Not many eighth graders know what they want to do when it comes to college, but Banks Trail Middle School student Janelle Ilacqua isn’t like most eighth graders.
Ilacqua, a 13 year-old softball star, has verbally committed to Virginia Tech University. Talking to her, it is obvious that despite being so young, she has a clear mindset on what she wants. Ilacqua technically won't be able to sign with Virginia Tech until she is a senior in high school, but that's the plan. In the meantime, she plays for the Nation Ford High varsity.
“Softball recruits very early,” Ilacqua said. “Most of the time if you are very good, you are recruited freshman year. But things have started really fast due to this new rule coming in.”
She's referring to a new rule adopted April 19 by the NCAA that prevents colleges from having contact with softball players until Sept. 1 of their junior year. The NCAA adopted a similar rule last year regarding recruiting for lacrosse. Because she made her commitment prior to the new rule going into effect, Ilacqua and other athletes who did the same are grandfathered in, so to speak. Virginia Tech is not considered in violation of the new rule and Ilacqua's commitment is considered intact.
“That has played a big impact on coaches becoming more lenient with the 2022 class,” Ilacqua said. “It’s not unheard of for middle schoolers to commit if they are very good. At this point, coaches are looking at athletic ability, because they understand mechanics are going to come as you get older. They try and scoop up those athletes as quickly as they can.”
She first heard of the rule change while visiting James Madison University, also in Virginia.
“That is almost the nature of the game right now,” Nation Ford head coach Craig Brown said. “If you don’t commit early, you really don’t get anything. Her committing early really isn’t that big of a surprise.”
While Brown thinks Ilacqua can handle the early commitment, he said the rule change would probably be good for most kids when it comes to recruiting.
“I think it is tough for a kid,” he said. “Some of them might know what they want to do in the eighth grade, but some aren’t sure. There are a lot of 'de-commitments.' I don’t think there would be a problem with them waiting until they are a junior, but that is not up to me, it’s up to these college coaches.”
The younger of two Ilacqua sisters on the Nation Ford softball team — Alissa is the other — Janelle has been playing softball for six years and through travel leagues quickly started catching the eye of coaches.
“It is very calming,” Janelle said about the sport.
“It is fun. You meet a lot of girls playing. It wasn’t always my dream to go play D-I softball. I was a pretty good athlete at all the sports I played. I started playing because my sister was playing, so I thought I would try it out. I did it for fun and met a lot of girls and then I started getting really good at it. I love the sport so much. It is one of my biggest passions.”
Ilacqua also plays volleyball and tennis, but has committed so much time to softball she doesn’t know if once she hits high school next year if she will play either of those two sports. Besides Virginia Tech and JMU, she had several other Division I schools contact her, including Auburn, UNC, Michigan, South Carolina, Coastal Carolina, Duke and Notre Dame, just to name a few. Her choice came down to academics.
“I choose VT because they are one of the top biomedical engineering programs in the country,” she said. “When you step on campus, you kind of fall in love with it. I spoke with some administration and went into some classrooms. I loved the coaches there. The people were great. The alumni I talked to were so helpful. Academically they are what I wanted.”
Mac Banks: firstname.lastname@example.org, @MacBanksFM