Highlanders over Vermont, South Carolina Upstate, Mount St. Mary’s, Loyola, Md, Lafayette, Cornell, UMBC, LaSalle, American, St. Francis, Pa, Campbell, Navy, Maine, and Dayton.
“The coaching staff is phenomenal and very competitive. The facilities are unreal, and it’s closer to home than some of the other offers I got,” Gingrich said. “The league and the atmosphere, we went to a game there, is incredible. The arena, everything about it, is great. I want to thank my parents for all the sacrifices they made. My teammates, friends, family, everyone.”
NJIT competes in the American East Conference with Binghamton, Albany, Bryant, and Vermont, among others. The Highlanders are currently 2-2 in the young season.
Women’s coach Mike Lane loves Gingrich’s versatility.
“Marissa is a true combo guard, which is hard to find. She sees the floor like a point guard and can score like a shooting guard. We play a motion offense here at NJIT, which requires versatile players,” Lane said. “Marissa has a skill set that allows her to play on and off the ball and score from all three levels – from the arc, midrange, and the paint.”
Lane looks for skills, intelligence, and team players on the recruiting trail. He sees the complete package in Gingrich.
“We wanted Marissa to be a Highlander because of herversatility, basketball IQ, and athleticism. She is a very smooth player, knows the game, and we are excited to have her at NJIT,” Lane said. “And it is always about the overall fit at a school like ours. Just as she excels on the basketball floor, she shines in the classroom and is a great kid who we believe will be a great teammate.”
Marissa is third in line in the Gingrich family to play a sport in college at the Division I level. Her grandfather, Dick Gingrich, was a standout football player at Penn State. Her aunt, Krista Gingrich, led Lewistown to back-to-back PIAA basketball championships before heading to Duke.
Dick, an assistant coach for the Huskies, knows first-hand the hard work and commitment required to be a Division I athlete.
“You’re never given a full grant-in-aid. You work for it. I know how hard I worked for it and how hard Krista worked for it. Marissa better know how hard you work. It’s uphill from here,”he said. “If you want your way paid through college, you’re better off getting two full-time jobs. You’ll work less than you do for a full grant-in-aid, but the reward at the end is good.”
Her basketball resume is stellar: a two-time Jenna Feathers Award winner, third-team All-State selection, Mid-Penn Commonwealth and Keystone All-Star, PennLive Big 15 selection, Mid-Penn Keystone Payer of the Year, three-time team MVP, and she led the Huskies to their first ever District 6 Class 6A championship last season.
She’s also a Key Club, MCTV crew, and Mini-Thon member.
“She has sacrificed a lot. Division I athletes don’t come along every day. It’s not because she is my kid, but every Division I athlete has to sacrifice so much,” Mifflin County girls’ basketball coach Aaron Gingrich said. “We were down in Richmond, and she missed the prom. She missed dancing, proms, and things like that, but if you want to do that (Division I), you must sacrifice some of those things. I congratulate her. She made the decision. The comfort level and camaraderie with the coaches made a big difference. I’m very proud of her.”
No matter what happens during Marissa’s future at NJIT, nothing can take away her lifetime membership in the 2% club.