South Hadley’s Sophie Gatzounas commits to Navy women’s basketball

  • South Hadley senior basketball player Sophie Gatzounas is committed to play in college at the Naval Academy. South Hadley hosted a signing ceremony for her Thursday in the library. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • South Hadley senior Sophie Gatzounas commits to play basketball at the Naval Academy, Thursday during a signing ceremony for her in the school’s library. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Back row, from left, Amateur Athletic Union coaches Andréa Enright, Peter Thurber and Ralph Loos, and South Hadley coaches Jessica Nelson and Marc Maiolo surround Sophie Gatzounas at her signing ceremony Thursday at South Hadley High School. She’ll play basketball for Navy next year. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • South Hadley senior basketball players Sophie Gatzounas and Marley Medina hug after Gatzounas’ signing ceremony Thursday at South Hadley High School. Gatzounas committed to play at Navy next season. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Sophie Gatzounas’ family, from left, grandmother Colleen Gatzounas, mother Jan Gatzounas and father Mark Gatzounas are with her at her signing ceremony Thursday at South Hadley high school. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

Published: 1/26/2017 8:01:13 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — Sophie Gatzounas’ college choice needed to offer three components: basketball, education and service.

“The opportunity of Navy almost fell into my lap,” the South Hadley senior said. “They kind of came to me first.”

Now she’s heading to them.

Gatzounas announced her commitment to the Naval Academy and its women’s basketball program Thursday.

“It’s an awesome place, awesome location. I really like the teamwork aspect of it,” she said. “Talk to anyone that goes there and they’ll say ‘you can’t do it alone.’ The entire school is comradery from the basketball team to the academics, literally just everything.”

Navy doesn’t have National Letters of Intent like other college programs. Athletes must first be accepted to the academy before they can join the sports program.

That process begins with a background check and a traditional college application (admissions essay, academic transcripts, community service, etc). Then potential cadets must undergo an eye exam and general physical followed by applying for nominations from their local senators and representatives.

Gatzounas received her letter from Congressman Richard Neal.

Gatzounas also has a letter of assurance, which signifies acceptance to the academy.

“I just want to be a part of something greater than myself,” Gatzounas said. “I felt as though going the military route would ensure I would make a difference in the world.”

Navy’s coaching staff can’t comment on Gatzounas or any potential recruit until they are inducted in June.

But Navy coach Stefanie Pemper and her staff clearly made an impact on Gatzounas.

“Definitely my favorite school by far, favorite coaches by far,” Gatzounas said. “Meeting the coaches for the first time, doing my first visit, I fell in love with the school.”

She also considered Brown, Assumption and Stonehill. Nothing beat Navy’s first impression.

“It was the first school I actually went and looked at. After that everything was just like ...” Gatzounas said before trailing off.

She’ll be joining a team that sits 13-5 and second in the Patriot League behind Bucknell. The Midshipmen’s roster shrank from 15 players last season to 10 this year, a development that pleased Gatzounas.

“I like a smaller, tighter roster,” she said. “I’m going to have to work for anything and everything I get. Everything’s going to be established when I get there. I’m going to work hard.”

Academically, Gatzounas said she will steer herself toward the sciences. Surface warfare has her attention in terms of service. None of that is set, however. She doesn’t have to declare her major until later in her career, and service determinations are made by the Navy.

No matter what those aspects hold, balancing the three components will test Gatzounas.

“It’s definitely going to be quite the challenge. Nothing is going to be easy,” Gatzounas said. “I’ve accepted that going into it. I’m excited for what the future holds.”


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