The walk-on experience for athletes at CWU

The college recruitment process involves evaluating many impressive athletes that stand out from the crowd. However, some athletes can be overlooked and undervalued. These walk-on athletes have unique stories with one common similarity; the odds were against them to make a collegiate athletic roster.


Heather Stewart

Chaz McKenzie.

Dez Rodriguez, Staff Reporter

The college recruitment process involves evaluating impressive athletes that stand out from the crowd. In that same crowd, however, there are athletes that are overlooked and undervalued. These are the walk-on athletes. These types of athletes have a unique story with one common similarity: the odds were against in making a collegiate athletic roster.

Chaz McKenzie

CWU sophomore defensive back Chaz McKenzie took a liking to baseball while growing  up. It wasn’t until his sophomore year at Todd Beamer High School that he played football for the first time. The sport immediately caught his attention, so he continued playing and dedicated his time to the game.

Even after starting his football career late, McKenzie was able to receive offers from a couple of Division III colleges,and chose to continue his career at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. After a year of what McKenzie describes as not a good fit, he decided to transfer closer to friends and family.

McKenzie’s friends on the CWU football team helped convince him to attend by talking about the idea of him making the team.His focus then shifted to tryouts and he trained months in advance to prepare himself.

“I came here to do whatever I could to make the team,” McKenzie said.

However, doing whatever he could still didn’t help him make the team. McKenzie was cut from tryouts in the spring. Determined to not give up, he gave it one last shot by emailing defensive backs coach Benny Boyd.

“I told him I know I can play for this team. I’m confident in my abilities,” McKenzie said. “Just give me one more chance. If you still don’t like me, then cut me again.”

He was greeted by a text the next morning, receiving praise for his perseverance and an invite to practice. McKenzie went to the next practice and received good news after having a better tryout; he made the team.

“I’ve been told that I was too small in every sport,” McKenzie said. “If you want something, you have to go get it.”

Miles King
Jax Wettland.

Jax Wettland

After watching her older sister play soccer, Jax Wettland fell in love with the game at five years old. This passion would grow on her as she played soccer her entire life. In her first two years at Bonney Lake

High School, Wettland was a varsity starter. She was having a lot of success, when in a blink of an eye, soccer was taken away from her.

“I got hit playing soccer and my hip dislocated,” Wettland said. “When I fell, it relocated and tore my labrum.”

At the age of sixteen, Wettland needed labrum surgery to repair the damage. The injury knocked her out of her final two years of her high school career, the prime years of recruitment for athletes. As a result, she didn’t receive any offers to play soccer from any schools. With these circumstances, she decided to go with the best school for her education.

“I came here mainly for academics and I thought why not try to walk-on and see where it goes,” Wetland said.

She emailed CWU soccer coach Michael Farrand about the possibility of trying out for the team. After exchanging information about her career, she was brought in for a tryout.

“You come in by yourself with the whole team and go through a practice,” Wettland said. “At the end he told me that he thought I’d make a great team member on this team.”

Wettland is redshirting this year and hopes that she’ll be brought back for the team next year. For now, she’s at every practice enjoying every second with the soccer team.

“I’m here to have fun, stay in shape, and play the game that I love,” Wettland said.

Donovan Barnhart

CWU sophomore cross country runner Donovan Barnhart figured out he had an ability to run by accident. With a plan to play basketball throughout his high school career, he joined the cross country team hoping that it would help him get in better shape. After going through the season, he learned that he was better at the new sport.

“I was a little better than I thought and maybe had a chance to get into a collegiate program,” Barnhart said.

Barnhart ran on varsity all four years at Everett High School. The success really started to show when he qualified individually for state in his senior season. The achievement didn’t generate any scholarship offers, so he had to decide which school presented the best opportunity for his running career.

“I ended up choosing to come here [to CWU] because of location,” Barnhart said. “I liked the idea of coming to Ellensburg and the team idea than I did at Western or Portland State.”

Barnhart got in contact through email with cross country coach Kevin Adkisson. He was able to visit with the team and begin tryouts towards the end of August. There, the athletes underwent a week where they did workouts and a time trial that simulated a race at the end of the week. The accumulation of those numbers throughout the week determined which runners would make the team and race for the season.

“I was pretty stressed out for the week,” Barnhart said. “I felt really happy to make it.”

Ashley Fahey

Entering Peninsula High School in Gig Harbor, Washington, CWU freshman cross country runner Ashley Fahey had no intentions of running.

“I loved to run, but when I went into high school I actually didn’t do cross country until junior year,” Fahey said. “I didn’t think I wanted to run in college till the end of that year.”

After seeing how much joy running brought into her life, Fahey looked for potential schools that she could try out to run for. When looking for the right fit, the distance from her home and the school’s reputation played a major role in her decision and ultimately was what made her choose CWU over other in-state schools.

Fahey emailed Adkisson and discussed the likelihood of her making the team and what numbers she would need to have a good chance at a roster spot. They scheduled a day for her to visit campus and have lunch with the team.

“I was meeting a bunch of people I didn’t know, but everyone was super nice so that made me feel a lot more comfortable,” Fahey said. “I’m happy to be here.”