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Coming to an Ivy near you

Gilford's Stefan Defregger navigates the world of college recruiting en route to Dartmouth College

Gilford soccer star Stefan Defregger trains with his Seacoast United Academy squad earlier this spring. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
June 20, 2011
GILFORD – Business is booming at Sawyer's Dairy Bar in Gilford, as the sun shines brightly during the afternoon lunch rush last week. Stefan Defregger makes the stop into Sawyer's during a busy day of job hunting, as the recently graduated Gilford High School senior is looking for something to hold him over during the summer months ahead.

"Gotta find something to keep me busy," he says of his job search as we sit down to talk at a picnic table next to the Sawyer's parking lot.

In just two short months, Defregger will make his way west to New Hampshire's contribution to the Ivy League, Dartmouth College, to begin his freshman year as a member of the Big Green soccer program. His mind has already started to wander a bit, as the next phase of his life is right around the corner.

"I'm really excited," Defregger said. "I got all my housing stuff to fill out the other day, and I just finished it. I talked to a couple of the guys on the team and my workouts are gonna be coming in soon and I'll be getting going with that. I'm just really excited to finally get up there, after a year of knowing I was going there, to finally play for them."

Hanover isn't exactly the big city, but the college town near the Vermont border has a much different feel than the place Defregger spent his years growing up.

"I've spent so much time in Gilford so it's gonna be a little different," he admitted. "I'm lucky to have experience going to other countries and playing soccer in other places and other states. I feel like I'm ready and I think I'll be able to adapt to it. But it's definitely gonna be different than staying around here all the time because I'm so used to it here."

To know where Defregger's going is to know where he's been. The soccer star has been all over the place in the last two years, including trips to England to play in the Four Nation's Tournament last summer and next week's U-18 Championship tourney in Texas. But Defregger's path to Dartmouth took shape before both of those trips, beginning with the week that got it all started in the summer of 2009.

June 2009, South Bend, Ind.

It may have taken a few days, but Defregger looked around and knew he had every reason to feel he belonged. At the University of Notre Dame's annual soccer camp following his sophomore year at GHS, Defregger performed under the watchful eye of a dozen Division I college coaches. He wanted to go to Notre Dame, to play for the Irish. This was the first, and possibly only, chance he had to show his stuff, and he wanted to make sure he didn't disappoint.

"I definitely felt pressure to perform," he admitted. "You go there and Notre Dame is such a huge school with a really prestigious soccer program and a great coach. I was a little overwhelmed the first couple of days, wasn't playing quite where I needed to be. But I thought I could definitely play with these guys and I got into my groove and picked it up."

Besides Notre Dame, Division I powers Georgetown and Dartmouth were among the schools on hand, soaking in the group of highly talented high school athletes. The recruiting season was on the horizon for Defregger and the other incoming juniors, and this was as good a time as any to get noticed by the masses.

"When it was over, I probably had one of the best weeks of soccer I've ever had in my life," he recalled. "I made it to the all-star game at the end, got the MVP award. I was really, really happy with the way I played."

Defregger wasn't the only one pleased with his efforts. Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark took notice of the kid from New Hampshire, and the ND staff wanted to sit down with him before he hopped on a plane back to the Granite State.

"They came up to me after and were like, 'Hey, before you leave, if you'd like to have a meeting with us, that'd be great," Defregger said. "I thought this could be something really good. They basically said they were gonna recruit me, and that they wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the schools that were there were gonna recruit me as well."

On July 1, when coaches were able to send out recruiting letters to incoming juniors, Defregger received correspondence from a flurry of D-I institutions, as Notre Dame, Dartmouth, Georgetown and Rhode Island were amongst the early suitors. When Defregger's Seacoast United Academy club team played in a showcase in Arizona, Notre Dame was there to watch. As junior year came and went, things got a lot more serious. The midfielder narrowed his choices to three: Notre Dame, Dartmouth and Georgetown.

"I took unofficial visits to all three, got a feel for the campus, for the teams," explained Defregger. "I really liked Dartmouth and Notre Dame. I wasn't really sure which one I wanted to go to until I made my visits and talked with the team. Dartmouth just really won me over, I really loved it up there. It started out at Notre Dame in their camp but Dartmouth really just felt like the place to be."

The battle between the two schools had at least a little to do with geography. Notre Dame's coaching staff was only able to see Defregger play in Arizona, while Dartmouth had the luxury of catching several club games.

"Dartmouth's coach was really adamant about how they wanted me up there," said Defregger. "They got to see me play a lot and every time we talked, they said how much they wanted me."

August 2010, Gilford

Defregger remembers the day when he made his final commitment, choosing the Big Green as his place of study for the next four years.

"I got the whole financial package and I called the coach," he said. "He asked me how I thought it looked and I told him it looked amazing. He said they were gonna have to know in the next week, and I told him I'd let him know. The next day I called him and told him I was committing there. I didn't have any doubts once I made up my mind, I really felt comfortable with my decision."

With the decision now out of the way, Defregger had at least one load off his mind entering his senior year.

"That part was definitely a relief," he explained. "After being in the recruiting process for a good year, year and a half, it takes a toll on you. You don't know what's gonna happen on any given day. Are they being sincere or just saying things? It was an extremely stressful time, especially the last few weeks, deciding between Notre Dame and Dartmouth. After making the choice though, I can relax and look forward to senior year."

Defregger recalls a few times where his friends gave him a hard time for being done with the college selection process, as they wrote essays and sent out applications throughout the school year.

"I still had to concentrate on keeping my grades up and not slack off or anything because I'm going to an Ivy League school," he said. "I'm not like that, so I knew it wouldn't be too bad. I had to take hard classes and do well in them. My friends were all extremely happy for me but it was fun to joke around and give them a hard time about it since I was already done with applying and all the stuff they were going through."

Read the rest of the story when the paper hits the streets or the Web site on Thursday.

Martin Lord Osman
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Varney Smith
Armen Kevorkian
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