Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School senior Madison Hughes thought she knew what to expect as she walked to the hallway in front of the athletic director’s office on Monday morning. Her parents, Alleyne and Phil. Her grandparents, Jan and Larry. High school principal Steve Nixon and athletic director Mark McCarthy. Three copies of a letter of intent to play Division 1 lacrosse for Central Connecticut State University, each one waiting for her signature.
But a bigger crowd of more than 40 people had already gathered by the time she came around the corner. And once the clapping and the cheers of “Yeah, Maddie!” started bouncing off the walls as soon as Hughes’s blonde hair and striped sweater came into view, it seemed even larger.
Hughes left the letters unsigned for a few minutes longer as she turned to thank her friends, classmates and family.
“It means a lot,” she said. “I just really want to thank the coaches, my mentors — you guys are what got me here . . . I really want to thank my grandparents for being here [and] most importantly, my parents.”
“I walked in overwhelmed,” she admitted after the signing, after she had tried on her new CCSU hat and hugged nearly every person in a 10-foot vicinity. “It just shows how much people support you, and it’s just really nice to know.”
While the girls’ lacrosse program frequently sends players to Division 3 schools, Hughes, a midfielder/attacker, is the first to go through the lengthy process of D1 recruiting. She is also the first girl to sign with a D1 program of any kind since field hockey player Liane Dixon went off to Northeastern 11 years ago.
“I’m thrilled for Maddie; I’m thrilled for Central Connecticut,” said girls’ lacrosse coach Betsy Dripps in a phone interview with the Gazette. Coach Dripps was visiting family out West and was unable to attend the signing.
“I’m pretty protective,” she continued. “I want [my players] to get a good coach and a good program.”
CCSU, located in New Britain, is part of the Northeast Conference, which includes Quinnipiac, Mount St. Mary’s, and Robert Morris. The Blue Devils were 7-9 last season, and begin this season under first-year head coach Kelly Nangle.
“It’s . . . nice because I was born in Connecticut,” said Hughes, “It’s really exciting to be able to have family in the area. And I just knew it was a good fit for me academically [Hughes is an honors student at the high school].”
Her recruiting process began two years ago, as she began visiting schools across the country while participating in off-Island clinics and attending lacrosse camps — all of this in addition to playing varsity soccer and basketball, and competing in tae kwon do.
But lacrosse has been her sport of choice since fifth grade.
“I just love it so much,” Hughes said. “I could play every day.”
Last spring, Hughes finished the season with 32 goals scored and 24 assists, earning an honorable mention in Eastern Athletic Conference All-Star voting. She will cocaptain the girls’ team next year with fellow senior Shelby Ferry.
“I told their coach in an e-mail, she’s really lucky to have a player like [Maddie],” said Coach Dripps. “She’s a very team-oriented player, [and] works really hard to use what talent she has to bring the other players up to her level.”
Hughes’s dedication to her sport and her team is evident even when she isn’t wearing her purple-and-white jersey on game day.
“Some kids are not practice players,” Coach Dripps said. “Maddie is.”
“She’s a dedicated student-athlete, and she’s done a lot to get to this point,” Mr. Hughes after the signing, the notes of pride unmistakable in his voice.
“She was looking at Tennessee and Colorado,” said Mrs. Hughes. “I was glad she picked closer to home, so we could go watch her.”
For Hughes’s grandparents, visiting from Virginia, the culmination of the recruiting process came as a complete surprise — they didn’t find out about the signing until the morning of the event.
“They kept it from us [until now],” said Larry Hughes.
And as Jan Hughes hugged her granddaughter, her words could be heard even over the hallway din.
“This is the best gift I’ve ever gotten.”