About this time every year, parents and children contemplate updates to back-to-school wardrobes.
Emily Carter won't have to worry about a real change in the color scheme of her track and cross country apparel. That is until maybe June 2025 at the earliest.
The 2019 PIAA Class AAA champion in the 3,200-meter run, and one of western Pennsylvania's best ever at that distance and cross country, verbally committed Thursday to trading in her black and orange of Bethel Park for the same hues representing the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
"Yeah, I get to wear black and orange for another four or five years," Carter said, laughing.
The global pandemic that wiped out the 2020 outdoor track season and has threatened fall sports nationwide also had a major effect on the recruiting process for Carter and other would-be seniors considering NCAA programs: A mandatory recruiting dead period prohibiting in-person meetings between college coaches and potential recruits has been in place since March 13.
As a result, Carter decided she wanted to join Dave Smith's program in Stillwater, Okla., without meeting the veteran coach or current members of his team.
"I just felt like Oklahoma State would be a good fit for me, even though I've never met any of them in person," Carter said. "I've never actually met the coaches in person, but I really trust them and I feel really comfortable going there. I think I made the best choice for me."
Carter and her parents visited the Oklahoma State campus when some COVID-19 restrictions were lifted several months ago, getting a Zoom-guided tour from coaches she has yet to meet.
"We walked around the campus with the coaches on Zoom," noted Carter, whose 10:16.02 PIAA win also is the state meet record. "That was really helpful in making my decision. They weren't there with me, but they showed me all the things I needed to see, explained some things, explained their facilities."
One of the athletic venues that the Carters experienced was the newly renovated OSU Cross Country Course, which made its debut at last fall's NCAA Midwest Regional. The entire layout was completely sodded, new courses were added and the course was widened in the multimillion dollar upgrade in advance of the now-cancelled 2020 NCAA Division I final.
"We were able to walk on the course while we were there," Carter said of her Zoom-guided tour. "It's so nice there. That's another reason why I picked Oklahoma State was just all the facilities are the best I've ever seen.
"Their track is amazing. That cross country course that they put all that money into, the ability to train there every day would be amazing."
Carter noted that Oklahoma State contacted her last October, not long after other schools from around the country reached out to the versatile distance runner. The recruiting process started to change when COVID-19 began to take hold in the U.S.
"As soon as the coronavirus hit and everything started being cancelled, a lot more coaches actually reached out to me," Carter said. "The ones that were already recruiting me, they were setting up all these Zoom calls and everytime the NCAA would come out with another restriction, they would all let me know."
A Zoom call with coaches, other recruits and members of the OSU team followed. Another Zoom call later with Cowgirl team members helped seal the deal for Carter after her short list had been narrowed to also include Penn State and North Carolina.
"It was a little bit of both," Carter said when asked if her early commitment was a result of COVID-19 restrictions or an interest in wrapping up recruiting and focusing on her senior year. "I actually had to reschedule my official visits that I was planning to take if everything went as planned this fall, which didn't happen.
"Once (Bethel Park) came out with guidelines if you went to a state that was considered a hot spot you would have to quarantine for two weeks, I was thinking I wouldn't be able to take my official visit to (Oklahoma State) or if I did, I would potentially have to miss part of my season. That's when I reached out to the coaches and asked to do some kind of Zoom with the team just to get to know the girls a little bit. After that Zoom, I felt like you're not really going to become anyone's best friend over a Zoom, that's just not going to happen, but I felt like I really connected with the girls as best as I could."
Two members of last year's Cowgirl XC squad - Molly Born and Taylor Somers - finished as All-Americans and are scheduled to return in 2020. Carter hopes to add to the distance program being assembled by Smith in Stillwater.
"Coach Smith said they really wanted to build up the distance program so I really liked that idea," said the Bethel Park standout, who was the AAA runner-up last year in Hershey. "There's already a lot of great distance talent there.
"I knew there were already people that could push me there. To me, I really looked forward to helping build a program but also have people already there with me. People that would push me, wanted to be there and they wanted to get better as well."