CUMBERLAND — For Courtney Kent and the University of Vermont, it was love at first sight.
Last February Cumberland High senior swim phenom Courtney Kent and coach Heidi Josephson trekked to Boston to watch the America East Conference Swimming and Diving Championships. The reason for the trip: She wanted to see the University of Vermont compete, and meet with women's head coach Gerry Cournoyer, not to mention some of his swimmers.
“I loved Gerry and what he stood for, and I also loved the girls,” she said. “I thought, because it's only a women's team, it was more of a family, a sisterhood, than most teams. The whole atmosphere, everyone was so close, so loving, so friendly, I fell in love with the idea of going to school there.”
Wednesday afternoon, Kent made it official by signing her letter of intent with Vermont, with her family, including her parents, Michael and Wendy, older sister Victoria and kid brother Harrison, and friends looking on in the CHS foyer.
She sat a table with a sign in the school colors of blue and white offering “Congratulations!” She then inked her signature on forms making her a Catamount full-scholarship student-athlete on this National Letter-of-Intent Signing Day.
When that was over, and the entourage – among them Josephson, Athletic Director Frank Geiselman. Principal Alan Tenreiro and other educators, staff and fellow swimmers – Kent delivered an informal speech.
She thanked her mom and dad, her teammates with both the Clippers and Crimson Aquatics, her teachers, Josephson and former mentor Bruce Calvert for “keeping me going, keeping me motivated and strong.”
Later, she said that she had been pondering attending Brown University.
“I had been thinking about it because it's so close, and because I always loved the school and its Ivy League tradition, but the scholarship offer at Vermont was more suitable for me,” she noted. “In the end, I just loved the team and school, and thought it was a better fit.
“It's a perfect mix of academics and athletics for me,” she added. “It's a very prestigious university, but I also feel the swim team will challenge me and help me get better.”
Kent, who will major in pre-medicine as she someday wants to become a doctor to help others, claimed she finally made the choice one early October morning.
“I woke up, went downstairs and told my mom, 'I decided to go to Vermont,'” she chuckled. “I knew it was a great it for me to get away and to experience the next chapter my life.”
She mentioned Cournoyer, himself a 1986 CHS graduate and former coach of the Boys & Girls Club of Cumberland-Lincoln Penguins' youth squad, played a major role in her resolution.
“He meant a lot,” she stated. “Gerry was from here, and he understood my swimming background, plus we were both taught how to swim by Bruce. When I called him to say I wanted to go there, he said they all would be thrilled for me to become a part of their family. He had said he was trying to build the distance program up there, and felt I could really help them achieve that.”
Her resume in the pool is amazing. Since her freshman year, she has captured five of her possible six state individual championships in the 200- and 500-yard freestyles; earned two straight Bay View Invitational Most Valuable Swimmer laurels; and competed in several high-caliber national USA Swimming, Inc. championship events.
As for scholastics, Kent last year snared Academic All-American honors as a junior, and has been an All-Star in the classroom, maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Likewise, she has twice represented the Ocean State at the annual National Writing Competition.
“She told me about three weeks to a month ago,” Josephson indicated. “Actually, it's kind of funny, because I found out first from Gerry, who was a teammate of mine here. We've always been close, so he called me and was ecstatic about landing someone with so much talent, both in the pool and academically.
“He said he knew she was down to Brown and UVM, and also what Brown had to offer someone like Courtney. (Brown) has a new pool and great facilities, and just the fact it's an Ivy League school that it would be a tough decision. He also told me he knew what he could offer her.
“In the end, I think his personality and coaching style fits in with what Courtney was looking for,” she continued. “It's an excellent school, and he's built a tremendous program up there in Burlington. I'm thrilled and very happy for her. She's a very hard worker, both academically and athletically, beyond what I could ever describe to you. She's passionate about her swimming, and I think she's made a fantastic choice.”
Offered Wendy Kent: “Coach Gerry drove down here, four hours each way, and he's such a good guy. Courtney knew when she talked to him what a good fit it would be for her. He's a great family man, and he's a man of integrity. We share the same values when it comes to faith and family. We knew it would be great for Courtney.
“We're so proud of her.”
Kent didn't know for sure, but indicated her best times currently – including 4:53.5 in the 500, 10:03.0 in the 1,000 and 16:48.5 in the 1,650 freestyles – would be competitive with among the top Catamount distance women.
As for the fete held in her honor on Wednesday, she blushed a bit.
“It's kind of shocking, but I knew my friends and family would support me with this decision,” she said while taking bites of a chocolate cake with chocolate pudding in the middle (and covered with a white frosting so the UVM insignia would shine on top). “I honestly can't wait.
“But I still have my senior swim season to think about,” she added. “That comes first.”