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Where she's supposed to be: Lowell cross country state champion James verbally commits to Toledo

HIGHLAND -- The hardest part of the recruiting process for Karina James was having to say no to all but one of her suitors.

"Something I really struggle with I'm a people pleaser," the Lowell senior said. "Letting someone down feels wrong. I don't want to be mean to anyone."

Ultimately, the Red Devils state champion knew she couldn't tell everybody yes, and Toledo was the school she couldn't turn down.

"When you know, you know," said James, who posted her verbal commitment Friday on her Instagram. "After our phone call (Tuesday), I thought, it shouldn't be this hard. I just felt like if I said no to Toledo, I would've been sad about it. I think it would've been a loss on my end. I was like, this is where you're supposed to be. I can't say no to Toledo. I really, really like Toledo."

James spent last weekend at the University of Pennsylvania and the school had become her front runner to the extent that Toledo coach Andrea Grove-McDonough picked up on it when the two spoke mid-week.

"The Penn visit went really well," James said. "I narrowed it down to Penn and Toledo. Every day felt like I sided with one more than the other. I was high on Penn. I was like, oh my gosh, I'm going to Penn. When I talked to (Grove-McDonough), she was really respectful about it. She said, listen, I'll give you as much time as you need. When you make a final decision, just let me know. At no point did she pressure me. She was like, if this is for you, this is for you."

Initially intending to keep two visits open, James decided to accelerate the process. Furman had filled its recruiting class and James took Illinois out of consideration. She visited Indiana two Saturdays ago, but said her introverted side felt like it was too big.

"I thought I was going to wait, but I really just needed to make a decision for my own good so I can experience my senior year, focus a little more seriously on my running with all the traveling," she said. "The stress of this week was really bearing on me. I think I was ready to make a final decision. I weighed all the options. It ended up being the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life. I wanted to trust my instinct, trust my gut, secure my spot confidently, not risk it all on, hey, I'm going to have a great post-season. I could hope a greater offer comes my way later than expected, but it doesn't realistically always work out like that."

Toledo's financial package, its academic options and the program Grove-McDonough is building all checked boxes.

"It's not just only above everything else financially, it's just a place I can envision being the best version of me, both in academics and athletics," James said. "The coaching there is on another level. I'm excited to think, in the next few years, some big things are going to happen there, and it's something I want to be a part of, a group of people I want to be surrounded with. (Grove-McDonough) is recruiting a really nice class. She's building something special there. When I called her, she was going crazy, like what, are you serious? She had told me, I expected you to go to Penn, I was just waiting for you to formally say that."

Her initial notification list included Lowell coach Scott Coil; her sister Annalise, who runs for fellow Mid-American Conference school Western Michigan; Jordyn Boyer, another Red Devils product who runs for Toledo; and Chesterton's Bailey Ranta, who verballed to Toledo a week earlier, that they'll be part of the same class.

"No one knew," James said. "I talked with coach Coil at morning practice Friday, but nothing was said. I didn't even tell him. He was so mad at me, but he's really happy. Jordyn was freaking out. They were at a team dinner at the coach's house when I posted. She wasn't going to say anything, she was going to wait for them to point it out. Jordyn texted me, what is going on? I'm so excited, this is insane, I can't believe this is the school you picked. No one really saw it coming, not even myself."

James will major in Health Care Administration.

"It will require a Master's degree, which I can do on scholarship if I use my red-shirt," she said.

Lowell's Karina James has verbally committed to Toledo, joining former Red Devil Jordyn Boyer and Chesterton's Bailey Ranta.

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