Untraditional Routes to D1

By Elizabeth Klemm

Transfer and international athletes discuss their journeys to Northeastern and the unique perspectives they add to their teams.

When redshirt sophomore center fielder Ben Malgeri steps up to the plate, it is the culmination of a circuitous route to batting leadoff for the first place Huskies. Malgeri, a kind of student-athlete nomad, began his collegiate baseball career at Holy Cross, then transferred to New Mexico Junior College for his sophomore year before finally finding a home at Northeastern.

“During the summer, I just kind of decided that [Holy Cross] wasn’t really the fit for me,” Malgeri said. “So I decided to take a different route, and I ended up going to junior college, because it was kind of late in the summer and I just wanted a place to play without having to sit out a year.”

Despite losing most of his season due to COVID-19, Malgeri believes he grew as a player at New Mexico Junior College, and was ready to make the jump back to the Division I level. He put his name in the NCAA transfer portal, and Northeastern assistant baseball coach Nick Puccio soon reached out to Malgeri to organize a campus visit. After his visit, Malgeri knew this was where he wanted to be. 

“I think being in multiple places and maturing those extra two years kind of helped me figure out what I really wanted in a school,” Malgeri said. 

Transferring academic credits adds an additional dimension to the recruitment process. “Northeastern is a tough school to transfer into from an academic standpoint,” baseball head coach Mike Glavine admitted; it can be hard for the academic pieces of the puzzle to line up.

Malgeri was able to work with academic support staff to make sure that he took the proper courses before arriving at Northeastern, and was able to come in as a junior academically. Then, teammates and coaches helped Malgeri integrate into the team, as well as focus on just playing the game.

“I try to just play my game. I’m playing baseball regardless, so I think that that has really helped me because I feel like if I think too much about, ‘oh, I’m a new kid at a new program,’ I think that applies extra pressure, and to me that’s just not necessary,” Malgeri said.

This mindset led to lots of success on the field, with Malgeri’s contributions to the team leading him to be named CAA Baseball player of the week on March 30, before being named Most Outstanding Player at the CAA Tournament after their championship run. 

Although getting the pieces to come together so an athlete can transfer into Northeastern can be challenging, from a coach’s standpoint, the benefits are clear. 

“You’re getting someone that is polished physically, mentally that’s been through it all, knows what to expect, and can really just hit the ground running,” Glavine said. “It’s not like you have to get them up to speed in college life, you just have to get them up to speed in how we do things here at Northeastern, and that’s usually a pretty quick learning process. It certainly was for Ben.”

Though the transfer portal is one route to the Division I level, another way coaches can fill rosters is by looking overseas. Senior rower Braeden Camp, who hails from Cambridge, New Zealand, represented his country at the 2015 and 2016 Junior World Rowing Championships before coming to Northeastern. Camp was exposed to US collegiate rowing programs through his older sister, who rowed at Oregon State, and presentations by Harvard rowing alumni at his high school.

“They were just showing or exposing us to what is actually out there if we know where to look,” Camp said. “And what options would be available and can be available to us.”

Northeastern coaches were some of the first that Camp talked to. His decision to commit to the program ultimately came after an official campus visit where he got to see the university, interact with the team and learn more about the various student-athlete support systems. However, Northeastern was always a front runner for Camp.

“They just kept on touching base and we kept on interacting throughout the whole process, whereas I had other universities who basically came to me and said, ‘Hit this mark and once you hit that mark we’ll talk to you, but until then, good luck to you,’” Camp said.

Camp also appreciated the opportunity to row at a high level while being able to hold a full time job on co-op, as well as the number of international students on the team. 

“I know people in England who have struggled to kind of row and train full time and keep their rowing at a full, high level, but also maintain a full 40 hour week at work,” Camp said. “So to be able to do that here as well as also getting my degree was also just one of the parts that drew me to coming here.”

Senior women’s rower Emma Samek from Hanau, Germany, agrees. The unique opportunity to not only study and row but also gain co-op experience drew her to Northeastern. In Germany, high performance rowing and university studies do not work together smoothly.

“I get to do my sport at a high level, I get to study and I can do co-op, so I thought it was a great combination,” Samek said.

Prior to rowing at Northeastern, Samek qualified for the German junior national team. She represented her country at the 2017 European and World Junior Championships as a senior in high school.

Rowing at a Division I program like Northeastern can provide the opportunity to study and row at an elite level simultaneously, but it also complicates athletes’ future rowing plans. 

While New Zealand has become more accepting of its athletes leaving the national team to study and row in America, it hasn’t always been the case. Rowing for a college in the US made it significantly harder for athletes to be named to the New Zealand national team again once they returned, so Camp decided to start rowing for Leander Club in the United Kingdom during his summers to keep his options open.

Graduate student rower Ole Kruse, one of Camp’s teammates, faced similar difficulties in his home country of Germany since the national team and coaches were not able to work with him throughout the year. Despite these obstacles, he has been able to continue rowing internationally for Germany during the summers at events like the European and World U23 Championship events. Kruse and former Northeastern teammate Jasper Angl both helped Germany win the 8+ event at the 2020 European U23 Championships. 

Preparation for these events begins shortly after the NCAA season ends, so it can be a challenge for the German coaches to not be able to monitor the collegiate athletes training in the United States throughout the year. But Kruse believes these difficulties are short term, and will not affect his international rowing career long term.

At Northeastern, Samek instantly noticed a change in the training environment and methods. In Germany, her club team comprised of five athletes all training to individually make the national team, but at Northeastern she has close to 40 teammates all training together. 

“It was really different because with such a big team, everybody is supporting each other and really working for a common goal together,” Samek said. “In Germany on a club team, you’re training more for yourself because you want to advance and you want to be on a national team. It was more about the individual, but here it’s more about the team and the common goal.”

Kruse also noticed the difference, but notes that his teammates’ varying backgrounds help the men’s rowing team grow.

“People from different backgrounds bring different ideas,” Kruse said. “You see that there’s some ideas that are seen as common in Germany, be it about recovery or something, whereas there are some ideas that are seen as common in America, which is about hard work mostly. Those two working together can create something really good.”

All athletes joining the Huskies bring their own unique experiences and training background, but having transfer and international athletes in a program adds an additional layer of diversity, making the team that much stronger. 

Malgeri took a circuitous route to Northeastern, playing for two programs before finding a home on Huntington Avenue. Samek, Camp, and Kruse took lengthy flights following successful international careers. But Northeastern has helped all four develop into the athletes, scholars, and people they are today. 

The benefits aren’t one sided. Malgeri’s additional experience and maturity helped the Huskies to their first CAA Championship. Camp, Kruse, and Samek brought valuable international rowing experiences and training methods to their teams, aiding the Huskies to many victories over the past four years. Collectively, their non-traditional routes to Northeastern athletics have made the Huskies howl even louder.