Sports

College draws athletes toward big time

Local prep athletes who have proven themselves on South Whidbey fields and at state competitions are looking forward to doing it again, this time taking the challenge to a higher level.

At least six former Falcons, who graduate today, plan to continue competing at the college level, either as recruited athletes or walk-ons.

Bronwyn Russell, the star second baseman for the Falcons fastpitch softball team, will be taking her .447 batting average and Golden Glove south to St. Mary’s College of California. The school, about 20 miles outside of San Francisco, plays Division 1 NCAA fastpitch in the Pacific Coast Conference.

Twelve years of softball, including three years playing with the Seattle-region Lady Titans and Triple Threat, has paid off for Russell with an athletic scholarship. She signed a letter of intent recently, after St. Mary’s flew her down to visit the campus in April and provided a $7,000 athletic scholarship (above and beyond normal financial aid and an academic package for her 4.0 GPA).

“It’s not high profile like UCLA or Stanford, but has a very competitive program,” Russell said about her new school.

The program is in a building phase. The St. Mary’s Gaels, as the team is known, played a 56-game schedule this spring, finishing 13-43 overall and 5-15 in league play.

Falcons softball coach Todd Lubach has watched Russell grow as a player for four years.

“She’s a tremendous player and has been since her freshman year when she started at second base,” he said.

She’s been the team captain for three years, the team leader, and always one of the top batters and top fielders, he said.

“When at practice, or at a game, or whatever she’s doing, she’s always out there giving 100 percent, and supporting her teammates 100 percent of the time,” Lubach said.

Russell batted third in the rotation, a dependable left-handed slapper who finished the season with 28 RBIs. The important thing is she also has power to go with it, Lubach said, which keeps the defense guessing.

“That’s something colleges are really looking for,” he said.

The Falcons state champion track and field team will have at least three athletes trying to run, jump, and toss their way into college-level athletics.

Kyle McGillen, the reining 2A state champion in the long, triple, and high jumps, said this week he plans to attend Western Washington University and to join the track and field program there. There’s no athletic scholarship involved in the decision, he said, at least not yet.

McGillen has all the ingredients to be a strong competitor at the college level, said Doug Fulton, the head track coach at South Whidbey. McGillen is already on the cusp of matching Division 1 jumpers head to head, Fulton said.

A good Division 1 long jumper has to be able to make 23 feet, Fulton said. McGillen has the school record at 22 feet 11 inches, achieved at the state tournament this year. Likewise, McGillen’s school record high jump of 6 feet, 6 inches is within a couple inches of winning jumps at the college level, he said. McGillen also has the school record triple jump at 44 feet, 9 inches.

Distance runner James Sundquist is also planning to attend Western Washington. Sundquist helped anchor the boy’s state championship season by winning in the 3,200 meter run, just missing the school record by six seconds.

“Both James and Kyle can make big impacts right off the bat as freshman,” Fulton said.

Their new coach, Peewee Halsell of Western Washington, said that James and Kyle will each immediately find a place on his team. “These two young men will do well here,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting a 1-2 punch from South Whidbey,” he said.

McGillen’s state champion fetes would each have scored at the Division 2 conference championships this year, he said. And Sundquist is desperately needed to replace graduating seniors in his events, he said.

Katy McGillen, second in the state last year in the heptathlon, will be going to the University of Tulsa, a Division 1 school. Like her twin brother, Kyle, Katy McGillen competes in the high jump and triple jump, but excels also in the javelin and the hurdles. She threw a personal best and school record 134 feet, 1 inch to become state champion this year in the javelin.

Fulton said McGillen will be an instant asset to the Tulsa team.

“She’s got pretty good speed, great hurdling ability, and a good body for the throws,” he said.

Fulton also coaches Kellie Supsinskas, who plans to be a walk-on to Seattle Pacific University’s cross-country team. Injuries kept Supsinskas from competing in track this year, but she says long-distance running is her strength.

She finished the season last fall 13th in the state, running the 5-kilometer course in 19:48, her best time ever.

“It’s been awhile since anyone (at South Whidbey High School) has been able to go under 20 minutes,” Supsinskas said.

Although Supsinskas said she’d need to improve to near the 17-minute mark to be among the top at the college level, Fulton pointed out that only the elite are reaching that level. She already has the talent to have an impact at SPU, he said, with a run anywhere in the 19-minute range.

“I’m just interested in taking part in college-level training,” Supsinskas said, “to see where that might take me.”

She said she also expects to try out for the track and field team, specializing in the longer distance events.

Senior golfer Jeff Strong is another Falcon athlete who will reap the rewards of his work on the field of play. He plans to attend Skagit Valley Community College on an athletic scholarship, according to his golf coach, Mick Heggenes. Strong was the team leader this year, placing 11th at the state meet.

Other graduates may be moving toward an athletic career in college. There is no single place where such records are kept. Even the coaches may not know if a player is being scouted or wooed with scholarships.

“It used to be college coaches called high school coaches,” said athletic director and football coach Mark Hodson. “Now they seem to go directly to the kids.”

The pursuit of athletic scholarships, trying to get a college coach’s attention, can also be a daunting task. Softball coach Lubach is in Las Vegas this weekend with his daughter, Carolann Lubach, and the team’s pitcher, Christie Robinson, to show off their skills at a college exposure tournament. The girls will play in five softball games in front of an expected 250 college coaches.

They’re also busy making video tapes, developing portfolios, and writing letters to get their names out there, he said.

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