Aptos High held a special event on Wednesday for a group of student-athletes who signed their National Letters of Intent to compete in NCAA Division I sports. (Juan Reyes — The Pajaronian)

APTOS—The time is finally here for the beginning of the National Letter of Intent signing period.

Aptos High hosted a special event on Wednesday to celebrate with seven senior student-athletes who signed their letters of intent to compete in collegiate athletics. 

The Aptos girls volleyball team had three players sign to D-I schools: Natalia Ackerman will play basketball at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Gabby Giuffe will play basketball at the University of San Diego and Brynn Mitchell will play soccer at St. Mary’s College.

Cameron Dueck, who played water polo this season, will play beach volleyball at Pepperdine University, while Shea Garcia will play softball at Portland State.

Baseball players Jack Bollengier and Luke Keaschall will play at Sacramento State and the University of San Francisco, respectively.

Keaschall said he was happy to finally make it official and he’s excited to go to San Francisco.

“I was just worried I was going to spell my name wrong or something, I was a little bit scared,” Keaschall said. “My mom’s actually the one that spelled her name wrong so we’re good.”

Garcia said she was thankful and credited her coaches along with teammates for pushing her along the way. Before taking the pen to the paper and making it official, she said she was happy the day finally arrived.

“And to make sure I spelled my name right,” Garcia said.

Ackerman said she was excited to sign her letter of intent and mentioned the awesome opportunity she has to play at Cal Poly-SLO.

“It was definitely a goal that I wanted to reach,” Ackerman said. “It’s so fulfilling to reach that after all the hours of hard work and effort put into it.”

Wednesday also marked the beginning of an eight-month open period for high school athletes to sign with collegiate athletic programs. Major signings will continue until Thursday. 

Aptos athletic director Travis Fox said having this amount of student-athletes sign to D-I colleges speaks to the culture of sports at the school.

“I think it starts with the feeder programs they have in place,” Fox said. “I think it talks about the sense of pride of athletics here. We believe that athletics are an extension to the classroom.”

Fox said he looks at practice as the final class of the day and a time when coaches become teachers. 

“It looks like they’re passing their last class at the end of the day,” he said.

Fox said he credits former athletic director Mark Dorfman, who retired after last school year, for all the hard work he put in over the years. He also credits all the parents for hauling them everywhere from practice to tournaments.

“I think that was the cool part about tonight, was seeing all the families here,” Fox said. “That’s what it’s about.”

Fox said it’s the first time he’s seen seven students sign an NLI all at once. 

“It’s still possible that we have more as the season progresses,” Fox said.

Student-athletes first receive a verbal scholarship offer and nothing is official until they sign the NLI. 

Not every school uses the NLI—about 650 NCAA D-I and D-II schools participate—and it’s not mandatory to sign. 

The NLI is not affiliated directly with the NCAA. It was created by the Collegiate Commissioners Association to protect both the school and students from either backing out.

Starting in the 2019-20 school year, a set of new rules came into effect such as speeding up the timeline for seniors looking to sign with a school. 

In the past, there was an early signing period—usually in November—followed by a break over the holidays, also known as the dead period. 

The NLIs resumed in the spring during the regular signing period. But starting this year, all athletes outside of football and men’s and women’s D-I basketball players can begin signing scholarships on Nov. 13 and continue to sign anytime through Aug. 1.

Bollinger said he’s thrilled to show people what Aptos athletics is about and they are helping students get into D-I schools. 

“I liked having the support of my parents and my family and knowing they were there for me the whole time,” he said.

Giuffre said it’s exciting to see all the hard work is being paid off with a scholarship and this is just one more step in the journey. She was also happy to see a big group of family and friends show up.

“It’s all I can ask for,” she said. “It’s wanting the support and knowing that they’re all here for me. It’s awesome.” 

Mitchell said she’s not used to being the center of attention but it was still neat to have some of her closest family members and friends sharing the special moment.

“I’m a little overwhelmed but overwhelmed with excitement,” Mitchell said. “Just so many people here, being with all my classmates who I’ve grown up with is so awesome.”

All five girls played on the same youth soccer club, Aptos Tide, when they were younger. 

Mitchell said it’s nice that they’re such a diverse group and compete at the highest level in any sport.

For Dueck, this is a dream come true and Pepperdine has been her dream school since she was 12. She committed during her sophomore season and she’s been waiting for this moment for two years.

“To have all these people show up and have all the supporters, all of our family and do it with each other is so cool. It’s amazing,” Dueck said.


Editor’s Note:This article will be published in the Nov. 15 edition of The Pajaronian.

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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