Spring Lake Park High School graduates Sara Carmean and Mitch Raihle were ready to start new chapters to their lives last fall as freshmen
at the University of North Dakota. Both were on the women’s and men’s swimming and diving teams after standout careers with the Panthers.
The next four years were set until the school announced on March 29 it is cutting the swimming and diving teams and the women’s hockey
team as part of the school’s effort to lower budgets due to an anticipated drop in state funding.
It was a whirlwind day in Grand Forks. A press conference was announced for later in the afternoon, but leaks on social media already broke the news for players and coaches before the administration was able to tell them face to face.
Raihle was in the middle of practice when another swimmer walked in and said they had a mandatory meeting in 30 minutes. Raihle asked if they were being cut and his teammate shook her head yes.
The team still finished the rest of practice.
Carmean was in her dorm room when she got an email and figured out the news scrolling through Twitter.
“It was just a shocker, because we had really no idea we were being considered being cut,” Carmean said. “It just wasn’t the ideal situation, how we found out.”
The cuts leave players and coaches with uncertain futures. The students have to decide in the next month if they will transfer to another school or stay at UND.
With it being so late in the academic year, the openings are slim.
“As the meeting ended, I had the mindset that I didn’t come to a Division I program to dive for one year,” Raihle said. “I want to compete for three more years, so I am planning on going somewhere else. I don’t know where yet. It’s hard when you find out your team is being cut in April. Some deadlines are past for applying to schools. And for most teams, they already have their full roster set. So it’s hard to give out scholarships.”
Carmean said she’s torn at the moment and is laying out all her options. Her UND coaches have helped her reach out to different schools and swimming programs. Carmean is talking to 10-12 schools right now and is narrowing them down to what place fits her best academically and athletically.
It’s led to a frustrating and challenging week.
“Well, today is the first day I haven’t cried (since the announcement),” Carmean said during an April 3 interview. “Otherwise, I think I’ve been handling it decently. I’ve been talking to coaches and they seem very supportive. It’s just hard to find places that still have athletic money and are able to offer scholarship or roster spots. It’s hard to think about leaving my wonderful coaches. They have really supported me and changed my whole life as a person and a swimmer.”
The Fighting Hawks enjoyed one of their best seasons this year. Both teams placed fifth at the Western Athletic Conference championship, their highest ever.
The women’s team broke all five relay records at the WAC championship. UND also had individuals compete at the national level, including Raihle.
Now, the teammates and friends are forced to go their separate ways.
“This wasn’t a team, this was a family,” Raihle said. “It’s really hard to be ripped apart like this. Everyone leaving that meeting was crying. It was really hard for the athletes and coaches. It was really a family being ripped apart … It was poor timing and planning. I’m kind of just speechless. Everyone is flustered looking for different places to go last second.”
“Our team is a family. It really is,” Carmean added. “They are my best friends. They are my brothers and sisters. It’s going to be so hard to leave them. These coaches are my second family, my second dads. I go to them for everything and they help me with everything. All these girls on my team are my best friends. It’s going to be weird not having them here next year wherever I end up and they end up. We’re all going to be in different places. It’s hard to think about that.”