By Kyle LoJacono
If national signing day was a game, Wharton High would have been named the area champion this year.
Four Wildcats student-athletes inked their names to letters of intent to compete in college during the first day of early signing on Nov. 9. Monica Santos will play softball at the University of South Florida (USF), tennis player Steven Sepulveda will attend Reinhardt University, Tyler Liberatore will wrestle at Arizona State University and Stephany Brown is headed to Palm Beach Atlantic University to play volleyball.
Monica Santos cannot remember a time when she wasn’t playing softball.
“It’s all I know and I’ve been doing it all my life,” Santos said. “I started playing baseball when I was 3, and I’ve had a bat and a ball in my hand since I was 2.”
The third baseman has been a fan of USF for almost as long.
“I watched the softball games there when I was 6 and just fell in love with the program,” said Santos, who is interested in sociology. “I can’t see myself going anywhere else. It’s been my dream to go to USF, so I’m just living my dream right now.”
Santos posted a .368 batting average with 18 runs scored and nine RBI in 2011. She also showed plate discipline by striking out only four times in 71 plate appearances while drawing 12 walks.
The senior’s play drew attention from USF as well as from the Puerto Rican national team. She plays on the commonwealth’s women’s squad, most recently competing at the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico.
“It was an amazing experience,” Santos said. “I even played against team USA. Their coach is Ken Eriksen, who will be my coach at USF, so that was strange and fun at the same time.”
Steven Sepulveda is a relative newcomer to tennis, picking up the sport about five years ago.
“I played soccer for a long time and I was definitely a lot better at tennis,” Sepulveda said.
Despite his natural talent for the game, he was unable to make Wharton’s team his freshman year. He used the disappointment to fuel his desire to get better.
“I definitely practiced a lot more after that happened,” Sepulveda said. “It told me I have to go back and figure something out if I want to play in high school.”
Whatever he found in those practice sessions helped him make the Wildcats team in 2010, the year the squad brought home the Class 4A state championship. Wharton made it back to the state tournament the following season.
“This year I want to have a good season and I’m training four days a week right now to be ready when we start,” Sepulveda said. “We want to try and get back to states.”
Sepulveda plans to study business at Reinhardt. He added the school is a good fit for him because it has a low number of students per class, which is an environment that helps him learn.
Tyler Liberatore has been a constant at the wrestling finals since his freshman season, finishing as the state champion the last three years.
He transferred to Wharton for his senior year after spending the previous three at Brandon High, but he has no plans to slow down as a Wildcat.
“I’m out to pin everybody all season,” said Liberatore, who was 15-0 last year. “Nothing less than that.”
Liberatore started wrestling around age 8. He said he always wanted to be a part of a Division I program, and decided Arizona State was the right place quickly.
“I’ve gone to some of the wrestling camps and after meeting their coaches I found their style goes well with mine,” said Liberatore, who is undecided on his major. “Plus I’m a Florida boy, so I love warm weather. It’s one of the few good wrestling programs that is in warm weather, plus it’s a good academic school.”
Now that the first part of his dream has come true, Liberator can put the second phase into action.
“It feels great, but I’m definitely not content with just wrestling there,” Liberatore said. “I’m definitely playing to win some national titles while I’m there. It was always the goal to get to a Division I school and then win national titles.”
One look at Stephany Brown would not lead many to think she is one of the most imposing middle hitters in Florida.
The 6-foot-2 Brown always has a smile on her face and said she is friendly to everyone — off the court that is.
“When I get in front of the net my mentality changes,” Brown said. “I want to block everything that comes my way.”
Brown’s 1.3 blocks per set is tied for 10th most in the state this season. She also had 157 kills and 29 aces.
Brown, who will study sports medicine, started playing volleyball in eighth-grade.
“I played basically every sport you can think of and volleyball is the one I have the most passion for,” Brown said. “I also run track, but volleyball just called my name more.”
Brown’s play helped Wharton go 19-4 this season, the first time the program has won double digit matches in five years.
The Wildcats came up one match short of earning a berth in the playoffs, but Brown said the memories of her senior campaign are nothing but positive.
“It was a really exciting season,” Brown said. “Our outcome obviously wasn’t what we were hoping for, but we became so close and the relationship I have with each of my teammates is something I won’t forget.”
–All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches.
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