"It's another great day to be a Comet!" Penn Manor athletic director Jeff Roth said, raising his voice to emphasize the fact, after introducing the 16 student-athletes who officially committed to the colleges of their choice on National Letter of Intent Day on Wednesday.
Ceremonies of this type were repeated across Lancaster County and the L-L League on Wednesday.
The one at Penn Manor included four Division I signees: Brittany Braun, who will play volleyball for the University of Hartford; Brooke DeBerdine, who will play field hockey for the University of Maryland; Jonah Barley, who will wrestle for Cornell University; and Jeff Taylor, who will play baseball for Penn State.
And yes, Roth was right: It was indeed another great day to be a Comet, as Penn Manor's athletic program has once again produced a bumper crop of student-athletes who will go on and play at the next level.
Roth called it one of the greatest senior classes he's worked with over the past 15 years, since these NLI Day festivities have really taken off.
More importantly, as Roth was quick to point out to the overflow crowd inside the high school's library, the group that committed on Wednesday personifies student-athlete: The combined GPA of the 16 kids who committed is a jaw-dropping 3.90, with six of those student-athletes carrying a GPA north of 4.0 and three with a GPA of 4.5 or better.
Those stats drew the biggest roar from the audience.
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"We've had a great athletic class, and we've been pretty great in the classroom, too," Barley said. "We have a competitive class, and everyone strives to be the best at what they do. We focus on being student-athletes here, not just athletes. It's great to be a part of that."
"We all keep ourselves to pretty high expectations when it comes to grades," Braun added, "but I never thought they'd be that high, considering all of the 4.0 GPA's. It's pretty shocking — but it's really impressive. Being a student-athlete, it's all about managing your time, and it's not like we have ample time to do homework. But we have to make the time to get it done."
This group certainly has. And then some.
Those four Division I kids have some nice resumes, too: DeBerdine, who was recently named to the USA Field Hockey U-21 roster, is a high school All-American, and Barley recently won his third Lancaster-Lebanon League individual wrestling championship in a row.
"We all push each other here," Braun said. "And our senior class is pretty close. It's great to see so many of us sign here today. It's sad that we'll be moving on from here in a few months, but it's great to see so many people going to so many different places, and we'll all get to have our own adventures."
As the growing crowd of friends and family began congregating in front of the gym at Donegal High School on Wednesday afternoon, it was hard to miss the members of the field hockey team gathered with signs in hand.
The PIAA champions reunited to support teammate and captain Rachel Robinson as she and five other Indians seniors signed their National Letters of Intent.
"Even though I've just arrived and I did not see most of them compete," said interim athletic director Todd Reitnouer, "I'm still very proud of them, their families and their coaches because I know the sacrifices it takes to get to this level of athletics and academics."
For Robinson, who was named to the U.S. Under-19 team after earning third team All-America honors as a senior, it was the academic challenge that led to her to choose the University of Virginia over Louisville.
It also didn't hurt that older sister Katie played for the Cavaliers from 2010-2013.
"That's what coming up through Donegal was like — hmm, what did my sisters not do? Let me try to out do them," Robinson joked of the sibling rivalry between her, Katie and sister Amanda, who now plays at Michigan State.
"I just feel honored," said Robinson of accepting a full scholarship to Virginia. "I really contribute this to my coaches, even Donegal — like the school. I couldn't have done it without them. It's such a small community, but everyone's behind you so it wasn't just for me, it was for the whole school and community."
While Robinson, who plans on majoring in kinesiology, made sure to thank her teammates, calling them the "best team out there," a pair of Donegal seniors will be reunited on the field again next fall.
After playing soccer together for the past 12 years, Josh Myers and Dylan Zerphy both committed to Penn State Harrisburg on Wednesday.
"We've played together our whole soccer career, basically," said Myers, a prospective mechanical engineering major.
"At the start, we didn't know that we were going to the same school, but it just happened to end up like that," added Zerphy, who will pursue a degree in civil engineering.
Also signing their letters were Seneca Straub, who will compete in both cross country and track while studying political science at Vassar, Kaitlyn Witmer, who will play softball and major in occupational therapy at Elizabethtown, and Caroline Goodwill, who will compete in both soccer and track while pursuing a degree in psychology at SOKA University of America.
Andy Kelly perched behind his camera in Convocation Hall on Wednesday afternoon as, one by one, 25 Manheim Township student-athletes ascended to the stage with their families to pose for photographs commemorating their official college announcements.
For 23 years, Kelly has taken photos for the school district, and he savored the opportunity to capture the milestone moments for the latest crop of Blue Streak seniors.
"I remember taking their pictures," he said, "when they were 6 years old."
Among the faces illuminated by Kelly's photo flashes were those of six girls soccer players preparing to play in the college ranks after the Blue Streaks' campaign to the state semifinals in the fall.
"It's awesome," said Cashlin Copley, bound for East Carolina University and its Division I women's soccer program. "It's great for us. I think it's great for the school, too. It's a moment you'll always have, knowing that you were all on the same team."
Copley, said she was leaning toward majoring in finance. Her soccer teammates included Abigail Dropik (Marshall), Aubrey Suydam (Saint Francis), Lauren Tubay (Lock Haven), Grace Batchelder (York) and Madison Kohl (Messiah), each taking a turn on the stage before Kelly's camera.
Cashlin, Dropik and Suydam comprised three of Township's seven Division I athletes alongside track and field's Courtney German (Monmouth) and a trio of girls lacrosse players in Skylar Dorenkamp (St. Joseph's), Sarah Elias (La Salle) and Alyssa Penny (Quinnipiac).
"It was a proud moment," Dorenkamp, intending to major in food marketing, said of her time on the stage, "just to be recognized."
Dorenkamp and Elias, committed to Big 5 schools in Philadelphia and rival programs in the Atlantic 10 Conference, bantered about the upcoming season.
"It's going to be awesome," said Elias, who plans to major in marketing. "We've had a lot of commits over the years in the A-10, so it's awesome getting to play with everyone and see everyone again."
While Kelly's camera captured the smiles of teammates who embraced the sense of family, it also captured the delight of family members gathered in the auditorium. German's 4-year-old brother, Finn, garnered attention from the crowd. Mark Evans, whose daughter, Taylor, committed to Susquehanna University to play basketball, beamed with pride. On his way up to the stage, Evans tapped Kade Kubicki, who plans to play football at Shippensburg as a business major.
"He was just messing with me," Kubicki said of his coach. "He's always messing with me."
While a majority of the student-athletes at Manheim Township announced their intentions to continue their academic and athletic careers outside of Lancaster County, three announced plans to stay local. Kubicki's football teammates, Anthony Chaparro and Austin Stewart plan to play at Stevens Tech while Samuel Beauregard plans to golf at Millersville.
"I've played the course a couple times," Beauregard, a prospective biology major, said of the Marauders' home course at Crossgates, "but I guess now, I'll get to know it even more."
When each student received individual recognition, Kelly gathered the group on stage for one final picture together, one final snapshot of the athletes whose careers he captured in photos.
Warwick athletic director Ryan Landis couldn't help but notice the 2017 group of student-athletes — 13 in all — signing letters of intent during Wednesday's reception.
"This is the largest group we have had since I have been here," Landis said while addressing the family, friends, faculty and administration on hand.
Swimmer Keir Uhlin (West Chester) and baseball player, Zach Peters (Kutztown) were the only boys in the group.
"It's neat to see athletes from different sports come together," he said. "I think it's really cool to see Warwick's student body and how athletic everyone."
Uhlin added that he looks forward to the challenge of swimming for the national Division II power Rams.
Going to be different next season: Signer her letter of intent, along with four of her Warrior field hockey teammates, Madeline Lutz admitted things may seem somewhat strange.
Lutz, who will play at East Stroudsburg, will look across at Warwick mates Haley Miller and Logan Kempinski, who signed on at PSAC rival Bloomsburg.
"It's going to be a little weird, especially if we are both playing our freshman year," Lutz said. "It's going to kind of bring it back to when we would do scrimmaging and having that fun competition. It will be different because we are going to have a little more animosity for who wants to win."
Meanwhile, going from Lititz to Long Island will be a big change for softball standout Nicole Mengel, but it's one she looks forward to, especially after recovering from a broken leg two summers ago.
"A few years back I was like, New York is not for me. But it turns out, time does change," she said of her choice of heading to Adelphia University.
"It was definitely hard, but (the injury) made me want to work harder. Because I was so late on the recruiting, I worked so hard. It's paid off and I am so happy."
For Rene Ross, committing to play women's soccer at Marshall University is something she envisioned a long time ago.
"Ever since I was playing U-9 I wanted to play soccer at a Division I school, so it's something I have been working for," she said. "I really like how Marshall is built around a community that supports the college."
Teammates on the Manheim Central cross country and track squads, Cole Sunderland and Ian Lauver have an association that isn't ending any time soon.
During Wednesday's national signing day ceremony at the school, both made their commitments to run at Saint Francis University official.
"In talking we mentioned that we were going to Saint Francis for our first official visit. It just so happened that it worked out like that," Sunderland said.
Lauver said he overheard Sunderland speak with Barons cross country coach, Ryan Kennedy, a Saint Francis alum, about the educational opportunity.
"I think specifically for running cross country and track it is going to be easier to having somebody I have already been running with for four years and continue it for four years," said Lauver.
Meanwhile, while she is going further away than her fellow Manheim Central athletes, Taylor Noll has a great reason for heading to play women's soccer at Cedarville University in Ohio.
"My sister goes there now in the grad program, so I was always familiar with the university," Noll said. "It was always my dream to play soccer there."
Of course, there is one more reason:
"She's married and lives out there with her husband, right by the school, so I am definitely going over there for some home-cooked meals," laughed Noll.
Tyler Lyons couldn't help but the stunning baseball facility at Lebanon Valley College. Soon he will get to play there for the Dutchmen.
"McGill Field is one of the greatest. It ranks in the Top 10 in the nation for D-3 baseball fields. It's really well kept and it a great atmosphere to come out and play baseball at," Lyons said after signing his letter of intent.
"The campus is really nice. It's very similar to our high school. It's smaller, it's well-kept. You are not just a number so it's not going to be that much of an adjustment."
For Caity Howett, committing to play soccer at Lebanon Valley is in some ways a payback for the late nights spent with the books.
"With all the studying, especially with soccer having to balance school work and sports, it definitely pays off getting into a school like LVC," she said.
Howett is looking forward to studying in the accelerated physical therapy program.