Several Hilton Head athletes sign national letters of intent

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Several Hilton Head athletes sign national letters of intent

By CHRIS COX
ccox@islandpacket.com
Published Thursday, November 15, 2012   |  1395 Words  |  

Forty-six students make up the senior class at Hilton Head Preparatory School. On Wednesday, five of them furthered their athletics careers after signing NCAA Division I letters of intent.

Not a bad ratio.

"It's pretty unbelievable," said Juan Sheppard, who signed on to play tennis at Furman University. "It's such a small class. You go to big, public high schools and not even six kids sign."

To be exact, 9.2 percent of the Dolphins' graduating class signed athletics scholarships in the Hilton Head Prep field house on Wednesday. That number doesn't include girls tennis standout Kelly Dodd, who plans to play at Villanova, which doesn't give scholarships for her sport.

Two of those who signed will continue their careers together, as Jill Brunori and Woody Woodward will head to Winston-Salem, N.C., and Wake Forest next year to play women's basketball and golf, respectively.

"It's definitely exciting to have one of your friends and students joining you at your university," Woodward said. "And obviously she's a fellow D-1 athlete. We've discussed going out together, going to class together. It's going to be a blast."

Woodward's signature on his National Letter of Intent closed what was at times a trying chapter in the golfer's early career. He underwent a pair of surgeries on his left shoulder a few years ago, where he suffered a 3 1/2-inch tear on his labrum, and watched as some schools shied away until he was healthy.

But the Demon Deacons stuck with Woodward, who returned the favor by signing with the ACC school at a table set up in the Dolphins gymnasium alongside his friends. He'll play for Jerry Haas, who has spent more than a decade with the Demon Deacons after a career on the PGA Tour and Nike Tour.

"It's amazing as far as golf tradition and the coaching staff there with coach Haas and Dan Walters," said Woodward, who chose Wake over offers from Virginia, North Carolina, LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss and Kentucky. "It's just unbelievable. The guys that are coming in with me and after me I'm real good friends with. I feel like we have a really good chance of winning a national title."

Brunori, meanwhile, chose the Deacons over offers from South Carolina, DePaul, St. John's and George Washington. She'll play small forward for new coach Jen Hoover, who will be replacing five seniors from this year's roster.

"I just thought it was the best choice for me academically and basketball-wise," said Brunori, who added that she would like to avoid a redshirt next season. "I love the coaches, I love the school and love the location. Personally, it fit me the best."

Brunori may have turned down the Gamecocks, but tennis standout Andrew Schafer didn't. The tennis standout, last year's Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette Player of the Year, chose South Carolina over Georgia Tech and Clemson. He'll play for coach Josh Goffi, who took over for tennis legend Arlo Elkins in 2010, in the Gamecocks' new Carolina Tennis Center.

"It's an up-and-coming program," said Schafer, who chose USC in part because of its proximity to Hilton Head Island. " ... They're really turning around the program. We're aiming for SEC titles and eventually a national title. It's going to take steps, but I think we'll be able to get there, though."

Gracie Anderson rounded out the list of Prep athletes moving on, as the senior signed on with the crew team at Northeastern. The Dolphins standout, who chose the Huskies over Clemson and Boston College, waited until two weeks before Signing Day to receive the offer she was hoping for.

"I really wanted to be in Boston," she said. "Although Clemson is a top program, I just wanted to try something different. Northeastern had downtown Boston, the Charles River and a fun social life. Everything I could need."

The group at Prep wasn't the only one in the spotlight on Signing Day.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND HIGH

Three swimmers from Hilton Head Island High's three-time state championship team signed on with college programs, as Mary Bolgan is headed to South Carolina, Camille Felix to Georgia Tech and Cassie Ley to Florida Southern.

The girls were three of four Hilton Head Aquatics swimmers to sign letters-of-intent Wednesday.

"It's very unusual to have four kids with Division I offers in our area," Hilton Head Island and H2A coach Mike Lane said. "It says a lot about the tenacity of these girls."

Bolgan, the Seahawks captain and all-state performer in the 200 and 500 freestyle, initially wanted to go out of state and get away from home, but her official visit to Columbia swayed her.

The club experience "has been a huge part of my life," Bolgan said. "We're one slightly dysfunctional but big family."

Felix, a two-time state champ in the 500 freestyle, fell in love with the facilities and coaches at Tech.

"Also, they had a major I liked, computational media. It's really intense. I couldn't find anything else like it," Felix said. "And I like Atlanta. I'm never going to get bored."

Ley just committed to Florida Southern yesterday. She said the school was strong academically.

"That's really important to me, Ley said. "The swimming team is great and it's in a beautiful place. I found this was the perfect place for me."

HILTON HEAD CHRISTIAN ACADEMY

Across the street, Hilton Head Christian Academy's J.D. Lehman signed with Louisville's golf program. Lehman -- who was the runner-up at the S.C. Junior Amateur this summer -- will play for Cardinals coach Mark Crabtree, who has won a pair of Big East titles along with earning two trips to the NCAA Championships.

Lehman, who also had offers from East Carolina and Michigan, said he'd had little contact with the Cardinals until the coaches came to watch a golfer he was paired with in a tournament.

"They ended up watching me instead," Lehman said. We just kept talking and they ended up making me an offer."

Lehman said he liked the fact the team was good, but not so good he couldn't have a shot at playing time if he "took care of business."

THE HERITAGE ACADEMY

The biggest signing class of the day belonged to the Heritage Academy, with nine athletes choosing schools.

Among them were two full-time Hilton Head Island residents -- swimmer Emily Hammond and tennis player Barbara Rodriguez.

Hammond, the fourth from the Hilton Head Aquatics, is headed to UCLA.

"Technically, based on her times, she's probably the best swimmer to come from Hilton Head Island ever," said Lane, who added Hammond actually learned to swim at the Island Rec Center before joining the swim club scene.

Hammond, No. 1 in her class with a 5.0 GP, fell in love with California on a trip for a meet.

"I really liked California, and that's where I want to be," Hammond said. "(UCLA has) a good academic reputation, a great coach and a beautiful campus. I thought, 'I'd love it here.' "

Rodriguez felt the same way about Boston University, her father's alma mater, and the city of Boston.

"It's my favorite city, young, with a lot of college students and Boston U. has great academics, and they have architecture. And I can help the team and play very highly in the lineup."

Also signing from the Heritage Academy were Ben Dietrich (golf, South Carolina), Mickey Werenski (golf, Texas A&M), Matt Rushton (golf, Notre Dame), Ayaka Nakayama (golf, Central Florida), Olivia Landino (golf, Western Carolina), Poom Pattaropong (golf, James Madison) and Scarlett Walston (tennis, East Carolina).

BLUFFTON

Softball player Whitney Morrell was the lone Bobcat to sign on Wednesday, choosing N.C. Central.

Morrell, the catcher on the Island Packet's 2012 All-Area team, hit .538 with two home runs, 18 RBIs and five steals last season.

Mike McCombs contributed to this report.