During her senior year of high school, swimmer Sarah D’Antoni had scholarship offers rescinded by the University of New Orleans and FIU — and each time, the rejections were not her fault.
At New Orleans, then-coach Randy Horner called her one day before scholarships were to be signed. Because of budget constraints in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was moving down to Division III, and no scholarships are offered at that level.
“Is this really happening?” D’Antoni remembers thinking at the time, which was November 2009. “I was really upset.”
Blindsided, D’Antoni started her recruiting process over again and decided to wait for the late signing period of April 2010.
D’Antoni, who is from Hillside, N.J., researched her options and chose FIU. But about three weeks before she was to sign, D’Antoni received a text informing her that FIU’s swim coach had been fired and no scholarships would be awarded until a new coach was hired.
And, even then, there would be no guarantees the new FIU coach would want her.
“I didn’t know what to do at that point,” D’Antoni said.
Running short on options and time, D’Antoni signed with a junior college and made the best of the situation, helping Indian River win two national titles in a row. She also finished second in the nation last season in her best event, the 200 butterfly.
The ironic part of the story is that after helping to place his UNO swimmers at other colleges, Horner quit his job at the school and was hired by FIU in the summer of 2010.
D’Antoni, who by this point was at Indian River, heard that Horner had landed at FIU and immediately sent him an email.
“This is crazy,” D’Antoni remembers thinking. “But after that, I had it in my mind since my freshman year that I was going to FIU.”
D’Antoni, now a junior, is a psychology major at FIU.
“When she emailed me two years ago, I told her: ‘I can’t wait to get you to FIU,’ ” Horner said. “What happened at New Orleans was unfathomable, devastating and crushing. But being able to finally sign her was one of the coolest things I’ve done in coaching.”
Horner said D’Antoni, 20, is a “solid” swimmer, the type a program needs to win championships.
A couple of weeks ago at the Mizzou Invitational in Columbus, Mo., D’Antoni had several lifetime bests.
Ultimately, though, she is gearing up for the Sun Belt Conference finals, which begin Feb. 27 in Rockwall, Texas.
“The 200 fly is my best event,” D’Antoni said. “I normally don’t get my best time until the end of the season, but I had my best time at Mizzou.
“Wow, I wonder what I will be doing at conference.”
Meanwhile, Horner, who is in his third season at FIU, is hoping things go better here than they did at New Orleans, where everything fell apart in Year Three.
Devan Martin, a senior on the Nova Southeastern women’s swim team, swam for Horner at UNO and praised her former coach’s commitment to his athletes.
“People cried when we got the news [at UNO],” Martin said. “I was heartbroken. But [Horner] was so helpful. He was the one who brought Nova to my attention.”