In the competitive field of college athletics, only a select few make the cut. High school athletes find themselves having to go above and beyond to catch the eye of college recruiters. The pressure to snag one of the highly sought after spots may be overwhelming. With the right combination of talent, dedication and hard work, an athlete may receive one of the highly coveted Division I or Division II scholarships offered.

For Payten Schmidt, Northland Preparatory Academy (NPA) girls soccer player, pursuing a future in college athletics is something she has always wanted to do. Schmidt has played soccer for 12 years and is the goalkeeper for her team at NPA. However, her love for this position hasn’t always been exuberant.

“When I was younger, I wasn’t a huge fan of keeper because I wanted to go run around with my friends on the field,” Schmidt said.

Despite her previous opinions, she explained that today her passion for keeper and the game of soccer could not be stronger. Schmidt and her teammates have been successful thus far as they won two back-to-back state championships in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

While Schmidt has been training hard she is always keeping her future in mind.

“My desire to play in college fuels me to work hard each and every day,” Schmidt said.

Camps, showcases and private lessons are just a few examples of the ways Schmidt goes above and beyond to increase her chances of being recruited for college soccer.

Besides playing on her high school team, Schmidt also plays for a club team, Challenge F.C. North, a team composed of high school girls from Flagstaff, Coconino and Cottonwood. She is able to get her name out there so coaches and recruiters will recognize her by playing on a club team and attending ID camps. ID camps provide a challenging environment for aspiring college athletes to compete against one another.

“It’s not just practice then go home and relax. In order to get a scholarship to play in the future, I have to do more than the competition,” Schmidt said.

During her school season, Schmidt practices two hours a day, five days a week and has games. She also has private keeper lessons for two hours every other week and tournaments and camps along the way. Schmidt has made it a point to email coaches and familiarize herself with the different college opportunities that are available. However, she is not alone in her journey. Her parents and coaches are there supporting her and encouraging her along the way.

“I do feel some pressure from my parents but overall, I know it’s for the best because it keeps pushing me to work hard,” Schmidt said.

Hard work is essential in any recipe for success, especially one that involves such few handouts. There are limited scholarships offered to athletes, which makes the playing field more intense. Only about 2% of high school athletes are awarded athletic scholarships to compete in college, according to NCAA’s website.

“There may be times where it seems like all the hard work and stress isn’t worth it but it’s something I need to push for because I want it so bad,” Schmidt said. “With enough drive, the pressure fades away and I know I can overcome my competition.”

Kylie Luow, the new head coach for NAU women’s soccer, said that coaches are looking for players who will go above and beyond to help the success of their team.

“The process of getting a scholarship to play in college is ongoing and the work doesn’t stop when you walk off the field,” Luow said. “The work done outside of those structured times will speed up the development piece and show dedication and commitment to improving and performing.”

Athletes across the country are competing for these few spots, but it all comes down to who is willing to put in that extra effort on and off the field.

Kiarra Hovis, Schmidt’s sophomore teammate of, has experienced similar pressures along her journey. She also plays for NPA and was a midfielder this year.

“Getting a scholarship to play in college would be a dream,” Hovis said. “Soccer is more than just a sport. It’s a stress reliever and a source of joy in life.”

Hovis competes in many different tournaments for her club team, Challenge F.C. North and NPA. She has even traveled as far as Dallas to play.

Travel tournaments such as this could cost anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500 per team, not including travel expenses.

Financial sacrifices are a part of the college recruiting process and getting your name out there. But for Hovis, the time, money and work is worth it for the hope of continuing her soccer career in college, she said.

“It isn’t enough just to want it, you have to work for it,” Hovis said.

Good players can be found anywhere, but to play in college, recruiters look for something special. It’s not just an enthusiasm for the game that drives these athletes, it’s a devotion to the sport. The time commitment and pressure may be a weight on their shoulders but the right athlete knows it’s worth it.