Reece Alexander never got a chance to hear the news from a coach with the East Carolina swimming and diving team — a program to which the 17-year-old was verbally committed since January. Arguably, they were just as blindsided by what transpired May 21.
Alexander, a rising senior at Reagan, said instead she got a text roughly two months ago from her mother, Melanie, about East Carolina's decision to disband its swimming and diving program, which claimed four American Athletic Conference titles in a six-year span, because of budget cuts. She mentioned a few Instagram posts regarding the decision as well.
The blow was "pretty devastating" for Alexander, the Raiders' three-time Central Piedmont 4-A all-conference pick, who felt she found the proper fit within a close-knit Division I program close to home. Attempts to save the team followed — a Change.org petition and, according to Alexander, Melanie sent emails appealing to East Carolina interim chancellor Ron Mitchelson in May.
But as COVID-19 took a toll Alexander's swimming schedule, the hunt to find a new college program nearly ended in destiny. The day the Pirates became a thing of the past, she received an email from Keary McClernan, the assistant coach at UNC Wilmington — a program that extended Alexander an offer back in December. And, last week, she committed to the Seahawks.
"She emailed me that same day saying, 'We're still interested and we still want you,'" said Alexander, who added that search included quite a few prayers. "Looking back on it, it was kind of meant to be. It was so soon after the announcement came out — an hour, probably.
"I was pretty stressed about everything, you know, starting my recruiting process again. Because coaches want to fill their rosters as quickly as possible. So I didn't feel pressure to commit anywhere, but I definitely wanted to just because I liked having that feeling of knowing where I was going."
Alexander said she was in contact with Michigan State, James Madison and Cincinnati after ECU's disbandment. Pittsburgh already extended an offer as well. A few conversations with Bobby Guntoro, who became the Seahawks coach July 23 after serving as associate head coach at N.C. State, played a role in a decision she hopes will mean an appearance at the NCAA championships.
Guntoro saw Alexander compete in Cary in late November with the Riptyde club team out of the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina and win a 100-yard butterfly race with a time of 55.19 seconds. Alexander, who visited UNCW in October, said the shift to the Seahawks was yet another opportunity to remain in close to home — and the beach is a welcomed addition, too.
"It was really special because I think everyone in the swimming world knows who he is," Alexander said of Guntoro, a former UNCW standout. I just felt like I was believed in again, after ECU cut their program. I felt so much peace about it. And, the other schools I had been in contact with, I really liked them.
"But none of them felt right, if that makes sense."
That development offered by Guntoro is undoubtedly appealing. And, at this point, it's tough to come by amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Alexander, who holds an individual school record in the 100-yard butterfly and team time in the 400-yard freestyle relay at Reagan, rattled off a few meets of significance nixed because of COVID-19 — including the YMCA Long Course National Championship this month at the Greensboro Aquatic Center.
Without a meet schedule this summer, socially distanced training has been at the forefront, Alexander said. But even that poses roadblocks. Bolton Pool, a practice facility for the Riptyde, closed this week after two employees tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend.
"You take it one day at a time," Alexander said. "Because everything changes so quickly."