Winter signing day takes place at NC

Student athletes commit to future colleges

Aaron Buckholtz ‘23 signs to College of Lake County to play baseball (Huffman/LION)

Mckinley Huffman, Reporter

At 7 a.m. on Feb. 1 in the NC Vaughn gym, the second of three signing days occurred. Fifteen student-athletes rotated through the gym every 10 minutes to sign their National Letter of Intent, and take photos individually, with families and coaches, and with other students in front of an LT backdrop. 

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the group which oversees college athletics, requires this letter of intent for students to commit to a college and team. This letter confirms that the only team a student will be eligible to play on is that of the school they will be attending, for at least one semester. LT’s signing day event gives students a chance to celebrate their hard work and accomplishments with those who helped them to get where they are today, Athletic Director John Grundke said. 

“Both the students and the families have put in so much work over time to reach the level that they are at right now,” Grundke said. “This event acts as a culmination of all of that hard work over the past 16 to 18 years for these athletes.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, students had signed in a large group. However, participating individually allows the focus to be placed on one athlete at a time, Grundke said. Students still have the chance to connect with their peers and friends, despite this change. 

“The community of this event is what makes it so special because a lot of the time, you don’t realize all of the athletes that LT has,” Graham Smith ‘23 said. “It’s amazing to be able to see everyone who is signing to their respective colleges and schools, all in one place.”

Many students have cultivated close bonds with their fellow athletes over the years, and those relationships continue to be strengthened on signing day, Smith said. 

“I’ve grown up with a lot of kids like Graham, Jackson [Niego ‘23] and Niklas [Polonowski ‘23], and I know that they’ve all worked really hard,” Jack Berry ‘23 said. “To grow up together and now be signing to colleges together is something that’s really cool.”

To continue their athletic careers past high school is an incredible opportunity and a dream come true for many students, Berry said. After putting in much effort to reach their full potential, these athletes’ determination and discipline is paying off. 

“It’s really just about having a purpose. I’ve always loved to play golf, and continuing to do what I love is the natural next step for me,” Berry said. “I don’t know why I wouldn’t–it just feels right.”

The first to sign was Polonowski, who committed to play Division I basketball at University of Pennsylvania. 

“I committed to Penn because of the relationship I gained with the staff along with the great basketball and academic program they have had,” he said. “The coaches, professors, players, administrators–all of it just felt like home and essentially felt like something I want to be a part of for the next four years.”

Next was Niego, who is also continuing his Division III basketball career at Illinois Wesleyan University. 

When I went on my visit to Illinois Wesleyan, it seemed to check all of the boxes,” he said. “When I was on campus it felt very welcoming, it didn’t feel like a school, but rather a community. From the basketball side of things, the coaching staff and players were a major pull factor into why I chose Wesleyan.”

Smith also looks forward to continuing his athletic career at Yale playing football. 

“I committed to Yale because of the coaching staff and the feel I got from the campus,” he said. “I committed for football because it’s been a sport that I’ve grown up always wanting to play in college and now that dream is a reality.”

Patrick Cramer ‘23, who committed to Colgate University, also looks forward to playing Division I football in the fall.

“I committed to Colgate because I can get a fantastic education that will help me out after college in the world,” he said. “When it comes to the football team I felt like I bonded with the players and coaches that I met–the team culture is also not cut-throat, and when one succeeds, the whole team does.”

Colin Bonaccorsi ‘23 followed Cramer with his commitment to DePauw University for Division I football, and Aidan Collins ‘23 signed to run Division I cross country and track at University of Loyola Chicago. 

“I chose this school over others because of the team culture, the coaching staff, and the emphasis on the distance program in recent years and building it up to be a national competitor,” Collins said. 

Scarlett Lestina ‘23 was the next athlete to sign, choosing American University for Division I track and cross country. 

“I committed to American University because I love the environment that the team has created,” she said. “DC is one of my favorite cities so being able to run there everyday is so cool to me.” 

Another athlete ready to continue their future in their sport is Berry, who plans to play Division III golf at Babson College. 

“I committed to Babson because of the combination of being a great school for golf and academically,” he said. “A lot of my family lives in Boston as well so it’s something of a second home to me.”
Division II golf commit, Maeve McDougal ‘23, signed to attend Winona State University. 

“I committed to Winona State for golf because after visiting the school and meeting the team, it was clear that they have a great team dynamic with a lot of great people, and I really wanted to be a part of it,” McDougal said. “I also just like the school in general and its location, because while golfing in college is really important to me, being at a school that I will actually enjoy is even more important.”

Sam Levinson ‘23 cannot wait to continue playing Division III volleyball at Springfield College next year. 

“I decided to go to Springfield College in mid-September because the school has a great sports management program,” he said. “I also chose to play volleyball at Springfield because they have a very competitive team that’s won 11 of the last 22 NCAA DIII national championships.”

Next to sign for Division I volleyball was Leo Wiemelt ‘23, who plans to attend University of California-San Diego (UCSD). 

Going to UCSD for volleyball has been my goal since the beginning of junior year when I first started to think I’d have the opportunity to play in college” he said. “I really loved the school when I visited last year and felt that it would be a perfect fit both athletically and academically.”

After Wiemelt had signed, soccer player Brian Salvino ‘23 committed to Division I College of the Holy Cross to play soccer. 

I decided on Holy Cross because of the great education and the opportunity to get out of the midwest and live near Boston,” he said. “Also the coaching staff was very welcoming, and I feel that the team can accomplish great things and make the NCAA tournament.”

Ben Swicionis ‘23 also signed for soccer, playing Division III, at St. Norbert College. 

“I committed to St. Norbert College because I felt that it was a good fit for me and I always have wanted to share the field with my older brother,” he said. “I’ve been playing soccer for my whole life and I want to continue to play for as long as I possibly can.”

Aaron Buckholtz ‘23 followed Swicionis by committing to playing Division II baseball at College of Lake County. 

“I chose this college because I liked the coach of the program and what the school has to offer and felt like a good fit for me,” he said. 

Lastly, Sam Viniard ‘23 concluded LT’s winter signing day by signing Division III to University of Wisconsin La Crosse, to further his baseball career. 

“I committed to UW La Crosse because there was an instant connection with the coaching staff and I loved the athletic facilities they had to provide,” he said. “Overall, it just really felt like the right fit for me.”

LT plans to have one more signing day opportunity for student athletes this spring.