Orono High School track standout Camille Kohtala was well armed as she pursued the right fit for her college destination.
The Red Riots senior not only is a high honors student, but she’s also one of New England’s top interscholastic long jumpers.
But when her search originally didn’t go exactly as planned, she used a more personal touch by combining her writing skills and a 19-foot, 4-inch long jump to advance her cause.
That Plan B resulted in a Plan A of sorts, as Kohtala has committed to attend the University of Alabama beginning this fall.
“I was very excited at the prospect of going to school someplace where it’s warm,” she said, “because my mom is from Florida, so I’ve always appreciated the warmer climate.”
Alabama also competes in the top NCAA Division I conference for track and field, the Southeastern Conference. The Crimson Tide is ranked sixth nationally, with fellow SEC schools Arkansas, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Louisiana State all in the top five.
“Their long jump coach [former Olympian Miguel Pate] has the indoor collegiate record in the long jump of [28-2 ¼],” said Kohtala, who plans to major in exercise science. “That was a really cool thing for me to see that the coach I would have is still one of the best jumpers the NCAA has seen.”
The daughter of Ed and Angie Kohtala will attend Alabama on a mix of merit scholarships and a partial athletic scholarship.
“They’re excited to see how competing where it’s warm all the time will help me in terms of how my muscles will work better and what will happen once I get into serious lifting and having different coaching and getting to compete at such a high level every week,” she said.
Kohtala is Maine’s reigning Class C outdoor state champion in the 200- and 400-meter runs, and last fall won the Class C North individual cross-country title while leading Orono to its second straight state championship.
Last winter Kohtala soared to the second-best long jump in state history, a 19-4 effort at the Penobscot Valley Conference-Eastern Maine Indoor Track League championships. That trails only the 2015 jump of 20-4 3/4 by Lake Region of Naples standout Kate Hall, who became a Division I national champion at the University of Georgia and now is pursuing a professional career.
Kohtala also won the 200 and 400 en route to being named the outstanding small-school performer at the PVC-EMITLs, then captured Class B indoor state championships in the 400 (1:01.59) and long jump (18-4 3/4).
Kohtala placed fifth in the long jump at the New England Interscholastic Indoor Track & Field Championships with a best of 18-3.
She originally thought sprinting would add fuel to her college track future, but once she switched from cheering to indoor track during the winter of her junior year, Kohtala experienced dramatic improvement in the long jump.
Her best as a sophomore outdoors was 15-8, but by her first season of indoor competition, she had topped that by nearly 2 1/2 feet at 18-2.
Kohtala’s best of 19-4 matches the standard by which Alabama determines whether scholarship money should be awarded to an athlete for that event.
“It was exciting to see how much I improved when I switched to indoor because my indoor coach Miguel Caballero was so smart and knowledgeable about the long jump, and the things he did to change my technique were a big part of why I improved so much,” Kohtala said.
Until that record jump, Kohtala found it difficult to separate herself from the pack among all the student-athletes around the country being recruited by Division I track and field programs.
She spent much of last year filling out questionnaires on college athletic websites as well various recruiting sites, but with limited results.
“That was when I decided that if I want people to notice me I’m going to have to do something myself,” Kohtala said.
Kohtala began writing individual letters directly to the jump coaches at 35 schools in which she was interested.
“I just tried to say something personal about each school and why I liked it, and listed all my accomplishments and gave them my SAT scores,” said Kohtala, who researched teams’ standards, the makeup of their rosters and their academic offerings.
“Then I just said, ‘I’d love to talk to you about your program.’”
The personal touch worked, as she said coaches from nine or 10 Division I programs responded to her letters.
“A lot of coaches said the way I structured the letters was unique and got their attention,” said Kohtala, who also heard from the likes of Virginia Tech and Notre Dame — even before eclipsing 19 feet.
That Feb. 10 performance increased her visibility even more, attracting the likes of Florida and Alabama.
Kohtala made official visits to Northeastern and Notre Dame before traveling to Alabama recently. After consulting with her parents upon her return to Maine, she decided to roll with the Crimson Tide.
Kohtala sees her letter-writing campaign as an option for other Maine student-athletes with Division I college aspirations.
“Maine has so many fewer kids in general than many other states, and it’s just harder to get your name out there in any sport unless you’re doing things on the national level,” she said. “That’s why I think it’s good to reach out to specific schools to get their attention.
“I think a lot of people would be surprised at the types of schools they might get interest from that they didn’t think they could just from reaching out and taking that chance.”