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Katie Bragen, Ally Lassen sign National Letters of Intent

Completing college applications is a task that Point Pleasant Borough High School seniors Katie Bragen and Ally Lassen can officially scratch from their ‘To Do’ lists, after signing National Letters of Intent to continue their athletic careers at the college level.

Bragen and Lassen, both 17, have a lot more to be thankful for going into the holiday season after, taking advantage of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) early signing period, they inked deals to compete, respectively, in track & cross country at Rutgers University and basketball at St. Francis College, both Division I schools.

On Nov. 9 – the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) initial signing date for prospective student-athletes - both girls along with their families and coaches and school and district administration crowded into Point Pleasant Borough High School’s athletic office as Katie and Ally took the final step in the college recruitment process – an amazing achievement for the girls as well as for the school’s running and basketball programs that was just slightly bittersweet.

“Point Pleasant Borough High School’s Track and Cross Country and Basketball teams are going to look and feel a lot different next year without Katie Bragen and Ally Lassen,” said Athletic Director Chris Ferrone. “Not only are Katie and Ally two of our teams’ top performers but they’re also excellent leaders and role models on their teams and school-wide and have been throughout their high school athletic careers. They’ve become so integral that it’s hard to imagine the teams without them.

“But Katie and Ally aren’t just outstanding athletes, they’re also excellent students and just all around great people and everyone from their teachers to their coaches and teammates agree that they are people you want on your team, and come fall 2017, that honor will belong to Rutgers University’s Track and Cross Country Teams and St. Francis College’s Basketball Team,” he said.

Katie BragenKatie Bragen
Over the past four years, Katie Bragen’s name has become synonymous in Point Pleasant Borough with running excellence. Running competitively since middle school, Katie has competed at the varsity level on the high school’s Cross Country and Winter and Spring Track Teams for all four years of high school and has served as Team Captain for all three teams last year. So far this year, she’s again served as Captain of the Cross Country Team. Throughout her high school running career, she has racked up an impressive list of awards and achievements and currently holds school records in both winter and spring track.

During her first season on the Panthers’ Cross Country team, Katie was named Rookie of the Year. She’s earned spots – seven times – on All Division, All Shore, All Group and All County teams, and is a three-time team MVP in Cross Country alone. Katie’s also earned multiple accolades for Track, having been recognized in several events both as an individual and as part of relay teams. In addition to being a four-time MVP in Track, she has earned spots on All Group and All Shore Conference teams and was named Winter Track’s NJSIAA Group II Champion of the year during her junior year. This list is poised to increase after Katie competes in her fourth and final Winter and Spring Track seasons.

Katie is also an excellent student, balancing her busy running schedule with a near perfect grade point average in an academic schedule filled with AP and Honors classes. She also participates in the Math League, Quiz Bowl, and the school newspaper.

“She’s very driven and ambitious,” said Katie’s mom Sandra Bragen, who along with her husband Tom and Katie’s twin brother Chris, was in attendance as Katie signed the papers that would officially make her a Scarlett Knight.

“She knew that she wanted to compete at the college level and she worked very hard to make that happen,” she said.

As an elite runner and excellent student, Katie was sought after by numerous prestigious colleges and universities, but after visiting Rutgers – her only official college visit – her decision was made.

“I knew almost immediately that I wanted to attend Rutgers,” Katie said. “I’m not very indecisive and I felt right away that Rutgers had everything I was looking for in a school – it wasn’t too far from home, it’s an excellent school academically and I really loved the coaches and my future teammates.”

Katie said when coming to her decision she sought the counsel of older brother TJ, a Rutgers alum, as well as Point Pleasant High School teacher John McAllen, also an alumnus, who was recently honored by his alma mater with the school’s Medal of Excellence Award.

“Knowing that several people I admire are Rutgers alumni helped me feel more confident in my decision,” she said.Katie Bragen NLI

Katie heads to Rutgers this summer, where she plans to study engineering. Though she will be sorely missed by her teammates and others, it’s likely her absence will be most profoundly felt by Coach Bill Kostenko, who has coached Katie in all three sports throughout her high school career.

“With Katie’s help, our team has gone from sixth place, to fifth, to fourth, to third place,” said Coach Kostenko. “That progression has everything to do with Katie.

“Having a student recruited by a Division 1 school is an amazing accomplishment and though I’m proud of Katie and for what this means for our program, we’re really going to miss her,” he said.

Besides her playing ability, Coach Kostenko said he will also miss Katie’s influence on her teammates.

“Katie has a bumper sticker on her car that reads ‘Make the world a better place’ and that’s what she does,” he said. “She inspires everyone around her to work harder, to be better. I’ve been coaching for 17 years and during that time I’ve had players that were hard-working, or nice or talented, Katie is all three, which is incredibly rare. She is a such huge part of our team and though I would love to keep her around indefinitely I know she’s ready to compete and succeed at the college level.”

Ally LassenAlly Lassen
Immediately after Katie Bragen completed her signing, Ally Lassen became the Class of 2017’s second member to sign a National Letter of Intent, committing to continue her basketball career at Brooklyn Height’s St. Francis College.

Parents Lisa and Guy Lassen, Coach Dave Drew, Athletic Director Chris Ferrone, Principal Kurt Karcich and Superintendent of Schools Vincent S. Smith were in attendance as Ally took the ceremonial last step in the college recruiting phase and signed the documents that would transform her from a Point Pleasant Borough Panther into a St. Francis Terrier.

“I immediately loved everything about St. Francis,” Ally said. “I visited the school last May and at the time, I wasn’t sure what I would think but I kept an open mind and was surprised by how much I loved it.”

That same day, Ally was offered a full scholarship to attend the school.

“It was a roller coaster,” Ally’s dad, Guy Lassen said of the process. “We went in for an initial visit and they immediately separated the parents from their children to conduct separate tours. We received the offer that day and at first we were a little hesitant to commit right away because we weren’t able to speak to Ally and didn’t know what she was feeling. Plus, it was the very first school where she attended an official visit.”

But after receiving a text from Ally, stating “I know I made the right decision,” the family was confident that St. Francis was the right fit and, a few days later, Ally verbally committed to the school.

“I was not expecting this,” Ally said of her signing with the Division I school. “I was strictly looking at Division II and III schools. I never imagined I’d go Division I.”

Nothing could be further from the truth according to Lady Panthers Basketball Coach Dave Drew, who said, “Ally’s signing is proof that hard work pays off and that good things happen to good people. She worked so hard for this. She is an all-around student-athlete; she’s a dedicated and committed athlete and a great student and community member. She deserves every success that’s coming her way.”Ally Lassen signs NLI

Playing basketball since fourth grade, Ally once considered her participation in the game as ‘just for fun.’

“I got serious about playing about two years ago,” Ally said.

As a high school freshman, Ally competed not only on the basketball team but also on the cross country and lacrosse teams. She continued with cross country until her sophomore year when she decided to dedicate her focus solely to basketball.

“I had always wanted to compete in basketball at the college level but thought I wasn’t good enough,” she said. “So I joined a travel league and worked on improving my game.”

And work she did, committing more than 30 hours a week to an intense training regimen. In addition to competing on the high school and travel teams, Ally trains four days a week, traveling about an hour away to practice at Metuchen’s HoopsAmerica. On her off days, she works out at a local gym with her dad.

Her hard work paid off and her game improved exponentially.

“During my sophomore year I scored about 100 points for the season, in my junior year that went up to 300 points,” she said.

It was during her junior year that Ally caught the attention of a scout from St. Francis.

“I remember the scout had come to watch another player and I remember him coming up to me and asking ‘Who is number 31’,” said Coach Drew. “I said ‘that’s Ally Lassen’ and the rest is history.”

The scout continued to pursue Ally, going to watch her play with her travel team, which eventually led to an invitation to visit the school, where she met her future coach and teammates.

“They were very welcoming,” Ally said of the coach and team. “I felt a connection with the girls and felt like I fit in immediately.”

That kinship and camaraderie with her teammates will be crucial during the long months of training and competition that will see Ally traveling throughout the Northeast.

“St. Francis competes in the [NCAA] Northeast Conference,” she said. “Most of our games will be in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut but we’ll play throughout the Northeast.”

That close proximity factored heavily into Ally’s parents’ decision about the school.

“Because the school is so close and their games are concentrated in this area, we can easily go and watch her play,” Mr. Lassen said.

The other factor that influenced the Lassen’s decision was the school’s academic reputation.

“St. Francis’s Women’s Basketball Team was recently rated number one on the WBCA Academic Top 25 Team Honor Roll,” Mrs. Lassen said. “That means they have the national-best grade point average over every other team that competes in the WBCA.”

St. Francis’s outstanding academic reputation will be a tremendous benefit to Ally as she pursues a major in education.

Though for many students balancing a busy athletic schedule with the hectic schedule of a college freshman would be a challenge, for Ally, it likely won’t be much different from her high school experience. An excellent student, Ally holds an A-average in a schedule filled with AP and Honors courses, while also serving as secretary to the Class of 2017, a position she’s held for the last two years. She’s also held leadership positions in the Key Club, currently serving as the organization’s president, and the high school’s Literary Magazine and has been a member of the Principal’s Advisory Committee in addition to her busy training and competition schedule.

Some students in the midst of their senior year, after having already been accepted to and awarded a full scholarship to college might be tempted to coast through the remainder of their final high school year. Some students - but not Ally Lassen, who has set for herself some rather lofty goals for her final season as a Panther.

 “I personally want to make All Division,” she said. “I also want the team to win the Division and go far in the WOBM Christmas Classic Tournament. And I want to continue to work hard and continue to improve my game so I can earn the ability to play college basketball as a freshman.”

“There is no greater testament to our district’s academic and co-curricular programs than the achievement of our students,” said Superintendent of Schools Vincent S. Smith. "And there is no greater achievement for our student-athletes than the signing of a National Letter of Intent – especially with a Division I school.”

Though it depends on the sport, according to recent NCAA statistics an average of only one- or two percent of all high school student-athletes are offered Letters of Intent with Division I schools. In women’s track and cross country, that number is about 2.7 percent; for women’s basketball the number is 1.2 percent.

“Katie Bragen and Ally Lassen’s signings exemplify the level of achievement that is possible when you combine commitment and dedication with hard work,” he said. “I look forward to following their continued successes for the remainder of high school and beyond.”