Wednesday was Fall Signing Day for prep sports, and across the area a lot of different student athletes made their college plans official.
At Blue Ridge, the Barons’ state championship basketball program celebrated two Division I basketball signees as point guard Malik Johnson signed with Canisius College while small forward Scott Spencer inked with Clemson.
Both Johnson and Spencer enrolled at Blue Ridge last year as part of a wave of new players that re-invigorated the basketball program that had struggled in 2013-2014. Johnson, a Richmond native, was one of that group’s most pleasant surprises, quickly establishing himself as the engine that drove the Barons, averaging 12.8 ppg, 5.2 apg and 2.8 spg. Johnson is a fearless, attacking point guard, capable of breaking down defenses with a quick first step and the ability to operate in the lane. He was a perfect complement to the Barons’ big front line, a master at finding the open man.
Next year, Johnson will try and bring that dynamic, attacking style to Canisius, a MAAC program that finished 18-15 last year including a pair of wins in the Collegeinsider.com postseason tournament.
Spencer, who committed to Clemson in August, immediately established himself at Blue Ridge as a smooth, athletic scorer, averaging 11.8 points per game. He fills a crucial need for Clemson in that department as the Tigers’ were near the bottom of the country in 3-point shooting accuracy last year.
The 6-foot-6 Spencer has the potential to be a force for the Tigers, who went 16-15 under Brad Brownell last season.
STAB celebrates seven signees
It was a big day on the campus of St. Anne’s-Belfield School, as seven high school seniors signed the pieces of paper that cemented their future as Division I student-athletes.
The Class of 2016 was headed by Duke basketball commitment Javin Montgomery-DeLaurier, who picked the Blue Devils over the likes of Texas, Notre Dame, Arizona and Tobacco Road rival North Carolina. A 6’9″ power forward, DeLaurier is rated as the No. 44 overall prospect for 2016 by ESPN and the No. 9 power forward. In 2014-15, he was named the Virginia Prep League Player of the Year.
“It was definitely a grind,” DeLaurier said of the commitment process. “But the good thing is I love it — I love basketball. I really enjoy the process. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Three more STAB athletes will be playing for ACC schools in their respective sports. The Virginia baseball team picked up two signees Wednesday afternoon in the form of Jalen Harrison and Bobby Nicholson. Harrison, who also plays for the Saints’ football and basketball teams, expressed his excitement about joining the reigning national champion Cavaliers.
“Just having time wind down is a good feeling, just knowing you’re going to play for the best team in the country with the best coaches in the country,” Harrison said. “When you sign that line, all your hard work pays off, and it’s a really great feeling.”
Nicholson and Harrison will join a line of former Saints baseball players who went on to play at UVa, notably Casey Lambert, who starred for the Wahoos from 2004-06 under head coach Brian O’Connor. Nicholson, who also joined the football team at STAB this year, earned all-state honors in baseball each of the past two years and spoke about the added bonus of playing with one of his teammates at the college level.
“Jalen is like a brother to me,” Nicholson said. “We’ve been playing together for years and I can’t wait to play with him at UVa. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It really makes the whole experience better.”
The fourth Saint to sign with an ACC school, Mailynn Steppe, will be taking her talents to Blacksburg to play lacrosse for the Hokies. Steppe is also a multi-sport athlete, starring for STAB in basketball as well, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play lacrosse at the collegiate level. She referenced a multitude of factors that drew her to Virginia Tech.
“I loved the coaching staff, the great environment, and the girls on the team,” Steppe said. “It was just the right place for me.”
Steppe still has a full season ahead of her to hone her skills and prepare for the next level of competition.
“I probably need to improve my game and tune up some things,” Steppe said. “I need to pick up that same intensity that they have at the college level.”
Steppe was not the only STAB lacrosse player to sign a letter of intent on Wednesday. Caroline DiGiacomo will be going just a little farther away to continue her lacrosse career — to the University of Denver, to be exact, where she will join former teammate Audrey Schreck, currently a freshman midfielder for the Pioneers.
“It’s going to be so much fun, I’m so excited to see her again,” DiGiacomo said. “I’ve been talking to her a little bit and it seems like she’s been having a great time.”
DiGiacomo acknowledged that going two-thirds of the way across the country might be a bit of an adjustment for her.
“It’s definitely a little bit scary, but I’ve been on that side of the country a few times with my family, so it’s not completely foreign territory for me,” DiGiacomo said. “But it’s definitely going to be scary not going to be able to come home on weekends like most of these other kids can do.”
Yet another Saints girls lacrosse player signed on Wednesday, as Maddie Hunter will be going on to Davidson College, where she plans to embark on a pre-med path and hopes to become a neurologist. Hunter is also a member of the Saints’ cross-country team and despite not being on scholarship as a runner, she plans to participate in both sports.
“I’m really excited for the higher level of play and being able to do both at the same time,” Hunter said. “I’ll never get bored. They’ve both been such integral parts of my life.”
In addition to the beautiful campus and facilities, Hunter had another great reason for picking Davidson.
“It was actually my No. 1 choice academically,” Hunter said. “I love the honor code they have there, and the academics are very rigorous.”
Rounding out the signees was Fitz Woodrow, who will be playing golf at the College of Charleston. Woodrow has been a member of the Saints’ varsity team since eighth grade and currently serves as the team captain. He has earned All-Prep League honors in every year of competition and was thrilled to be part of such an accomplished class.
“It feels great being up there with these guys–Javin, Jalen, Bobby, all these big names, just to be included is very special,” Woodrow said. “We’ve all worked so hard to get here and we’re all blessed to go to the next level.”
Goochland volleyball’s Madelyn Ott inked with Georgia State. Ott is the top hitter and the Conference 34 player of the year for the Bulldogs’ unbeaten team. She’ll get a chance to try and help build a consistent winner at Georgia State as the Panthers currently sit at 6-18.
Western Albemarle softball’s Olivia Markopoulos signed with Boston College. Markopoulos, who is also a field hockey standout for the Warriors, has been an impact player for the Warriors, earning second team All-Jefferson District honors as part of a rebuilding Western softball program.
At Woodberry Forest, Georgia native Patrick McDonald signed with Notre Dame to play baseball. The versatile McDonald, who’s played shortstop for the Tigers and first earned All-Prep League honors as a sophomore, will join an Irish program that went 37-23 last season.