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Signing day means different things for area athletes

November 9, 2017

The early national letter of intent (NLI) signing period for many college sports was on Wednesday. Across the country, high school student-athletes declared their intent to attend the college or university of their choice.

For some, it’s an easy choice, one they might have made months ago with an oral commitment. For others, it came down to the wire – perhaps waiting for acceptance at the school before making an announcement.

The Spokane area was well represented on signing day, including a prospective Olympic swimmer, a state cross-country winner heading to the SEC, a pair of twin basketball stars joining a perennial national powerhouse, an All-America sprinter staying close, and a volleyball player choosing a smaller school where she “fell in love.”

Daniel Roy (Gonzaga Prep), swimming, Stanford

Roy is a fairly unique case. He attends G-Prep and his signing ceremony was there on campus, yet he’s never represented his school in a competition since Eastern Washington schools don’t have state-sanctioned swimming programs.

Still, that hasn’t kept him from rising to the top of his sport.

Roy won the world junior title in the 200-meter breaststroke in August, and is ranked 37th in that discipline. Not state. Not country. The world.

Roy is swimming at the FINA World Cup in Tokyo on Nov. 14-15 with the U.S. Junior National team. Roy qualified in the 100-meter breaststroke, where he’s ranked 102 in the world, as well as the 200.

One of the primary reasons he chose Stanford, over Texas and Cal-Berkeley, was the Cardinal coaches’ insistence that they could get him to the Olympics.

“Part of it was that the coaches believed in me. The coaches said that ‘If you come here, we can make an Olympic team together. We’ll do everything we can to help you,’ ” Roy said.

His dad, Mike Roy, concurred. “Stanford was very up-front from the beginning that they want to shoot for the Olympics and they see Daniel as their swimmer for that. We’re just excited that this whole process is over. It’s been fairly stressful for Daniel and for the family.”

The other big reason is a more familiar – and familial – one.

“Stanford is a big family tradition,” Roy continued. “My uncle went to Stanford, my aunt went to Stanford, my cousin went to Stanford. So part of all that is continuing the legacy of my family going to Stanford.”

Still, he wrestled with the decision down to the last moments – after he got the call from the university notifying him that he was accepted the day before signing day.

“I got the call that I was accepted at 2 (p.m., Tuesday),” he said. “I made the final decision around 7 and I called (Stanford) after I talked to my counsel of my dad, my mom and all my family.

“It was very difficult for me,” he added. “I had three great schools to pick from. They all have a great legacy of swimmers and athletes and great alumni. It really came down to the wire, but I think I picked well on this.

“I’ve always wanted Spokane to become a ‘swimming city,’ for swimming to become more popular. I believe that I’m starting something here and I’m proud of that.”

He’s not the only swimmer to go Division I from Spokane though.

Central Valley’s Sarah Nicholls signed with Notre Dame, another top-10 D-I program. She swam at the Olympic trials as a 15-year-old and she received over 60 emails on the day she became eligible to be recruited.

“That was the moment I realized that I could swim D-I and at these high-level competitions,” she said. “Notre Dame has always been this huge university we’ve always wanted to live up to.”

Katie Thronson (Lewis and Clark), cross country, Tennessee

Thronson won the 4A individual title and led the LC girls team to the state championship last weekend in Pasco, so signing her NLI was icing on the cake.

“It’s been a pretty great week,” she said calmly.

“It’s really great to rep my school,” she said at her ceremony on Wednesday. “I’m going from orange and black here at Lewis and Clark to orange and smoky gray down in Tennessee. Lewis and Clark has been so great at supporting me through this process.”

“I”m proud to represent LC nationally and bring a little of attention to Lewis and Clark in Spokane.”

“This is big time,” coach Kevin Swaim said. “When Katie decided to come to LC she had big goals. It’s really fun to see her realize that and to see kids maybe take notice and want to get on board with Tiger cross country. It makes it really exciting.”

Lexie and Lacie Hull (Central Valley), basketball, Stanford

While not actually joined at the hip, the Hull twins are for all practical purposes. Including their choice of colleges.

“We knew we wanted to play together at the next level and when we got offered – both of us – it was more of a dream come true that we could continue together,” said Lexie at a ceremony celebrating eight Central Valley signees, including their teammate Hailey Christopher (Idaho).

The pair have known for quite some time that Stanford was the pick, but now that they’ve signed they can relax and enjoy their senior year. “Yup, it’s official,” Lacie said. “Couldn’t be more happy.”

The recruiting process, which landed the twins at a perennial national contender, was exhausting according to Jason Hull, the twins’ father. “It was a long time coming, and we’re excited for it to come to an end,” Hull said. “But Stanford was definitely the right pick for the family and both the girls.”

Dad thinks the twins going to the same program was a no-brainer. “Pushing them through school and basketball since about the sixth grade, they’ve been the best for each other, both on and off the court.”

Tony Pizzillo (Shadle Park), track, Washington State

Anthony Pizzillo joked at his son’s signing ceremony that he was a Washington Husky through and through. Until Tuesday.

That’s because his son, Tony, chose crimson and gray instead of purple. The younger Pizzillo, an All-American who paced sixth in the 400 and ninth in the 200 at the 2017 USTAF National Track and Field Meet, will run the 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprints for Washington State.

“I love the atmosphere at Pullman,” Tony said “It’s a college town. Everyone’s so close. I think it’ll be great to be a Coug.”

The other consideration for the nationally ranked sprinter: Pullman is still close to mom and dad – and the whole extended family, which was represented by roughly 25 members at his signing. That included big sister Sofia, currently running for Eastern Washington’s track team.

“It’s the Pac-12, so the competition is going to be phenomenal,” Pizzillo said. “I’ll be running against the best teams in the country. But it’s also an hour away from home so that’s huge to me.”

Does the Pac-12 present more pressure than, say, a GSL meet? “I’ve ran at Nationals, I’ve ran at the biggest indoor meet in North America, so I think I’ll be ready for it.”

Is there anything the WSU coaches wanted Pizzillo to work on for the spring season?

“Keep in shape.”

Maddie Lee (Mead), volleyball, Central Washington

“I’ve had (Lee) since she was a sophomore,” coach Shawn Wilson said. “She’s been a starter the entire time. Every year she’s gotten better. This year she’s really stepped up as far as being a leader on the team and has kind of embraced that.

“She’s the kind of player that’s not just a leader, but what she does makes other people follow her,” Wilson said. “And the work ethic she has and her attitude and kindness to everybody on the team. You can’t replace a player like that.”

Lee embraced the feeling she got on her visit to Ellensburg.

“I was actually deciding between Carroll and Whitworth and Central (Washington),” she explained during practice on Tuesday. “I’m really interested in school so it was finding the best balance between volleyball and school. When I went on my visit to Central I just fell in love with the campus, fell in love with the coaches and team and I’m really excited to be a part of it.”

She joked it was close enough to get home on weekends but far enough that, “I don’t have to be worried about my mom just being into my dorm when I get back (from class).”

Lee loves the idea that so many Spokane-area schools made state volleyball and that those athletes in the region are gaining attentions.

“Usually Spokane doesn’t get the rep of having great volleyball, but honestly there’s some of the best athletes I’ve ever seen all coming from the city of Spokane,” she explained. “There’s a lot of D-I athletes, D-I prospects at all levels that are really competitive and it’s a really fun atmosphere to be a part of, a good place to grow up in.”