Georgia wins the Cameron sweepstakes
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
Emily Cameron celebrated her birthday last Friday, but there’s no telling who actually got the bigger present.
Cameron or the University of Georgia.
Last Thursday night, just a few hours before turning 18, the Warwick High School senior blue-chip swimmer made her college decision and then called Lady Bulldogs coach Jack Bauerle and his staff to let them know she would be spending the next four years in Athens, Ga. Cameron will sign her national letter of intent to accept a full athletic scholarship with Georgia during the fall early signing period of Nov. 13-16.
"It was a good birthday present," Cameron said. "It was the greatest reaction hearing (the Georgia coaches) screaming in the phone and hearing how excited they were, so I’m really pumped."
The excitement coming from the Lady Bulldogs’ coaches is understandable. In Cameron, Georgia is getting a five-time PIAA State champion and a 12-time All-American. If that’s not enough, she also holds the record in three of the eight PIAA State Triple-A individual events (200 I.M., 50 free, 100 breaststroke) and she was the PIAA State Triple-A Girls Swimmer of the Meet as a freshman.
"That’s just astounding that a kid can qualify for an All-American status (eight times)," Warwick swim coach Mark Daum said. "… Pennsylvania is not a slouch state in swimming. And for her to own three of the eight State records is quite remarkable.
"At the level she’s achieved, every athlete irregardless of sport would love to have a full-ride athletic scholarship to a D-I school," Daum added, "and I think Georgia has been on her radar for a good time now."
Cameron, who according to CollegeSwimming.com is the nation’s third-ranked Class of 2013 girls swimmer, is the latest District Three star swimmer to go to the University of Georgia, joining a prestigious list which includes Wilson product Kristy Kowal and Hempfield grad Kyle Salyards, both of whom went on to compete in the Olympics in previous years.
The Warwick senior has spoken with both of those athletes, who both painted a promising picture of Georgia.
"They are definitely big Bulldog fans," Cameron said. "I definitely could tell they both enjoyed their time down there and they both still have all their friends from their college years. So it was great to look back and see that their experience really paid off in their life experiences. It seemed like they really loved it, so I’m sure that I will too."
Cameron, in fact, surely got that sense from Kowal after speaking to her about the Lady Bulldogs at the State Championships recently.
"Emily had a chance to chat with (Kowal) and it didn’t convince her, but I think it definitely persuaded her to really take a serious look at Georgia and I think everything’s just sort of grown since then," Daum said.
Georgia was the second of three official visits that Cameron took within the span of a month recently. Her frequent flyer miles started with a trip to Austin, Texas at the end of August, where she met with coach Carol Capitani (a former associate head coach at Georgia) and the Lady Longhorns.
After spending the weekend of Sept. 15-16 at Georgia, Cameron caught a flight to the USC campus the following weekend. She also had an official visit planned to the University of California, but ended up canceling that trip.
"If anything, I would have been a southern California type of person because it’s beachy and stuff there," Cameron said. "But in the end, there was no point in (looking at Cal)."
There was no point in it because her heart was set on the University of Georgia. She had been hoping to make a verbal commitment at the beginning of October, but as she mulled over her decision in the days after returning from USC, her choice became obvious.
"Every time I kept talking about it, people were telling me, ‘Do you hear yourself? All you’re saying is Georgia,’" Cameron recalled. "So I was like, ‘You know what? I think it’s time to make the decision.’"
On the same night that she called the staff at Georgia to deliver the good news, Cameron also telephoned the coaches at Texas and USC with her answer.
"I made all my phone calls that night and it was definitely rough with some of them," she said. "It was real hard to say no to the coaches, but they all have to go through that process, so they know how to handle it."
No doubt, it was particularly hard for Cameron to call Capitani with the news. The two of them had gotten to know each other while Capitani was coaching with the Lady Bulldogs, and she was a big reason that Texas even entered the picture for Cameron.
"(Texas) was a great place, but the campus wasn’t for me," Cameron said. "Austin is a really cool area, but it didn’t fit my personality. I mean, I loved the coaches, I thought the team was great, but in the end, it didn’t fit me as what I had hoped."
Georgia, however, fit like a glove.
Having already been on the Georgia campus a couple of times earlier, Texas and USC had their work cut out for them.
"I didn’t really know what to expect from USC and Texas just because I had never been there," Cameron said, "but I knew at Georgia, I’d put some very high standards. So I tried to not think about that while I was on my other trips, but every time I got back, it always came back to Georgia."
While Cameron acknowledged that she tried to keep an open mind while taking her official visits, two of the most important factors in her decision-making process came down to how she meshed with the team and its coaches.
It didn’t hurt the Lady Bulldogs’ cause that Cameron is friends with a number of their swimmers, including Annie Zhu, Spring Grove High School grad Hali Flickinger, Nicole Vernon and Amber McDermott, with whom Cameron competed at the 2009 Junior Pan Pacifics in Maui.
"I think the team and the coaches (clinched it)," Cameron said, "and everyone telling me, ‘If you weren’t swimming, what college campus would you want to end up on?’ Automatically, I said Georgia because it’s absolutely beautiful. I just love Athens, I love the town, and I look back and see the coaches and I realize what kind of people they can produce and the team is just amazing. I’m going to have so much fun with them. So (the decision was going to be based) basically on the team that I saw myself best with and that was definitely Georgia."
In Bauerle, the Lady Bulldogs have a coach who has led them to four team national championships and eight SEC crowns in 34 years at the helm. He was also selected as head coach of the U.S. women’s swimming team for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.
So it should hardly come as a surprise then that Cameron feels confident in working with Bauerle and the Georgia coaches toward realizing her dream of competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"Obviously, 2016 is a huge one for me," Cameron said. "So I kinda was looking toward that and I was like, ‘Which team and which coaching staff could get me close to making that team?’ And a lot of the kids on that team have that same goal because we’re all at a young age. I kinda looked at that, and I was like, ‘Well, I feel like this is definitely what’s going to get me there.’"
"Jack Bauerle at Georgia, there’s none better as a recruiter," Daum said, "and I think they stayed on the trail with her (after Capitani left to go to Texas) and obviously they got her."
In Cameron, the Lady Bulldogs also got a swimmer who has a lot of versatility, as evidenced by her ….. All-American honors. Cameron said that she will sit down with Bauerle once she arrives at Georgia to determine which events she is going to swim.
"I guess it’s going to depend once I get there and which ones really take off for me," she said.
"I think she can only get better," Daum said. "Obviously the three State records speak to her diversity, having a State record in the I.M. speaks to her diversity because that’s all four strokes. She’s got it all."
With Cameron joining a Lady Bulldogs’ team which placed second in the NCAA women’s championships last year, she will certainly help the team in its effort to win another title or two under Bauerle. Knowing that Georgia is a perennial contender for the national championship was obviously another selling point for Cameron.
"I definitely think Georgia is going to be right there (in the next four years)," she said.
Georgia is also right there when it comes to academics, and with the school having a solid communications and journalism program, that added to making it a complete package for Cameron. She hopes to pursue a career in sports broadcasting when her swimming days come to an end.
"(The education) is what is going to take me further in life, unless all of a sudden I completely take off," Cameron said, "so (Georgia) was pretty much a perfect fit. I think that the program they have there is amazing and I feel like being there with the team and the school itself is going to make me a better person."
For the time being, Cameron is a person who can breathe a sigh of relief. She is loving the fact that her college decision is done and she can just enjoy the rest of her senior year.
"I am absolutely thrilled. I feel like a weight was taken off my shoulders," Cameron said. "It was really stressful just because it seemed like every time I came back from a college that I visited, I loved it. But in the end, I knew in my gut it was Georgia. I think everything about it I just fell in love with, so I knew it was the place for me." More CAMERON, page B-5