Editor's note: In this article, the second in a series chronicling Guam’s student-athletes taking their skills to the next level, The Guam Daily Post will focus on the rising level of island sports and hear from three local heroes who put in the work and made the sacrifices to become members of the exclusive NCAA Division 1. In future articles, more in-depth articles covering these three athletes and more than 45 others will be published.
With nearly 50 student-athletes from Guam competing in college sports, island athletics is more robust than ever before. And with 14 playing at the highest level, NCAA Division 1 or its equivalent, the island’s best athletes are putting Guam on the map.
“Your experience as a Division I athlete is different from a normal college student,” said Lavona Aromin, an Academy of Our Lady of Guam graduate who plays for Mount Saint Mary’s University women’s rugby team in Emittsburg, Maryland. “You wake up at 5 (a.m.), you finish around 10 p.m., and you repeat your routine the next day.
“A normal college student will be, wake up at 12 (noon), go to class, then go to sleep.”
At Academy, Lavona Aromin’s teachers and rugby coaches TJ and Janice Ada prepared her well for the next level, but learning how to handle the relentless demands and becoming receptive to change were a big adjustment.
What had worked for her on Guam was not going to cut it in D1.
"If I wanted to become better, I had to open my mind," she said.
MSM head women's rugby coach Farrah Douglas and the other coaches “really push me beyond my limits,” she added.
In NCAA Division 2 and 3 programs, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and other international collegiate sports divisions, student-athletes usually have more time to devote to their social lives, but not in D1.
The demand is great, and the pressure is real.
“On top of the workload, there’s also pressure from your team and the stress that comes from the team, and the stress that comes from school, and there’s no time to talk to your family,” Lavona Aromin said. “Sometime I’ll get calls from my mom and I will only talk to her for 30 seconds and be, ‘hey, Mom, I’m studying for my exam,’ or, ‘hey, Mom, I’m going to bed,’ or, ‘hey, Mom, I’m going to lift.’”
But just as she starts to think her stress is about to boil over, a WhatsApp message from her parents, Ray and Stephanie Aromin, motivates her to stay on course.
“It’s the little thing get me through, just a text from my mom saying, ‘have a great day, work hard,’” she said.
Friars' Kyle Halehale breaks through to the bigs
When Father Duenas Memorial School Friars’ Kyle Halahale received notice he was accepted at Central Connecticut State University and would become a member of the Blue Devils men’s soccer team, it was a culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice finally paying off.
“I’m blessed that I’m one of the few athletes that is able to play Division I sports,” Halehale said.
"I’m really blessed that I’m able to continue playing my sport and going to school," he added.
“I am hoping to inspire a new generation of kids, and I hope my story can help others try and play at a higher level, the highest level they possibly can,” he said.
For Halehale, becoming a member in Guam’s D1 club has taken sacrifice. Each summer, while his classmates and peers spent time at the beach or just being teenagers, he traveled off island to join soccer leagues and raised his level of play.
With limited competition on island, Halehale said, it is important to pursue sports in the U.S., or elsewhere, and take advantage of opportunities.
“The level of competition on Guam, to be honest, is not that high,” he said. “It’s very important for student-athletes to not stay complacent, stay humble, and know there are better people out there and try to push yourself to play at the highest level you can.”
Mason Caldwell brushes up on tennis at Colgate
When 2019 Harvest Christian Academy graduate Mason Caldwell was choosing a college, long before having selected Colgate University, playing D1 sports was not one of his goals. Rather, the Eagles tennis standout had planned on picking a college that offered an excellent academic curriculum and where he could still compete.
His sights were set on D3.
But after talking with Bobby Pennington, Colgate’s head coach, Caldwell chose the D1 Raiders.
"Actually, when I was looking at schools, … I wasn’t looking at playing Division I at all,” Caldwell said. “I was looking at D3 because I wanted more of the academics than full-on athletics, but Colgate gave a pretty good mix of the two.”
At first, when Caldwell arrived on campus, he was starstruck. Every time he turned his head, he would see an athlete who was about to go pro.
“We have a guy who’s looking to get signed in the NFL,” he said. “We’ve got a guy who declared for the NBA draft. We have a couple of MLS and NHL players.
“It’s crazy seeing the groups of people that I meet on campus, and just to be a part of the group is pretty awesome.”
At school, every time he steps on a court, Caldwell is proud of what he has accomplished, but even more gratified at representing his island.
"I’m a CHamoru kid from Guam playing Division I sports,” he said. “Every time I go on a court, I’m not just representing me, I’m representing my old coaches, my old teammates, the island itself.
“I think that’s such an important part of going out and playing sports, showing what Guam is about.”