When Upper Dublin’s Jackie Vargas finally decided to continue her basketball career at Lehigh University in November, there was no fanfare. The senior center didn’t hold a news conference where she would dramatically reveal her choice by donning the hat of the lucky winner. There was no big announcement on Twitter or Snapchat or Facebook.

She did it quietly. That is just Vargas.

“Jackie is a very quiet person,” Cardinals coach Morgan Funsten said. “She keeps to herself. When she made the decision to go to Lehigh, she did not make an announcement on social media. I was really happy that she let me know. She’s very close with her family, and she just kind of keeps to herself a lot of times.

“I’m very happy because she’s a great student. I’m a math teacher at our high school, and her sophomore year I taught her. She’s a brilliant girl, and I thought she was going to end up at an Ivy League school, to be honest with you. She had just about every Ivy League school after her. But I think Lehigh is a great fit for her because it basically is an Ivy League school.”

Jackie Vargas (left) blockomg a shot by Plymouth Whitemarsh's Anna McTamney in a playoff game.
Jackie Vargas (left) blockomg a shot by Plymouth Whitemarsh's Anna McTamney in a playoff game.

Vargas started noticing college coaches at her high school and AAU games as early as her freshman year. At an open gym at Upper Dublin before her junior year, 12 NCAA Division I coaches stopped by to take a look.

“The number of Division I college coaches that were at an open gym outnumbered the number of players at the open gym,” Funsten said. “That was like the moment I was like, ‘Wow, Jack. This is for real. This is pretty cool.’ It’s been a great experience for me understanding the college recruitment process at the Division I level.”

When it all boiled down, the finalists were Cornell, St. Joseph’s, Drexel, and George Mason. Lehigh came along late in the game in July 2019, but the Mountain Hawks were the last team standing. So what made Lehigh Vargas’ choice?

“Education-wise, I feel like it’s very good,” Vargas said. “It’s the closest you can get to, say, Ivy League that’s close to where I live. Basketball-wise, I know that Lehigh has always done well in the Patriot League. If a basketball program hasn’t done that well, I don’t think that’s a deciding factor. But I know Lehigh has done well in the past. They have a reputation. The coach [Sue Troyan] has been there for [25] years.”

Vargas went into last Saturday’s District 1 Class 6A quarterfinal playoff loss against Plymouth Whitemarsh with 1,223 career points and averaging 13.4 points per game this season. She said she expected that Lehigh’s Troyan will use her in the post.

“They compared me to one of their players currently on the team, Emma Grothaus,” the 6-foot-2 Vargas said. “They say I’m more like her, and I know watching a few of their games that’s she is mostly in the post.

"We’re of similar height. I know, from what I’ve seen in the games, she’s in the post. She drives. So I’m going to assume that would be my role, based on her working the post.”

Jackie Vargas driving to the basket against Abington's Camryn Lexow in 2019.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Jackie Vargas driving to the basket against Abington's Camryn Lexow in 2019.

For players as talented as Vargas, the recruiting process can be a grind. But she was determined not to let it interfere with her senior year.

“I knew that I was going to commit before the season started,” Vargas said. “But just to finally get it done, it was like, ‘I know I’m going.’ That was definitely a relief because it gets a little tiring. I had to contact a lot of coaches and, although it’s hard to contact them and tell them you won’t be attending their school, it has to be done. You can’t go everywhere.”

So Vargas came out on the other side of the process with Lehigh in hand. If all goes well, it will be a happy marriage.

But she still has business to take care of in the state playoffs. The Cardinals made it to the state semifinals last season and won the Class 6A state championship in 2018. Catch her now before she takes her talents to Bethlehem.