When most high school athletes are considering college choices, the biggest decision they weigh is which school to pick. For Aiken High’s Natasha Dicks, that certainly was an issue.
But unlike most other athletes, Dicks is a standout talent in two sports. She’s so good in track & field and volleyball that her decision was more complicated.
Could she find the right college that would allow her to play both sports in which she was a South Carolina state champion?
Would she limit her options by choosing a college where she would focus on just one of the endeavors?
Would she get the offer from one of these colleges that would also have the right academic programs and meet her requirement of being close to home?
Ultimately, Dicks found an offer from the University of South Carolina was the best fit. Although she won’t play volleyball for the Gamecocks, Dicks expects to be an integral part of the track & field squad in Columbia, which is close enough to Aiken to keep her happy. It also has a good Psychology program, the area of study she plans to pursue a degree in.
“I always had USC in the back of my mind,” Dicks said Tuesday, when family, friends, faculty and administrators at Aiken High joined her for a ceremony celebrating her signing a letter of intent to go to USC, where she’ll compete for the track team. “USC was the first to talk to me and they were always very friendly. They always made me feel comfortable.”
That was a significant factor in Dicks’ decision. She said she initially wanted to go to a college where she could be a part of the track and volleyball teams. That was complicated by the fact that most colleges saw her as a Division I track star, but a better fit for a Division II volleyball team.
“I contemplated going somewhere for volleyball and track,” said Dicks, who won a state title in volleyball as a sophomore and has since been named the Region 5-AAAA Player of the Year, All-State and an All-Star Game participant. “At first, it wasn’t a decision. I was going to do both.”
But she isn’t as tall as the typical college volleyball player, a factor that most colleges wouldn’t ignore. On the other hand, several big-time college track & field programs made Dicks offers to join them – including Clemson, Miami and LSU among others.
The ability to perform at the highest level and the possibilities of greater opportunities in track made a difficult decision straightforward. With some sage advice from her parents, the choice was clear.
“With track, there are (more opportunities),” said Dicks, who won the state title in triple jump last year, after finishing runner-up the previous season. She was also runner-up in the long jump in 2012 and figures to be one of the favorites to win both events this spring. “I love volleyball, but couldn’t go as far. Track could take me to a lot of places.”
That was also what Aiken volleyball coach Malynda Young’s advice to Dicks was. Pursue the best opportunities, which are in track.
“I think she made the right decision, there’s more money in track,” Young said of scholarship funds and possible prizes beyond college. “I’d love to see her play volleyball, but I’m proud of her either way.”
Dicks’ potential competing in track is incredibly high. Gary Reynolds, the girls’ track coach at Aiken said Dicks’ current jumping distances already put her in the middle of the pack of the Southeastern Conference’s best. Focusing strictly on track, where she might also participate on some of the relay teams, will only make her better.
“She never had a whole year just focused on track,” Reynolds said of Dicks, who’s already won a state title. “She’ll fit in real well because she did all this after volleyball. Now, the sky’s the limit. She could rise to the top of the SEC.”
While USC offers Dicks the chance to do all this, it was the other variables that made it the clear place she wanted to go.
“It wasn’t track. It wasn’t all the fun things you can do in college,” Dicks said of her decision-making process, which also was helped by USC’s proximity to Aiken and her family. “It’s the education.”
And like a true multi-sport star, Dicks’ goals are clear.
“I try to keep it simple and ace everything possible and be the best at whatever I can be.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.