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By Shelby Mack / The Californian
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
They play different sports and are headed to very different places, but for a handful of local high school athletes, they had one thing in common.
They had waited for this day, in some cases for an awfully long time. And when Wednesday came, all of them signed on the dotted line and inked their way onto college sports teams.
College: Fresno State
Ridgeview girls basketball
College: Sacred Heart
College: San Jose State
Garces girls basketball
College: San Jose State
College: Chico State
At Bakersfield High, Coleman Hammond, a top 100 wrestling recruit nationally, chose to stay home and wrestle for Cal State Bakersfield, following in the footsteps of his dad, Ray, and brother, Bryce.
"Of course there was pressure because of that, but in the end, it was the right decision beyond that," said Hammond, whom InterMat ranks as the No. 59 wrestling recruit nationally. "This is such a relief. It's been one of the most stressful situations in my life."
Hammond, a two-time state medalist ranked No. 11 in the nation at 145 pounds by InterMat, also took an official visit to Missouri, the No. 6 team in the country, and considered Lehigh (Pa.) and Maryland. But in the end, he wanted to become the fifth BHS wrestler in the past two years to sign with CSUB.
"The big thing for me is Bryce was there," said Coleman Hammond, who said he plans to take a redshirt season next year. "We really thrive off of one another. And coach (Mike) Mendoza goes to my church, so we have a great relationship. And he's a great wrestling technician."
To Hammond's left, another Driller chose to break form and choose Wyoming over CSUB and Cal Poly, among others. That would be Kyle Pope, the state runner-up at 182 pounds last year.
"The big thing for me was to get away from home," Pope said. "Go have my own experiences. But this is a big goal. I've just been dreaming about wrestling in college for a long time."
Wednesday marked the first day of the NCAA's weeklong early Letter of Intent signing period.
As Hammond and Pope were deciding their wrestling futures, athletes at Taft, Liberty and Garces also were signing letters of intent.
At Taft, Steven Gee signed to play baseball for Bill Kernen at CSUB. Gee hit .430 during his junior season and carried a 2.99 ERA as a pitcher.
Two Patriots volleyball players, Haylee Roberts and Kiki Robinson, squeezed their signing party between Tuesday's Central Section semifinal victory over Centennial and today's championship match against Clovis West.
"This has been such a crazy week for all of us," Robinson said. "All I know is we're winning Valley tomorrow."
Robinson signed with Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. "If you had asked me two years ago if I'd ever leave California, I would have called you crazy," she said, "but I'm overjoyed that I'm going to the East Coast. It's a great place."
Roberts, meanwhile, has known since the end of her sophomore year that she'd be signing with Oregon.
"I'm really excited," she said. "Even though I committed two years ago, it felt like I made the decision all over again today. It's going to be an amazing experience."
When Robinson and Roberts go for the title tonight, cheering them on will be Tori Zimmermann, a classmate who never misses a volleyball match. She also happens to be quite the athlete in her own right -- she signed Wednesday to play softball at Chico State.
"I've been playing club softball since I was 9, and this has always been a dream of mine," Zimmermann said. "I've loved it all, so I'm really excited to keep playing."
At Garces, baseball catcher Jake Sweaney joined Roberts in signing to play at Oregon -- though for Sweaney, there's always a chance he would accept an offer from a Major League team if he's taken in the June draft.
"I'd like to go to college, but if the right opportunity presents itself, it's any ballplayer's dream to go play pro ball," Sweaney said.
The senior, who also plays wide receiver on the football team, was The Californian's Baseball Player of the Year last season. He chose the Ducks over a slew of other West Coast schools including UCLA, USC and Pepperdine.
"I'm really excited," Sweaney said. "It was amazing, a great experience to go through."
Also at Garces, Rachol West, a standout volleyball and basketball player for the Rams, signed to play hoops for San Jose State and former CSUB coach Tim La Kose. West's older sister, Nikhol, played for La Kose's Roadrunners.
"I've seen and witnessed his system, and I know for a fact I know his system better than anyone," Rachol West said. "I had a lot of (interest), but my family I talked about where I would the most successful, where my family can watch me play, where I would be the most comfortable. And this was it."
West was the second girls basketball player in town to sign her letter of intent Wednesday. Ridgeview's Erica McCall, the No. 11 recruit in her class according to ESPN, faxed her letter to Stanford in the morning after signing it Saturday night at a ceremony in the Ridgeview gym.
"I'm ecstatic to be in the Bay Area, and seeing my friend Erica McCall only 20 minutes away at Stanford, that's really nice," West said.