A different kind of year led to a different kind of college search for Hempstead’s Renee Newton. There were no official visits, only Zoom calls. No spring track times to send in, only the promise of potential.
But, despite the unorthodox nature of being recruited during a pandemic, Newtown landed in a spot she said felt a lot like home, even though she hasn’t been there yet. Newton signed her letter of intent to run track at Georgetown on Tuesday morning at Hempstead High School, accepting a full athletic scholarship.
"I feel like the school fits me," Newton told Newsday on Monday.
The signing represented the end of a recruiting process with a twist, and a major turn.
The mid-distance standout had planned on staying on Long Island after high school. Her preferred destination, NYIT, seemed like the perfect choice — a program with a pedigree (they have sent athletes to the Olympics in the past) and one that featured current athletes she knew and liked.
The transition would be seamless, she thought. That is, until NYIT announced in August that they were shutting down their athletic program for the next two years, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and the costs associated with keeping the program going during it as a major factor for the extended pause.
"[NYIT] was really the only school that I wanted to stay local with," Newton said. "So, I was like ‘OK, let me branch out.’ That’s when Georgetown reached out. I started speaking with them and after that it wasn’t much of a hard decision….My [local] option was down the drain, and Georgetown was another perfect fit."
Georgetown is becoming a hot-bed for Long Island standouts. Shoreham-Wading River’s Katherine Lee, one of the best cross country runners in Long Island history, is on the women’s team. Matthew Payamps, a West Hempstead product who ran at St. Anthony’s, Huntington’s Lawrence Leake, and Uniondale’s Jadan Hanson are on the men’s squad.
Georgetown certainly lacked the local flair of NYIT but made up for it in almost every other way, specifically in its plans for Newton to keep running her bread-and-butter events: the 400 meters, 400-meter hurdles, and 800.
This wasn’t the case for every school she spoke with. An alarming trend of schools wanting to change her events and training schedule emerged during the recruiting process, she said. While Newton declined to name those schools specifically, she was adamant that she wanted no part of moving to different distances.
"I get that I’m going to be put out of my comfort zone a lot, but different schools that I spoke to, they’ve seen the events that I normally run and I’ve told them how I normally train and they came at me like, ‘That’s nice but actually we want you to run this event and do things this way,’" Newton said. "So, it was kind of a concern with different schools that it would be a different style of training and something that my body isn’t used to."
Newton continued: "It’s important to me that I found a school that was accepting and very considerate of what I do right now as an athlete, and who also wants what’s best for me and is pushing me in that same direction without altering the things that I do too much."
Newton finished fifth in the 600 in 1 minute, 34.73 seconds at last year’s indoor state championships and entered this winter season as the second-fastest returner in the state in that event. She’s run a 2:14.08 in the indoor 800, a 57.25 in the outdoor 400, and a 1:01.93 in the 400-meter hurdles, according to milesplit.com.
This winter, despite having to run outdoors, she ran the top time in Nassau in the 800 (2:24). As part of a club team, she ran a 2:16.63 in the indoor 800 at the Hispanic Games at the Armory in Manhattan in January, the fifth fastest time in the state as of Tuesday, according to milesplit.com
And she’s not done. Newton will run cross county in the upcoming abbreviated "fall" season and wants to run 2:10 or below in the 800 in the spring.
"My high school career," she said, "is not over."