Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Echoing their excitement to grow as individuals and as athletes, Eagle Point's Peyton Dole and Crater's Gracie Tostenson highlighted a host of area seniors who made their collegiate intentions known during Wednesday's national letter of intent signing day.
Dole, a standout football player for the Eagles, decided that his first offer likely was also his best offer and committed to play football at Air Force Academy in the fall. The process was a little more tedious for Tostenson before she finally settled on running cross country and track at Boise State University.
The only other Division I signees came from the same household, where twin sisters Kerissa and Venessa D'Arpino each signed letters of intent to run track at Oregon State University.
Around 25 local athletes made their commitments known on Wednesday, the regular signing period most notably for football, with others still weighing their options and expected to finalize plans within the next few months.
Southern Oregon's football team got a boost with the local signings of South Medford's Tristian Lallo, Jacob Ridgeway and Riley Williams, Crater's Dallin George, Cascade Christian's Tanner Parker, Eagle Point's Lucas Morris and Carlos Flores and Grants Pass' Jonah Musser.
Western Oregon picked up some key commitments for football in Crater's Ty Fox and Carlos Higuera, along with Drake Brennan of Grants Pass.
In other football commitments, Crater's Davey McCollum opted for Lindenwood University in Missouri, while the College of Siskiyous program picked up five players in Eagle Point's Seth Arena, Donald Everett, Bryson Baker and James Bowers and Grants Pass' Walker Pope.
In cross country, Cascade Christian's Stephanie Croy opted against a few Division I offers to run at Biola University near Los Angeles and South Medford's Stefani Ritter will compete at Nyack College in New York.
Emily Henderson of Grants Pass also affirmed her commitment to Northwest University in Washington for women's basketball.
Dole was a leading tackler and first-team all-Midwestern League selection at outside linebacker this past season for the Eagles, and also a top offensive threat who had 34 catches for 601 yards and 13 TDs entering the play-in round. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, the 17-year-old Eagle offers a unique blend of physicality and athleticism to whatever position he's been asked to play.
Above anything, however, is Dole's excitement over joining such a prestigious academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I'm really excited just for everything that goes along with going to the academy," he said Friday after a signing day ceremony at Eagle Point High School, "not only the football but all the benefits and everything you get graduating from the Air Force Academy."
Dole said Air Force was the first program that showed significant interest in him and, even though he received a handful of offers to follow, all along he knew that he was bound for Colorado. Once he got beyond the initial skepticism of joining a military academy, Dole said there was no turning back.
"No one in my family's ever even been in the military and even when I was younger I thought there's no way I was going to go out to the military," he said, "but after talking to some of the current cadets there and the coaches, they made it seem a lot better than what I was initially expecting."
The decision was definitely supported by Eagle Point football coach Seth Womack, who helped get Dole's name out to the colleges and sees the versatile athlete fitting in well at the Division I level.
"I think he'll do very well there," said Womack, who had seven players overall commit to continue playing in college on Wednesday. "Academically it's going to be very challenging, of course, but Peyton is definitely one of the smarter kids in our school and he's very focused and determined with his studies."
"On the football side," added the coach, "I think outside linebacker is the perfect fit for him, especially at that level. He's very athletic and Air Force runs a lot of 3-4 defense so for him to be able to come off the edge and then drop in coverage, that will fit into what Peyton's best at doing. He'll really thrive in the Air Force system."
Dole has no grand illusions of showing up and being a star from Day 1 at Air Force, but he said the coaches do believe he'll have an opportunity to play sooner than later.
"I know that they told me they see me as a guy that can come in and contribute quickly because they don't have a whole lot of outside linebackers on the team currently," he said. "This is really a position of need for them and they said my skill set really fits the way they like to play defense. I definitely think that they're excited to have me out there."
Feeling wanted was definitely something that helped sway Tostenson to Boise State, along with a campus visit that just made the Crater standout feel comfortable, from the coaches to teammates and overall environment.
"I had a lot of options," said the 5-4 Tostenson, "but I felt like a bigger school and a team with new coaches who are really excited about competing for a national title was going to be the best decision for me to keep my running career going."
Tostenson, who placed third in the Class 6A state cross country meet, took visits to the University of Hawaii as well as Utah and Portland State before visiting Boise State essentially on a whim. The Broncos had been one of many who had sent letters of interest to Tostenson, who made a pile of them but never really went through. When a friend began talking to her about Boise State, she decided to contact the school and immediately was taken into the program.
On her visit, Tostenson said she tried to remain cautious and not get sold on the program but that was too difficult of a task. The idea of competing at the Division I level was alluring, and the financial package ultimately offered up allowed her to follow her dream.
"I want to be a really good runner and try to make a big difference on a team in college and keep growing as a runner," said Tostenson, who also expects to run distance events in the track and field season. "It's so great to just know that I'm going to be on such a competitive team and run with girls that are the same speed or faster and I'm going to be fighting to be on the team. I think it's great to have competition like that."
Crater cross country coach Justin Loftus said the push to thrive among the top athletes will definitely suit Tostenson.
"She's self-motivated and is always texting me about workouts and runs and when are we doing this and that," said Loftus. "She's really self-driven and works well with the team so she'll be fine. There will definitely be a transition getting to that level, so it's gonna be intense for her, but she's ready. We've pushed her pretty hard here and she's ready in that respect. She's definitely been tested."
The D'Arpino sisters have been each other's toughest competition, regardless of level, and will aim to continue that by maintaining their regiment of running the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes at Oregon State.
Venessa D'Arpino set Class 4A state meet records in the 100 (12.04 seconds), 200 (24.11) and 400 (54.68) last season. Kerissa D'Arpino finished a close second in the 200 and 400 and was third in the 100.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry