By INDIANA FULLER
From November 12 to November 19, seniors Mia Maher, Ken Takahashi, Ari Gulugian, Yuki Asami and Celine Gruaz signed the National Letter of Intent (NLI) to play college sports. During office hours, Maher, Takahashi, Gulugian and Asami signed with their friends, families, and coaches present to celebrate their achievements. Gruaz signed separately over the weekend of November 15.
The NLI acts as a binding agreement between a student-athlete and the school. For one academic year, the athlete agrees to play for the school and the school will provide athletic scholarship and financial aid.
Maher committed to Utah State University to play softball. During her junior year, she was first team all-league and had the highest number of bases stolen in the whole league. Maher said, “There are a few factors; first of all, they had a good program for the major that I want. I want to go to a pre-vet program. Also, when I visited the school, I saw how they ran their practices and games and liked how they ran it.”
Takahashi signed to UC Berkley for swimming. Ken holds an Olympic Trials time in the long course 400 individual medley (IM) with a time of 4:25.70. He also holds 6 national cuts in the long course 200 IM, short course 200 IM, short course 200 butterfly, short course 200 breaststroke and short course 500 freestyle. When asked about the major factors in choosing Berkeley, he said, “Cal has a really great swim program, as well as academics. Also, I plan on majoring in psychology or in Economics.”
Gulugian signed to play golf at University of Arizona (UofA). He is 167th in the country, placed top 10 and top 5 in two national tournaments, won over 12 tournaments in 2014, and is fully exempt on the biggest junior tour in the country, which means he automatically qualifies for the tour. When asked about his decision to play at UofA, he said, “A couple major factors were probably the weather, coaching staff for the golf team, and the academics part of the school. I plan to major something along the lines of business administration.”
Asami committed to play tennis for University of Pacific. Asami has been featured as OCVarsity’s athlete of the week all four years of her high school career (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014). She won Pacific Coast League (PCL) doubles in freshman, junior and senior year and second place in singles sophomore year. Asami reached California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) quarterfinals for doubles last year, and was undefeated in league this year. When asked about the factors in choosing her school, she said, “I chose University of Pacific mainly because they have the major I want to study; Health and Exercise Science. Also, I want to stay in California, and they also have a Division 1 tennis program where I can continue to play tennis competitively.”
Gruaz, not featured in the video, signed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO) for tennis. Celine won the PCL individual tournament and is ranked top 20 in California. She also reached the quarter finals sophomore year and semifinals junior year of CIF individuals and was OCVarsity’s athlete of the week. She has 26 United States Tournament Association tournament wins. When asked why she chose Cal Poly SLO, she said, “I wanted a school that offered great academics and a great athletic program. Cal Poly has both! Having a coach you connect with is really important and Cal Poly’s coach seemed like the best fit for me. I see college as a place for growth, intellectually and athletically. Finding a school that offers both and is still close enough to home: it was an easy choice!”
Her most memorable moment in the sport was “last year in CIF when I beat the defending CIF champions (Campbell Hall) #1 player at home in front of a big crowd. I had recently lost to her, so beating her in front of everyone and then making it to CIF team finals was an amazing feeling.”
When asked if she is planning on going pro, Gruaz said, “This spring I am going to start playing professional tournaments to begin qualifying for bigger ones. But once college starts I’m going to focus on my team and NCAA tournaments. I can’t say yes to playing professional tennis after college but I can’t say no. For now I’m just training as hard as I can and maybe I’ll have a shot in turning this sport into my career.”
Gruaz would like to thank her mother for her success. “My mom is my biggest supporter. If it weren’t for my mom I wouldn’t I wouldn’t have committed to a Division 1 school and be where I am today. She believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself and she always pushed for me to work harder. My mom would miss work to drive me to tournaments and miss family gatherings just to watch me play. She’s the one person who supported me my entire life and I’m sure she’ll still be at all my matches even when I’m away at college,” said Gruaz.
Other athletes who have committed to schools will be honored in a ceremony later in the year.