Avon Lake had so many seniors signing Wednesday afternoon it had to change location from the television production studio to the performing arts center.
Nine Shoremen and three Shoregals lined the long table and made their written commitments to various college athletic programs in front of a throng of family and friends.
“I’m definitely so excited that there was this big of a turnout,” said Amber Achladis, who signed to play soccer with St. Bonaventure. “Usually when it’s in the TV production room there’s only a couple of people here. With all the people here it makes you feel more rewarded.”
The dozen Avon Lake athletes were among the many Lorain County athletes who signed or will sign letters of intent during a month-long spring period. Some schools held ceremonies before Wednesday, while several others will be holding them over the next few weeks.
Achladis and Joey Kneip — a rugby recruit for Notre Dame College – are Avon Lake athletes who will play for NCAA Division I programs.
“It’s definitely scary,” Achladis said. “Going Division I is going to be a whole new level, obviously something way harder than I’ve ever seen in my life. But I’m excited to take on that challenge. I’ve always kind of had success on every team that I’ve been on, so I’m really looking forward to being on a new team that’s going to push me to become even better.”
Probably one of the most celebrated Division I recruits in the county is Lorain’s Devone Grant, who will play basketball for Miami of Ohio. Grant will sign his letter Friday after being unavailable for the school’s signing ceremony Wednesday.
“I’m really excited to go down there and start the school year,” Grant said. “Playing on any level of collegiate basketball is great for anyone, but it’s definitely an honor for me to be able to play Division I basketball. It’s kind of shocking (how far I’ve come), but I just take it as I have more work to do.”
Achladis echoed the sentiment, noting that she began playing at 5 and the goal then was just to run after the ball and kick it down the field.
“One of the weirdest things to me is when you’re coaching and training with a bunch of younger kids and you just see that skill level and you say, ‘Wow, that used to be me just a few years ago,’” Achladis said. “Growing and developing as a player is something you don’t even realize happens until you look back on younger levels and it’s just insane to see the dramatic difference.”
The recruiting process is tough for most athletes because multiple schools look attractive. It was no different for Achladis, who is also a standout on Avon Lake’s basketball and track teams, but she actually had to struggle through two decisions.
“Soccer was my first sport and being a multisport athlete, soccer’s always been my favorite,” she said. “I was looking at colleges for both track and basketball, too, so I was looking to play one of the three in college. A harder decision than picking a college was picking what sport I wanted to continue playing. Deep down I knew soccer had to be the right option for me, so now I feel I made the right choice.”
Kneip began playing his collegiate sport about a decade after Achladis began playing hers, but is equally excited to play it for a Division I college program.
“I’ve been playing rugby since my freshman year and I’ve been wanting to go to NDC since my sophomore year,” he said. “I never really thought I’d get it, but I got the scholarship … so I accomplished my goals.
“I like everything about it. The hitting, every aspect about it, the ball carrying … I played lineman when I played football and never really got to touch the ball. It’s a wonderful sport to play.”
Kneip said he remained diligent and worked hard to improve his skills during the four years he’s played rugby, and he believes the sport will become more popular in the near future.
“USA Rugby just partnered with Major League Rugby, so there’s going to be five new teams in the future and there’s already 10 teams in the league, so it’s growing a lot,” he said. “There are a few youth programs around us in the Northeast Ohio area, so it’s definitely a good thing.”
The Falcons, who were nationally ranked this season, have Kneip listed as an incoming flanker and he said coach Jason Fox is looking to him for leadership among the freshman class. He will join a couple other Avon Lake grads — Sam Klimkowski and Matthew Pechaitis — on the roster.
“I’ve been talking to them for a year or two,” Kneip said. “I asked them to put a good word in for me … and I’m guessing they did.”
Jaret Prete, track, Air Force; Michael Shorts, track, Coker College.
Marissa Hall, golf, Bluffton; Aidan Jantz, baseball, Hiram; Gwyn Lester, softball, Albion College; Amber Achladis, soccer, St. Bonaventure; Alec McNeill, swimming, Baldwin Wallace; Gabe LaBianca, football, Ohio Wesleyan; Jackson Armbrecht, baseball, Heidelberg; Joey Kneip, rugby, Notre Dame College; Brendan Graney, lacrosse, Elmhurst College; Haden Johnson, lacrosse, Alma College; Ryan McCrum, football, Oberlin College; R.J. Prusha, football, Case Western Reserve.
Madison Smith, volleyball, Ohio Dominican.
Nae Bohannon, basketball, Columbus State; Nicole Ortiz, basketball, LCCC; Devone Grant, basketball, Miami of Ohio; Jace Tarpley, football, Wittenberg; Cairo Smith, football, Ohio Northern; Kelvin Torres, football, Ohio Dominican; Dan Findley, wrestling, Heidelberg; Carlos Ruiz, cross country, LCCC; Amya Brown, track, Wittenberg.
Bryanna Rivas, softball, Malone College; Janae Johnson, soccer, Muskingum.
Jared Bublinec, basketball, John Carroll; Carter Wright, basketball, Taylor University; Todd Giesbrecht, soccer, Master’s University (Calif.); Emily Werley, track, Slippery Rock.
Alexis Lehmkuhl, basketball, Lake Erie College.