Noelle Tomes waited longer than most seniors to decide where she was going to play college basketball once she graduated from East Ridge.
But when it was time, her brother and a longtime friend were factors in the decision. Tomes decided late in this winter's basketball season to make a commitment to the Air Force Academy women's basketball team. It was a decision her brother Sid Tomes, a freshman guard this past season on the Air Force men's team, helped talk her through.
"He kind of told me about it, and told me about the basketball part," said Tomes, a guard who was a nominee for Miss Minnesota basketball this year along with teammate Mariah Sexe. "The basketball part sounded like exactly what I wanted, so I was like, 'Might as well give it a try.'"
Tomes is not the only 2017 East Ridge graduate who is headed to Air Force Academy this year. Brittany Mahowald is off to Colorado Springs, Colo., to play on the Falcons women's soccer team.
Mahowald and Tomes first became friends while playing soccer in elementary school. When Tomes made her decision, she quickly fired off a text to her longtime friend with the news.
"I texted her about it right when I was like, 'Yeah, I think I'm going to go here,'" Tomes recalled about their conversation. "And I was just like, 'What made you decide to go here?' And she told me all about it, a lot of good things."
Mahowald committed to Air Force during the winter of her junior year. So she had good things to say when Tomes asked her for some advice.
"I visited there a lot, a couple of times," Mahowald said. "I've just been excited about it, and when Noelle texted me, it was an easy talk."
Tomes said she enjoyed conversations with the coaching staff and players since committing to the women's basketball team. Some of those conversations included talk of improving a team that has struggled to win games in recent seasons. Last year, the Falcons went 4-25 overall and were 2-16 against Mountain West Conference opponents.
But head coach Chris Gobrecht has talked about the program's rebuilding efforts.
"They talk a lot about rebuilding the program, and stuff like that," Tomes said. "Obviously, it's a really hard conference they are in, too. So it sounded like something I wanted to be a part of."
Both Tomes and Mahowald were prepared to leave for Air Force Academy on June 28, needing to get to campus early for basic training.
Incoming Air Force Academy freshmen are required to perform a six-week orientation program known as Basic Cadet Training. The training has two phases, one in the school's cadet area and the other in a rural wooded area on the academy grounds.
Air Force Academy students also agree to serve multiple years of active duty after graduation. While it seems like a significant commitment, the newly-graduated Raptors are prepared for the future active duty.
"For me, serving is kind of a good thing to do, morally, for your country," Mahowald said. "And it's also an opportunity to travel and get job experience on your own."
"For me, it's kind of the same," added Tomes. "The school gives you so much as you go that serving afterward is kind of a thank you."