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Hatboro-Horsham's Alice Hall headed to MIT

12/20/2021, 11:15pm EST
By Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)

HORSHAM — Alice Hall still doesn't know the "correct" way to do long division.

While that might seem like an alarming thing for someone just accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to say, Hall has no problem getting to the right answer even if she does it her way. The Hatboro-Horsham senior is no doubt brilliant and a remarkable student, but she's also a pretty good basketball player.

Alice Hall (above) has committed to play and study at one of the top universities in the world, MIT. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)

The academics were never an issue, unorthodox division methods aside, but the basketball side needed a little prodding for Hall to realize she could still do both at the next level, as she will next year at MIT.

"I've always known I wanted to go to as prestigious a school as I could," Hall said. "Both of my parents went to Columbia, so there was always that kind of standard. For a while, I wasn't sure if I wanted to play basketball but during the quarantine, that's when I realized I needed to play the sport.

"Basketball's never been my priority, it's always been school. I love science, my mom is always telling me I should pursue engineering and there's no better school for engineering than MIT, but they're also Division III and I thought it was really cool I had a chance to do both."

Hall made her announcement on Saturday, the first day she was able to because it was the same day she learned she had been accepted into MIT. It is among the most stringent academic institutions in the country, with the Institute's website listing 20,075 applicants for the Class of 2024 with just 1,457 gaining admittance.

Here's some division: that's a seven-percent acceptance rate.

"I think my parents and especially my grandma, they put it on so early I think it was always ingrained in me to the point my mom has actually tried to get me to focus a little more on basketball," Hall said. "I wanted to do school so much and my parents really wanted me to take the time and use basketball as a way to get all I could out of where I wanted to go to school."

For some athletes, there's a moment or a year where they start to realize they're doing things nobody else around them is or can do. For Hall, it was more gradual, but she did start to see signs that she was in a different place than some of her classmates.

She was finishing tests very quickly, not spending a lot of time going through every question or prompt but still doing very well. Eventually, she was given the chance to skip a year ahead in math, which leads to the whole long division thing.

"I never really understood where I was with anything, I'd take tests really quickly but I wasn't getting 100s so it wasn't until third grade when I took this test and all of a sudden I was being told I could skip a grade in math," Hall said. "They gave me all the fourth grade math books and said next year I would take fifth grade math.

"That summer, I was supposed to do all the fourth grade books and I didn't do them so I never actually took fourth-grade math. I don't know how to do long division the correct way but I'll figure it out, I'll get the answer but I don't know how to do it."

Hall added she ran out of math classes she could take with Hatboro-Horsham's block schedule system last year, so she's filled the gap this year with AP Spanish, AP statistics, a health and nutrition class and AP Physics electricity and magnetism.

On top of all that, she uses her study hall block to work an internship with Dow Chemical.

"It's a paid internship, so you can't get school credit or call it an internship class," Hall said. "It's mostly customer service, I pull documents customers would need but it was a cool opportunity and I'm really interested in chemistry, it's always been my favorite subject."

MIT, located in Cambridge, Mass., does not offer athletic scholarships for any of its sports programs. It's also a very different process for prospective student-athletes like Hall.

The waiting period is much longer, she had no guarantee of a spot on the roster or even in the incoming class of students; her future coach, Lucia Robinson-Griggs, could only support her application but ultimately, her place on the team was contingent on her being in that select number accepted into the school. Fittingly, during a team camp at her parents' alma mater Columbia, Hall got her first chance to talk with MIT coaches and get the process going.

"I had talked to a ton of other coaches, I only just started talking with MIT recently and when I first contacted her, she right away told me what it entailed," Hall said. "Because it's so strict, if I wanted to go there, I had to wait until this past weekend to even know and wouldn't be able to commit to other schools I had offers at.

"It was a hard decision and for a while, I was almost trying to convince myself I didn't want to go there because it's that long of a wait but after I went on my official visit, I knew I wanted to be at MIT and it made it worth the wait."

Under Robinson-Griggs, in her first year as a head coach, the Engineers are currently 4-5; in their last full season of competition, they went 15-12, including 7-3 in the NEWMAC. 

Hall said Johns Hopkins was a firm No. 2 option and the only other school she took an official visit to for basketball and was also interested in the University of Chicago but MIT always remained the goal.

While basketball is a necessary escape and release valve for Hall, the senior several times joking her mom "yells" at her to practice it more, she is good at it. A 6-foot-1 forward, Hall was a second team All-SOL Liberty pick last year, is a two-time team captain for the Hatters and a smooth athlete, she's capable of leading the break, making a pass on the move and scoring anywhere inside the arc.

It wasn't until the last couple years, when she switched AAU programs to Rebels Basketball Academy, that Hall started seeing it as more than just an activity. She credits her Rebels coach Steve Polinsky, also the head girls' basketball coach at New Hope-Solebury for putting her on MIT's radar by sending film and contacting the coaching staff.

While they weren't the biggest program, the 2022 Rebels had roster of good players and people including Polinsky's daughter Kristin (CR North), Shannon Morgan (Archbishop Wood), Sammi White (Villa Joseph Marie), Tori Nigro (VJM), Katie McGrath (Jenkintown), Nicole Pompilli (Pennsbury), Hannah Rhoades (Abington Friends) and Mackenzie Erb (CB South).

"As soon as I got there, I loved it," Hall said. "Everyone is so supportive of each other, we all had different goals, but everyone was so understanding and I'd say that's been the most impactful thing on me deciding I wanted to play basketball because they made it so fun."

While the Hatters' girls' basketball program hasn't been as successful as some other SOL teams, it has improved in Hall's time at Hatboro-Horsham. The program had also gone a few years without sending a player on to the college level but where Hall takes the most pride in her career at H-H is the change in atmosphere within the program.

"I remember seeing Ava Sciolla from Pennsbury had said something like 'it's cool to go to a program that's already great, but it's even better to go to one that isn't and make it great,'" Hall said. "That spoke to me, I actually was on her team at the time, and it made me want to do all I could to make basketball more of a thing here. When I got here, nobody really tried that much and it wasn't cool to try so it's been fun making it something that's that kind of fun for other people, or try to at least."

The senior has also been a part of the girls' soccer program, which she said is very much just for fun and to spend more time with her teammates but has also played an important part of her high school experience. Many of her basketball teammates, including fellow starters Emily Thomas, Caroline Shegogue and Sam Hollish, are some of the soccer team's top performers and in Monday's win over Bristol, most of the soccer girls not on the basketball team were in the stands cheering for them.

Thomas, also a senior, even left the team locker room on Monday wearing an MIT hoodie and the crowd in the stands had plenty of MIT-related comments for Hall throughout the Hatters' 50-11 win.

"Soccer's always been the 'fun and friend' sport and they could not have been more supportive when I was trying to decide where I wanted to go," Hall said. "It's nice to have that place to not stress because I still freak out before every basketball game. It's really more me supporting my friends because all of them are so into soccer."

Hall is planning to study chemical engineering at the moment. Her parents, Rebecca Powals and Chris Hall, both studied engineering at Columbia and chemistry has long been Alice's favorite branch of the sciences so for her, it again mixed the best of both worlds.

While having her grandma, Jill Gerhardt, her parents and her step-dad John Zeszotarski - who has a PhD in chemistry - driving her to be academically engaged and challenged could have put pressure on Hall to live up to high expectations, she actually feels it was the opposite. They opened the doors and exposed her to math and science and all that comes from there and it was up to her to go and get what she wanted out of it.

Hall said she expects only A-pluses and no A's, which challenges her to be "perfect on every test and not just good."

"It's not something I would ever want to change, I'm glad they made me the way that I am," Hall said. "I hope I can make my kids like that, without freaking them out too much. I do feel a lot of pressure but I think I put a lot of it on myself.

"Looking back, when I was younger I can see the reason I didn't always try hard was because I knew it didn't matter and I was going to do fine anyway. Going up a grade helped so much in teaching me to focus and take things seriously and realize if I wanted to be good, I had to prove myself."

Hall's relationship with basketball is one where she doesn't think much about it until she's actually doing it and that's when the feeling hits of how much she does love the game. It's the perfect compliment and motivator, which is why she couldn't see herself not doing it anymore after this year.

Learning will always come first, but when she needs it, the game will always be there for her.

"I'd rather study than play basketball, which my friends think is very weird and why my mom always yells at me to practice more," Hall said. "I'm someone who wants to just know things, which is why I like math and I think chemistry also reflects that."

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