So which one would it be? Harvard, Dartmouth, Duke, USC, Stanford?
All of them wanted Aly Gleason — exemplary student, co-valedictorian of Buhach Colony High School and outstanding soccer goalkeeper. All of them appealed to Gleason as she struggled to choose a college from among a list that would be the envy of any stellar student.
In the end, her decision came down to soccer and family — not necessarily in that order. But in the Gleason family, the order isn't really that important, because all of the Gleasons — including 7-year-old Beckham; yes, he was named for that Beckham — love soccer.
"It was an intense debate at my house, Stanford vs. Harvard," Gleason said. "I felt like I didn't fit in much back there. My family would probably never be able to come watch me play. I had the opportunity to play a higher level of soccer at Stanford."
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So Gleason decided to join the Cardinal — which has made 18 NCAA Tournament appearances and won the Pac-10 title five times. Stanford was 22-2-1 last season and made it to the NCAA semifinals. She reports to campus Aug. 6.
"My parents are going to have three kids in college at the same time," Gleason said. "It feels good to help them out. I worked really hard to get good grades; I'm happy I'm able to go as much for my academics as athletics."
Good grades? Gleason graduated with a weighted GPA of 4.75 — meaning she took a boatload of Advanced Placement courses, which often provide college credit and count for additional points on a 4.0 scale. But Gleason will not attend Stanford on an athletic scholarship; instead, she will be a recruited walk-on. Any financial aid will be awarded based on academic — not athletic — prowess.
That's fairly common. Stanford Magazine reported in its December 2007 issue that 480 of the school's 800 athletes were given athletic scholarship money. The rest got financial aid based on need to cover the cost of the $36,000 annual undergraduate tuition, plus room and board of around $12,000.
"Aly is going to be a great addition to the Stanford women's soccer program," Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe wrote in an e-mail. "She has very good physical presence ... she has great hands and reflexes which will help her to become a top-level goalkeeper."
Gleason is one of two freshman goalkeepers listed behind junior Kira Maker, who posted 14 shutouts in 2008.
Gleason was The Bee's All-District goalkeeper, two-time Central California Conference Goalkeeper of the Year and 2009 Most Valuable Player. She played volleyball for the first time as a senior, and was a four-year varsity basketball player. She was a three-year captain on the basketball and soccer teams, all while aceing those AP classes.
She commuted to Clovis or Sacramento twice a week the last five years to play in elite club programs and is one of only three goalkeepers in the Region IV Olympic Development Program for her age group.
Buhach Colony coach Ashley Dinwoodie said Gleason probably doesn't realize how inspirational she was to a sophomore-heavy team. The Thunder went 4-4-4 in the CCC — the best record in the school's history, but well behind league champion Turlock's 11-1 mark. Gleason had 83 saves and seven shutouts in 18 games.
"She already had her goal of going to Stanford set, but she was even more determined," Dinwoodie said. "The girls all just looked up to her. That's going to help them these next few years to stay motivated and driven."
Soccer is a family affair for the Gleasons. Older brother Drew will be a sophomore defender at UNLV; younger brother Tanner will be a junior soccer and basketball player at Buhach Colony. Then there is Beckham, who has just started playing club soccer. Parents Tim and Pam Gleason have coached and organized teams in the Merced area for years.
Aly Gleason plans to major in chemistry and wants to be a cardiothoracic surgeon.
"It's exciting to know there are bigger things to come," Gleason said.