SCOTTS VALLEY -- A human horseshoe three to four students deep ensconced a long table decorated with streamers, balloons and bright posters bearing the names Stanford, Santa Clara and Purdue-Calumet. Speakers filled the Scotts Valley High quad with pop music until athletic director Louie Walters picked up the mic.
To the tune of cheers and whistles, he proudly introduced cross country and track runner Vanessa Fraser and soccer players Emily Johnson and Kacey Lilly. They make up the largest class of recruits in school history and, as such, were the impetus behind the school's first flamboyant National Letter of Intent signing day celebration.
"It's a huge accomplishment for Scotts Valley High to have three kids committing to extending their playing careers at prestigious universities like that, and all three are special kids," Walters said.
Wednesday was the first day athletes could uncap their pens and sign their National Letter of Intent to play football, soccer, track, cross country, water polo or field hockey at collegiate institution. In all, about 10 athletes are believed to have signed Wednesday, though more could still commit before the Aug. 1 signing deadline for all of those sports except football, which closes April 1.
Lilly, a defender who last month verbally committed to play soccer for Purdue-Calumet, an NAIA Division II program in Indiana, said the hoopla made her feel pretty special.
"I didn't think it was
Sitting at the table alongside Lilly was Fraser, a two-time state Division IV cross country champion and a three-time state track qualifier who will fulfill her dream of running for Stanford. Johnson, who was named the Sentinel's All-County Goalie of the Year as a junior, will do the same as a goalkeeper for Santa Clara.
Walters turned the planning over to Ari Wargon, the Falcons' student body athletics chair, who turned up the volume on the presentation.
"I play sports and I knew it was a big deal," said Wargon, a senior who plays football and basketball. "And being an athlete and going through the recruitment process, I know how hard it is."
Not all schools held as flashy of a ceremony as Scotts Valley. In Aptos, standout runner Nikki Hiltz inked her commitment to Oregon in an administrative conference room surrounded by her coaches, the athletic director, the principal and her mother, Liz. Hiltz, the defending state 1,600-meter champion, added her own color to the ceremony by wearing a green and yellow Oregon T-shirt and with matching electric yellow and white sneakers.
Hiltz has also known for years where she wanted to spend her collegiate career. Still, she entertained five potential schools in what her mother, who also went to Oregon but did not compete, described as a grueling recruitment process.
"It's really exciting for her to go to that next step," Liz Hiltz said. "I'm very relieved and so happy she's so sure of this choice. ... I just want her to run happy and healthy and fast."
Hiltz is working on that after having surgery to put a screw in her right foot to correct a stress fracture.
She said she wasn't nervous at all about putting her name on the dotted line.
"I'm more excited than anything," she said.
San Lorenzo Valley runner Cody Johnson made good on his verbal commitment to NCAA D-I University of Missouri early Wednesday and Soquel basketball player Keanha Clark committed to Corban University, an NAIA school in Salem, Ore.
Meanwhile, Cabrillo College football player Tim Duran had a late-night change of heart, deciding to sign with BYU on Wednesday instead of Southeast Missouri State. Meanwhile, teammates Aaron Rojas of Watsonville and Mario Rodriguez of Portola stuck with their plans, signing with Lake Erie College and Western Michigan, respectively.
National Letter of Intent
Wednesday's county signees
Keanha Clark, Soquel, basketball, Corban University
Tim Duran, Cabrillo, football, BYU
Vanessa Fraser, Scotts Valley, track/xc, Stanford
Nikki Hiltz, Aptos, track/xc, Oregon
Cody Johnson, SLV, track/xc, Missouri
Emily Johnnson, Scotts Valley, soccer, Santa Clara
Kacey Lilly, Scotts Valley, soccer, Purdue-Calumet
Mario Rodriguez, Cabrillo, football, Western Michigan
Aaron Rojas, Cabrillo, football, Lake Erie College
Know of a local athlete who signed a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday or plans to sign soon? Tell us at email@example.com.