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CHS students parlay academic, athletic excellence into college gold

Several seniors who have distinguished themselves on the court, on the field or in the pool at Claremont High School are going on to university sports programs this fall, taking their love of athletics to the next level.

These student athletes recreated the thrilling moment of signing their college acceptance letters at a Wednesday, June 7 ceremony in the Wolfpack gym.

Their coaches and Principal Brett O’Connor were on hand to applaud the signatories who, like so many among the 530 students in the class of 2012, are moving on to bigger and better things.

“I hope that athletics continues to be an important part of their life—that athletics will promote their sense of sportsmanship and honesty,” Mr. O’Connor said. “And that they always recognize that in ‘student athlete,’ the student part is the most important thing.” 

By demonstrating versatility and perseverance, the students moving on are Jonah Dowd to the George Washington University water polo team; Taylor Fortson  to the Pomona College soccer team; Nina Gurgian to the Mayville State University softball team; Kyle Maloof to the William Jessup University basketball team; Dakota Meador to the Hannibal-LaGrange University men’s volleyball team; and Emily Viggers, to the Princeton softball team.

CHS Athletic Director Rick Dutton emphasized the scope of the students’ accomplishments.

“We’re talking about competing on a national level, against 50 states and millions of other athletes,” Mr. Dutton said. “All of those kids are very high-level competitors in high school sports. They’re some of the best kids that we have to offer.

Jonah Dowd spent 2 years as captain

Not least among these is Jonah Dowd who, after 4 years on the boys varsity water polo team—2 as captain—will trade the Sierra League for Division I NCAA play when he heads to George Washington University in Washington, DC this fall.

Jonah, a utility player, got his start in club water polo at the end of sixth grade, so he was more than ready to jump into CHS play as a freshman. Along with his place in the Wolfpack, his involvement in the Ironman Water Polo League through Foothill Club Water Polo has kept him in top shape year-round.

Like any savvy student who aspires to play at the college level, Jonah made a point of marketing himself. He researched promising universities with water polo teams, sending out a resume listing his honors (first-team all-league, second-team all-CIF and team MVP 2 years in a row) and featuring a picture of him playing. He also included pertinent information like his speed and the number of goals he’s scored (241 over the course of his high school career).

“You have to get your name out there,” he said.

Jonah, who plans to major in international affairs or international business, will miss the teammates he’s bonded with over the years: “These are my best friends.”

He is sure to find new friends though among the Colonials, who are looking forward to his arrival.

“Jonah plays for one of the top club programs in southern California. His speed and post-up play will have an immediate impact on this team,” said the head water polo coach Scott Reed in a George Washington University press release.

Nina Gurgian heads to colder climate

Nina Gurgian has gotten her notice—via owl, of course—that she will be heading to Hogwart’s this fall.

Not really. Nina, who played third and first bases on the girls varsity softball team, will be heading for Division II play in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics at Mayville State University in North Dakota.

In an interview earlier in the season, however, she confessed part of the school’s appeal is the Queen Anne-style brick buildings—complete with turrets and spires—which remind her of the castle wizard school in the Harry Potter series.

Nina’s journey to Mayville hasn’t been a fairytale. Her upcoming post with the Comets softball team is the result of hard work…and a great swing.

“She hits the ball so hard all the time,” said assistant CHS softball coach Jim Pulver. “She has a lot of singles, but she’s bouncing them off the walls. She just hits rockets 5 feet off the ground.”

Nina attributes much of her focus to her parents, who have always encouraged her to continue with softball.

“They said, this is what you’re good at, so you’re going to pursue it further,” said Nina, who plans to major in nursing.

In the course of that pursuit, Nina started T-ball at age 5 and juggled recreation ball play with Wolfpack competition for most of high school. She has racked up some impressive stats, including a .395 batting average and a .447 on-base percentage.

Though she is a bit nervous, Nina is ready to up her level of game play and embrace new adventures in a new state. To students looking to create similar opportunities for themselves, she has some good advice.

“You have to have a love for the sport. You can’t expect to get to a university by giving half of your effort,” Nina said. “If you have the heart and dedication and work ethic, and you have talent, you’ll make it.” 

Emily Viggers starting playing ball early

Nina’s teammate, Emily Viggers, has exemplified heart and dedication in her path to a Division 1 NCAA school.

Emily started T-ball at age 6. Ever since she graduated to softball, she has focused fiercely on the sport. When she finished recreation ball after 8th grade, she moved on to travel ball, which she continued while playing for the ‘Pack. 

Her commitment has paid off with a .983 fielding percentage. It has also landed her a spot on Princeton’s softball team, in Division I NCAA competition.

It will be a whole new world for Emily. She’ll be moving to New Jersey and adjusting to college-level athletics and academics. There is little doubt, however, that she is up to the challenge, says head varsity softball coach Gina Mattson.

“She’s smart, she knows her game and she’s a great outfielder, no matter where I put her on the field,” Coach Mattson said.

Emily, who plans to major in engineering, turned 18 in January. Her acceptance letter arrived that same day, making for a truly momentous occasion.

“To play in college has always been my dream,” she said. 

Signing was a family affair

Kyle Maloof is looking forward to playing Division II NAIA basketball at William Jessup University, a Christian college in the greater Sacramento area.

For Kyle, success is a family affair. There to cheer him on at the signing ceremony were his mother, father, sister and grandmother, who proudly carried a photograph of a pint-sized Kyle sinking a basketball shot at age 2.

Representatives of his other family, the boys varsity basketball team, also showed up in the form of 3 teammates and his coach, Stan Tolliver.

“Kyle’s got a great feel and a gift for basketball. He’s a great student of the game, and he really understands how to play it,” Coach Tolliver said.

That gift has manifested in the kind of eye-catching stats that make colleges turn their heads.

“Kyle is a 1000-point scorer at Claremont;he’s one of only a handful that have accomplished that,” Coach Tolliver noted. “He was one of the leading scorers in CIF, was first-team all-Sierra League and led the league in scoring. He’s had a nice career.”

Duly impressed, members of William Jessup’s basketball program contacted Coach Tolliver in the middle of the season, letting him know their interest in Kyle. Kyle did some research and found out the university had many pluses, too. Selling points included a brand-new gym and the fact that the Warriors are favored to win their league next season.

Kyle, who is pondering majoring in history, also likes the school’s location, the city of Rocklin, and the northern California area beyond.

“It’s a really friendly area.”

“I think he always saw himself playing college basketball,” said Coach Tolliver. “That helps when you visualize it and see yourself dong something.

Fortson inspired on and off the field

Taylor Fortson won’t be going far when she moves onto an NCAA Division III soccer team; Pomona College is just a few blocks away.

Nonetheless, it’s a move that will require Taylor to amp up her performance, both in athletics and academics.

“It’s a really great education,” she said. “They call it the Harvard of the West.”

Before joining the CHS girls varsity soccer team, Taylor played 4 years of club soccer with the Claremont Stars.

She played hard on defense for the Wolfpack, despite heartbreaking injuries that kept her off the field for most of her freshman and junior seasons. Her efforts to keep in shape while injured served as an inspiration to the entire team, Taylor’s coaches say.

This season, she assisted CHS as they fought their way to become League Champs and CIF Division 3 Champions. Taylor is also a champion in the classroom.

“It’s very challenging,” said Principal Brett O’Connor of the task of balancing athletics with academics. “We keep high school students very busy. The vast majority are in a variety of activities. Many times they don’t get home till 6 or 7 in the evening and then they have to hit the academics.”

Taylor, who plans to major in neuroscience, has proved herself up to the challenge, earning a 4.3 weighted GPA. It is small wonder the Sagehens wanted to recruit this hardworking student-athlete. 

Taylor says she has cherished her last year on the ‘Pack.

“I always had a great time in the program, but it got really competitive this year.”

Dakota prepares for jump to Division I

Dakota Meador will say goodbye to California when he heads off to play Division I NAIA volleyball at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Missouri.

Dakota’s studies at the Christian liberal arts college will be partially funded, a result of the school’s desire to have him hit the courts with the Trojans. This is a remarkable achievement, says head boys varsity volleyball coach Bernie Wendling. There are hundreds of womens volleyball teams among Division I schools alone, while only about 30 universities in the country that maintain mens volleyball teams.

“When a guy gets a scholarship, that’s a big deal. That’s awesome that he managed to do that,” Coach Wendling said.

Along with a 3.9 GPA, Dakota—who plans to major in mathematics—also has some pretty awesome on-the-field accomplishments. He got an honorable mention in the 2011 All-Pacific League and was named Defensive MVP for the 2011 season.

His strong suit?

“Dakota just has a knack for anticipating where the ball is going to go—that’s what’s made him so good defensively,” Coach Wendling said. “He just nails the serve/receive.”

With so few opportunities for mens volleyball players, Dakota had to be offensive when it came to courting colleges. He researched promising schools with volleyball programs and sent out queries. He then shared video footage of his game performance with those who expressed interest.

He was impressed by the attentiveness of the coaches at Hannibal Le-Grange, and the rest is history.

Dakota has consistently been one of the lead scorers for the Wolfpack, but he doesn’t expect the college level to be a snap.

“It’s a lot different. The skill level is so much higher. You don’t realize how you play until you get to the next level and you play kids who are better than you and have more experience,” he said.  

Dakota’s athletic experiences have included 2 years of soccer, but he gave that up to give his all to volleyball.

“It paid off because the school is paying, just for me to go out and play volleyball.”

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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