Dozens of local high school athletes earlier this month signed their letters of intent (LOI) to various colleges and universities as part of National Signing Day.
It’s a special day held annually on the first Wednesday in February where thousands of athletes nationwide can sign a binding letter of intent with a member school of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
From The Laker/Lutz News coverage area alone, Wharton High registered the most signings with nine, followed by Cypress Creek and Steinbrenner high schools that each reported six apiece.
Academy at the Lakes, Freedom High, Gaither High, Land O’ Lakes High, Sunlake High, Wesley Chapel High, Wiregrass Ranch High, Zephyrhills High and Zephyrhills Christian Academy also were well-represented as part of signing day festivities.
Locals inked to play at the next level for the following sports — beach volleyball, baseball, basketball, cross-country, football, volleyball, softball, swimming and track.
Here is a closer look at some notable area athletes who signed on the dotted line and are expected to make significant contributions at the next level.
Jared Hammill, Wharton, cross-country/track (University of Tampa)
Jared Hammill turned in a banner performance at the 2020 FHSAA state cross-country championships, finishing third overall in the 4A meet — clocking a 15:51.9 (5:06-minute per mile pace).
His time and placing represented was tops among local cross-country runners from all classifications in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area. (Meanwhile, the only two runners faster in all of 4A were Rheinhardt Harrison (15:26.9) and Anderson Ball (15:43.5), both teammates at Nease High, in Ponte Vedra Beach.)
The state showcase wasn’t Hammill’s fastest time of the year, however.
That came at the Hillsborough County Championships in October, where he set a new school 5K record — posting a 15:34 to win the meet, besting Tre Rivers’ 15:45.7 mark set in 2018.
Hammill now looks to end his prep running career on an even higher note with the forthcoming track season, likely to compete in the 800-meter, 1600-meter and 3,200-meter runs, as well as some relays. His personal-best in the 800-meter is 2:00.06, 1600-meter is 4:31.91 and 3,200-meter is 9:41.52.
Kiael Kelly, Gaither, football (Ball State University)
Kiael Kelly, a dual-threat quarterback, wasted no time in his lone season at Gaither — transferring in from Tampa Jesuit for his senior year.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound athlete steered the Cowboys to an 11-1 record and 6A regional final — completing 63% of his throws for 1,594 yards, 16 touchdowns and four picks, plus 399 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns.
Kelly also is a member of the renowned Team Tampa 7-on-7 all-star team, which has won multiple national championships since its formation in 2010.
A consensus three-star recruiting prospect, Kelly also received Division I scholarship offers from Bethune-Cookman, Bowling Green, Coastal Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Liberty, South Florida and Syracuse.
One doesn’t have to look far to see where Kelly’s athletic bloodlines originate.
His father is Kenny Kelly, a former starting quarterback at the University of Miami, who also played Major League Baseball for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals in the early 2000s. The elder Kelly also was a four-sport letterman at Tampa Catholic High School in baseball, basketball, football and track.
Lilly Kiester, Freedom, softball (University of Tampa)
Lilly Kiester first hit the big stage back in 2015, when her Team Tampa U12 travel ball softball team ventured to Sacramento, California, to compete in the Amateur Softball Association national championship for that age group.
She’s come a long way since advancing to the prep ranks.
The speedy centerfielder was en route to another strong season as a junior— before the COVID-19 pandemic cut everything short — posting a .452 batting average through eight games, adding eight runs, four RBIs and two extra-base hits.
Kiester was no slouch her prior two years on varsity, either, hitting .365 as a sophomore and .333 as a freshman.
Her career numbers thus far stack up this way: In 52 games played, Kiester has a .366 average, .428 on-base percentage, 64 hits, 51 runs, 24 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. Defensively, she has a .941 fielding percentage, 66 putouts and 14 outfield assists during that time.
Meantime, the Freedom Patriots during that time have gone a combined 38-15 with two regional playoff appearances.
Expect more of the same, and maybe then some, this spring.
McKenna Smith, Academy at the Lakes, swimming (Duke University)
McKenna Smith soon will venture into the competitive NCAA Division I swimming ranks after wrapping up a decorated prep career as a seven-time state medalist — which includes recent third-place finishes in the 50-yard free (23.15) and 100-yard free (50.34) at the 2020 Florida High School Athletic Association 1A championship meet.
This goes along with claiming more than a dozen individual regional and district titles combined over her varsity career, plus countless other events and invitationals won.
The sprint freestyler, too, has earned a multiple high school All-American nod for her junior cuts in the 50 free and 100 free. Her personal-best time (in yards) in the 50 free is 23.05, 100 free is 50.11, and 200 free is 1:51.65.
Besides her work in the pool for Academy at the Lakes, Smith swims year-round for Florida Elite Swimming, a club team based in Land O’ Lakes.
A volleyball player as a youth, Smith didn’t begin swimming competitively until the sixth grade.
The watersport has become a family affair, however.
Smith’s younger brother, Nate, an AATL freshman, competed in his first state swim meet this past year, finishing 22nd in the 1A 100-yard free (49.65).
Lilou Stegeman, Steinbrenner, volleyball (University of Albany)
Lilou Stegeman, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker, wrapped up an impressive final campaign as a key cog in Steinbrenner’s 17-8 record and 7A regional semifinals berth.
In 55 sets played this season, Stegeman registered 136 kills, 73 digs, 44 blocks and 18 aces, en route to earning All-County honors.
Stegeman also competes for the Orlando Tampa Volleyball Academy, regarded as one of the top clubs in the country.
Stegeman also is an accomplished track athlete — a team captain who was a state finisher in the 100-meter hurdles in 2019. She also ran the 300-meter hurdles, high jump, 4×100-meter and 4×400-meter relays and 200-meter dash for Steinbrenner.
This coming fall, Stegeman will join a University of Albany volleyball program that won the 2019 America East title — its first since 2011, and sixth conference championship, overall.
Albany head volleyball coach Josh Pickard said the following of Stegeman’s athletic skillset, in a Signing Day release: “Lilou brings great size and presence in the middle. She has competed for a great club and will bring a great knowledge of the game to our squad. She has a great background in multiple sports, which helps her excel in her chosen sport of volleyball. Her upside in volleyball is huge due to her short time in the sport and we are excited to see her grow as a Great Dane.”
Peyton Petry, Cypress Creek, baseball (Saint Leo University)
Peyton Petry has established himself as one of the area’s most productive two-way players — a right-handed pitcher and outfielder —twice earning first team All-Conference honors.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic terminated the 2020 campaign, the 6-foot-4 Petry had a .464/.531/.678 slash line with 12 runs, 9 RBIs and four extra base hits through 32 plate appearances in seven games, paired with a 3.50 earned run average and 27 strikeouts through 12 innings pitched.
Petry’s full sophomore run was likewise noteworthy, with his arm and his bat.
On the mound, Petry fired 36.1 innings to the tune of a 1.35 earned run average, 34 strikeouts, and a 4-1 win-loss mark. At the plate, he posted a .333/.413/.333 line, with five runs and seven RBIs, in 19 games played.
Petry also has garnered widespread recognition around prep baseball circles — ranked among the top-500 recruits in the nation, according to Perfect Game, the world’s largest baseball scouting service.
In addition to Cypress Creek, Petry plays for the Ostingers Baseball Academy travel ball team, where he’s earned multiple All-Tournament team selections and helped the program win the 2020 Perfect Game 17U Florida World Series in Fort Myers.
Saint Leo head baseball coach Rick O’Dette said this of Petry, as part of a Signing Day news release: “We saw him early as a low to mid 80’s strike thrower who we anticipated in becoming an immediate arm. That has happened even sooner than we have thought. He is now an upper 80’s arm who can throw any pitch at any time. The ceiling is extremely high for him. His work ethic and love to get better is extremely contagious. His future is bright.”
Petry’s younger brother, Ethan, also is a talented ballplayer showing high-level collegiate potential. The Cypress Creek junior third baseman/pitcher is a University of South Carolina commit.
Here is a roundup of all known high school athlete signings in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area:
Academy at the Lakes
Alex Carmichael — Upper Iowa University (Fayette, Iowa)
Sean Saccomanno — Saint Norbert College (De Pere, Wisconsin)
Vanessa Alexander — Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island)
McKenna Smith — Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
Cypress Creek High School
Zachary Buelk — Thomas University (Thomasville, Georgia)
Nolan Jamison — Mars Hill University (Mars Hill, North Carolina)
Anthony Menendez —Thomas University (Thomasville, Georgia)
Peyton Petry — Saint Leo University
Emma Coon — Lander University (Greenwood, South Carolina)
Hailey Vasquez — Ava Maria University
Freedom High School
Lilly Kiester — University of Tampa
Erica Wilton — Miami-Dade College
Land O’ Lakes High School
Emily Proctor — College of Central Florida
Gracie Stanley — Pasco-Hernando State College
Steinbrenner High School
Rebecca Bach — Missouri State University
Brycen Lowe — Carthage College (Kenosha, Wisconsin)
Matthew Wyatt — Belmont-Abbey College (Belmont, North Carolina)
Mykayla Parise-King — Mars Hill University (Mars Hill, North Carolina)
Ashley Sholl — Concordia University-Chicago (River Forest, Illinois)
Lilou Stegeman — University of Albany (Albany, New York)
Sunlake High School
Dominick Albano — Warner University
Dylan Broderick — Saint Leo University
Trevor Mannarino — Lake Sumter State College
Gaither High School
Nick Bartalo — Charleston Southern University (Charleston, South Carolina)
Kiael Kelly — Ball State University (Muncie, Indiana)
Jordan Oladokun — Samford University (Birmingham, Alabama)
Ricky Parks — University of Utah
Wesley Chapel High School
Matt Helms — Warner University
Wharton High School
Zach Ehrhard — Oklahoma State University
Dylan McDonald — Saint Leo University
Frank Micallef — University of South Florida
Michael Rivera — Hillsborough Community College
Candice Green — Webber International University
Tieley Vaughn — University of South Florida
McKayla Velasquez — Ave Maria University
Jared Hammill — University of Tampa
McKenzie Watson — Newberry College (Newberry, South Carolina)
Wiregrass Ranch High School
Grady Clower — University of Central Florida
Larry Gibbs Jr. — Warner University
Gabe Thompson — Army West Point (West Point, New York)
Mike Barber — Luther College (Decorah, Iowa)
Zephyrhills Christian Academy
Nicholas Novo — Apprentice School (Newport News, Virginia)
Published February 17, 2021