By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
PASADENA – Fifteen area athletes made their college choices official during the early signing day period on Wednesday.
There were those who have high aspirations of a possible professional career and national championships, while others wanted a perfect blend of academics and athletics.
Baseball and softball produced the most area athletes headed to top Division I programs.
La Salle’s Bowdien Derby, who committed at the end of the summer, is headed to San Diego State. St. Francis standout David Olmedo-Barrera signed with CalState Fullerton, Temple City’s Corey Copping signed with UCSanta Barbara and Alhambra’s Gary Acuna is headed to San Jose State.
Derby, a two-time Star-News All-Area selection, was nothing short of spectacular his junior season. He clocked at 91 mph in his final game of last season, going 10-1 in 15 appearances with seven complete games, five shutouts, 101 strikeouts and a 0.94 ERA.
Derby said he’s being recruited as a pitcher as well as a shortstop. He batted .435 with three home runs, 19 RBIs and 12 doubles.
Derby has taken several unofficial trips to San Diego State but will make his official visit next week. He also considered UC Santa Barbara, Loyola Marymount, Arizona and Oregon.
Olmedo-Barrera is a two-time All-Area selection. The talented shortstop said he was leaning hard toward UCLA, but then Bruins assistant coach Rick Vanderhook accepted the head coaching position at Cal State Fullerton.
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“That’s when things changed and he started recruiting me to go to Fullerton,” said Olmedo-Barrera, who added that he’s fully healed and has no lingering effects from a broken wrist last season.
Copping drew interest from UCLA and Pepperdine but in the end signed with UCSB. Copping was the Rio Hondo League’s Most Valuable Player after going 4-2 with a 0.97 ERA and 59 strikeouts for league champion Temple City, which dethroned five-time defending champ Monrovia. Copping, a first-team All-CIF-SS selection in Division4, also was clutch at the plate, batting .347 with two home runs, 19 RBIs and six doubles.
Acuna, the left-hander who was instrumental in helping Alhambra win 22 of its final 23 games heading into the CIF-Southern Section playoffs, made his decision to attend San Jose State when the Spartans offered two weeks ago.
Acuna, who went 7-2 with a 1.52 ERA and 49 strikeouts as a junior, said he took an official visit and was convinced when recruiters and academic advisors promised to offer tutoring and help with school once there.
“I really struggle with school, but they said they would help me with tutoring and helping me with my work along the way,” Acuna said. “That was a big deal for me.”
Acuna drew some interest from UCLA, Cal State Fullerton and Oregon, but it was San Jose State that offered him a full ride, and he credits Alhambra coach Steve Gewecke for channeling efforts to help him get noticed.
“That was huge,” Acuna said.
La Canada’s Lauren Cox is headed to the University of San Diego and teammate Catherine Horner is headed to Tulsa.
Cox was hurt much of last season, but her dominance as a sophomore could not be ignored. She earned co-most valuable pitcher honors as a sophomore after a 5-1 season with a 0.55 ERA and 161 strikeouts.
Cox, who also considered North Carolina and Boston College, chose the University of San Diego because of its picturesque campus.
“It’s a perfect fit,” she said.
Horner, a catcher, considered Georgetown but went with Tulsa because of the culture it has to offer.
“I love the area,” she said. “I love the South and the music.”
Horner is a two-time first-team Star-News selection. She batted .421 with 40 hits, 17 RBIs and 12 doubles as a junior.
La Salle’s Colleen McWilliams signed with Marist College, where she plans on splitting time in the outfield and at first base. It didn’t matter what schools recruited her, McWilliams was set on Marist because it offered a good political science course and the ability to study abroad while remaining part of the team also appealed to her.
San Marino’s Alexis Watanabe is headed to Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. The three-time Star-News selection at shortstop had three other full-ride offers from Florida State, St.Mary’s and BYU, but chose Lehigh for a specific reason.
“I’m going there for my education and not really to win championships and all that,” she said. “I want to focus on my academics.”
Watanabe led the Titans last season with a .481 average, 26 hits, 14 RBIs and six doubles.
Watanabe, Lehigh’s top softball recruit, said the “small school feel” appealed to her. She said she plans on majoring in biology and hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps in becoming a veterinarian.
Maranatha’s Bella Schamber will continue her stellar swimming career at the University of Illinois. The senior is a multiple CIF-SS champion and was part of the CIF-SS Division 5 team championship her freshman season.
La Salle’s Diamond Ridley Pierce is headed to Northern Colorado, where she’ll be a middle blocker on the volleyball team. The 6-foot-1 standout will major in business management and chose Northern Colorado because it offered the opportunity to meet her future professors when she took a trip there.
Pasadena Poly’s Michael Saeta will play volleyball at UC Irvine. The 6-foot-4 setter hopes to lead the Anteaters back to national prominence after losing to USC in the regional finals last year. He added that the chance to live off-campus in Newport Beach with the rest of the team his sophomore through senior years was most appealing in choosing UC Irvine over USC, UCSB and Loyola Chicago.
Pasadena’s Alegra Hueso (USC) and Caroline Lepesant (Savanna College) become the first water-sport athletes from Pasadena to sign with a major Division I school. Hueso plays water polo and Lepesant swims.
Pasadena Poly’s Michelle Miller will play basketball at Princeton. One of the most coveted recruits in the nation, Miller earned strong interest after garnering her third straight Star-News Player of the Year honor. She led the Panthers to a CIF-SS Division 5AA championship last season and was the state’s scoring leader by averaging 33 points along with 13 rebounds, 2.9 steals, 2.1 assists and 1.9 blocked shots.
San Marino’s Sarah Gealer will play tennis at Maryland. She’s in the midst of leading the Titans in the Division 2 playoffs and hopes to make another deep run in the CIF-SS Individuals Tournament after reaching the Round of 16 last year. She chose Maryland because it has a good athletic program that plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“It’s a nice campus,” she said, “but it’s also close to D.C. so I get the campus and city feel at the same time.”