Anja Kuys: Life in the US with a University Lacrosse Scholarship
Ex-Hillcrest High School student, Anja Kuys, recently secured a scholarship to study in the USA and play lacrosse. She caught the eye of US recruiting coaches during an U19 tour in 2018 and eventually chose a university in Alabama. Anja was asked to start at the university in January 2019 and now has a full playing season behind her. She returned to Alabama in August to continue her studies and play more lacrosse. We caught up with Anja recently during her university term to find out more about student life in the US.
When did you start playing lacrosse and who did you play for in New Zealand?
I started playing lacrosse in Year 9 at Hillcrest High School and continued all the way through to Year 13. I was also involved in many other sports during my time there but specialised in three main codes towards the end, including lacrosse, when I was selected more frequently in significant representative teams. At a local level, I was selected for U15, U18 and Women’s representative lacrosse teams for the Waikato at respective NZ Nationals over several years. My first overseas competition for lacrosse was in a Waikato U15 team that played in Melbourne, Australia. In subsequent years, I also travelled to Adelaide and to Melbourne to compete in the Australian U18 National tournaments. More recently, I played in the NZ U19 team for a tournament tour in the USA, as well as being in the NZ U23 team that competed in the ASPACs tournament in South Korea.
Which US university have you gone to?
I am currently attending the University of Montevallo, which is in a small town in the middle of Alabama, where I am studying for a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Exercise Science, Nutrition and Biomechanics. I was recruited both from online and during the NZ U19 lacrosse tour to the USA for The Surge and Capital Cup tournaments. I ultimately chose a university and coach who were prepared to play me from my freshman year, because I really wanted to further my own skills and get as much playing time as possible in the US environment. I had a really good first season and was a starter in each game. My coach allowed me to play in a newish position for me, so I’ve been able to further my understanding of other positions on the field.
What does a normal day at university include?
A normal day for me this semester includes a lift or condition session early in the morning, then classes with breaks throughout the day, and then a 2-hour stick skills and team practice every afternoon. The semester before Christmas is a building semester with a few scrimmages with different universities on weekends. The competitive semester for lacrosse is from February to April. Our university plays in the Gulf South Conference and some of the other universities we play are 4- to 5-hour’s drive away. I live in student accommodation and have a room-mate who is also on the lacrosse team. During down time, we like to go swimming in local lakes, go thrift shopping or support our university athletes playing at home in different sporting codes.
Tell us more about The Gulf South Conference?
Most of the sporting codes at Montevallo play in the The Gulf South Conference. This is a grouping of universities in the general area (up to 500 km away) that compete against each other in the respective sports. The women’s lacrosse group now includes six teams after one more team joined this year; there are two teams in Alabama, two teams in Georgia, one team in Tennessee and one team in South Carolina. Last season, we played a couple of scrimmages and then 16 NCAA ratified games with eight of them being Conference (four home games and four away) and the other eight games were with teams from other Conferences. The furthest we had to travel to play these games was a 2000 km round trip to Florida. The standard of play is varied, but there are some teams and many individuals who are very skilled. At the end of the season, there is a final knockout tournament on a weekend to determine the rankings in the Conference. In addition, each week the Conference awards accolades across the region – during the season, I was awarded GSC Freshman of the Week and was also named in the All Tournament Team at the end of the season. Based on my sporting and overall academic results for the season, I was also named on the All Spring GSC Academic Honor Roll. As a student athlete, your academic and sporting performances are very closely managed and monitored by both the university and the Conference. If you do not keep your GPA average up, your playing time is mandatorily restricted.
What is most different about life in the US versus NZ?
The things that are most different between life in New Zealand and in the US would have to be related to food choices. All the tastes are different and it has been an experience trying to both live without certain New Zealand foods and finding new US foods that I enjoy. It has also been tricky, but entertaining, for people to try and understand my accent and specific NZ slang that we use all the time back home!
Any top tips for those thinking about applying to a US university?
Tips for anybody wishing to study in the US and play a sport here is to make sure your academic grades are good right from Year 9, start doing your ACT / SAT tests in Year 11 or 12, get on US recruitment websites, compile some video footage of your key moves in your games, narrow down what you want to get out of your US college experience and which universities and coaches might help you meet those expectations.
Anyone you would like to thank?
The people who I would have to thank for helping me get this far are my family, my fellow players in the various representative, school and club teams that I have competed in, Waikato Lacrosse for having supported growth in this region, and the coaches who have helped me extend my depth of skills, confidence and love of the sport.