Eighteen-year-old twin sisters Ali and Meredith Doswell have been playing basketball together since they were 5 years old, so perhaps it's no surprise that the 2013 St. Catherine's graduates are playing together in college, too.
This fall, the Doswell twins will begin attending Amherst College in Massachusetts, where both are playing on the women's basketball team. Star athletes at St. Catherine's, the Doswell sisters both hit the 1,000-point mark in their high school basketball careers within weeks of each other.
"It is pretty unusual," concedes Ali. "I haven't heard of many twins going to the same place and playing [sports]."
"When we started the recruitment process, we knew we wanted to play together," Meredith says. If a college wasn't interested in taking the twins as a package, then they weren't interested in that college.
The fraternal twins fell in love with Amherst. "I'm really excited about the basketball program," says Meredith. "They won the national championship two years ago, and it's a really big opportunity to be able to be on the team and be part of a really good team."
"We were very excited to get them both," says Amherst women's basketball coach G.P. Gromacki. "They have a lot of similarities but also different talents. … They're really tough-minded. They want to win. … I think they're well-rounded individuals, successful young people that care about their academics, and that's one of the reasons they're going to Amherst. … We're expecting a lot of them."
While private school sports teams may not get as much press as their public school counterparts, Richmond's private schools have produced some impressive athletic alumni, from NFL players such as Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (a Collegiate School graduate) and retired Seahawks lineman Robert Pratt (a St. Christopher's graduate who now owns Sycamore Creek golf course in Goochland County) to James Madison University field hockey head coach Antoinette Lucas (a Collegiate graduate and 1996 Olympian who played in multiple World Cups).
"Most people out there probably aren't familiar with prep school athletics because … the number of people attending private school is smaller, but I'll tell you it's a really impressive level of play," says John Gordon, director of athletics at St. Christopher's. "Our student athletes are moving on to some pretty impressive colleges and universities to play athletics at a really high level." Those who are unfamiliar with private school athletics are also often surprised at the range of sports the schools offer, Gordon says.
For example, St. Catherine's has 15 sports ranging from traditional offerings, including basketball, field hockey and soccer, to more unusual sports such as squash and competitive sailing (the latter jointly run as a co-ed extracurricular with St. Christopher's.) Similarly, sports at St. Christopher's range from football, baseball and lacrosse to golf and futsal (a type of indoor soccer). Co-ed schools Collegiate and The Steward School each offer about 20 to 25 sports. Collegiate and St. Christopher's both also employ two full-time strength-and-conditioning coaches.
"We have large participation numbers," says St. Catherine's athletic director Julie Dayton. "There's so much depth to the athletic program. … Some of the public schools are just tremendous in what they offer, but we certainly have a unique situation where we can offer some things public schools can't."
Athletic facilities are also a selling point of private schools, which can raise money from wealthy alumni to build state-of-the-art playing fields and gymnasiums.
St. Gertrude's just opened its new $3.2 million outdoor athletic center in Henrico County near the intersection of East Parham Road and Interstate 95. The 16-acre property includes an artificial turf field, a grass field, soccer field, softball diamond and running trails. A tennis court will be added soon, says director of athletics Missy Ackerman.
Built in 2003, St. Catherine's 72,000-square-foot Kenny Sports and Fitness Center boasts a 25-yard indoor swimming pool with two one-meter diving boards, as well as a three-court gymnasium and a 4,000-square-foot weight and fitness room. (Schools such as St. Christopher's and St. Gertrude's also train in St. Catherine's pool.)
In addition, St. Catherine's owns a 145-acre outdoor property off River Road in Goochland County that has a 35-acre sports development complex with two softball fields and three Bermuda grass fields used for field hockey, soccer and lacrosse.
At St. Christopher's Kemper Athletic and Fitness Center, students have access to a large, fully equipped weight room, a wrestling room, two gyms with basketball courts and a full field house with an indoor track. Track teams from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond both train on the indoor track during the winter months. St. Christopher's also has a baseball field on site and is in the process of building a new artificial-turf football field accompanied by an eight-lane track and two natural-grass fields.
St. Christopher's and St. Catherine's tend to produce championship teams. St. Christopher's has earned the Virginia Preparatory League Director's Cup (presented to the school with the most league wins in a given year) 13 times since 1975, most recently in the last school year. St. Catherine's has "won league and state championships in just about every sport for the last five years," Dayton says. "We've had a really strong run."
As the old axiom goes, though, winning isn't everything. Private-school athletics are mostly about building strong, well-rounded students, athletic directors say. After all, famous St. Christopher's alumni, like bestselling authors Tom Wolfe and Dean King, were also star baseball and lacrosse players, respectively, during their high school and college days. Collegiate's Karen Doxey recalls one year when her school's quarterback had to be rushed back to school after a football game so he could play the lead in the school play.
"Teams at Collegiate are families," says Dodi Allocca, 17, a rising senior at Collegiate who will be attending Davidson College on a partial field hockey scholarship. "We're all about team bonding. … Everyone's included. Freshmen are our little babies; we take care of them. We just have a lot of fun with each other. It's about winning, but we definitely put each other first and teamwork is one of our major focuses."
Sports are "totally ingrained in our DNA … but we also have a great arts program as well," Doxey says. "We try to let everybody try anything they want [at Collegiate]. In general we're just trying to have a great experience for the kids. That's really what it's all about: providing an experience where they're going to learn about themselves and life's lessons."