High School Sports

Several local athletes sign early commitments to college athletic programs

Timberline senior middle blocker Julianna Salanoa, the Olympian’s All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year, officially signed with New Mexico State University on Wednesday.
Timberline senior middle blocker Julianna Salanoa, the Olympian’s All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year, officially signed with New Mexico State University on Wednesday. toverman@theolympian.com

This is a big week for Julianna Salanoa.

She is the Class 3A South Sound Conference’s most valuable player on offense. She was named The Olympian’s 2016 All-Area volleyball player of the year on Wednesday.

This weekend, she’ll wrap up her four-year career at Timberline High School with a trip to the Class 3A state tournament in Kennewick.

But, perhaps, what happened Wednesday afternoon gives Salanoa, a senior, makes those accolades all the more enjoyable.

Along with other high school athletes in the area, and across the country, Salanoa signed her National Letter of Intent Wednesday, to play volleyball at New Mexico State University.

“It’s very surreal, but it’s also a nice feeling,” Salanoa said. “I can finally breathe, knowing it’s official, it’s done, and I can just look toward the future.”

Salanoa — who tallied 265 kills, 183 digs and 72 stuff blocks as a middle blocker this season — had conversations with several programs, including Mississippi, Alabama, Kansas and Eastern Washington, among others, before deciding on NMSU.

She visited Las Cruces, New Mexico last spring — her official visit is next week — and said she enjoyed the geographic differences it offers from Washington, and its facilities. It will be an exciting change for the next four years, she said.

What really gave NMSU the edge, though, Salanoa said, was the program’s values.

“Here Krista (Manke) really focuses on us coming together as a team, not just playing on the court as players, but being good friends to each other and genuinely caring for each other,” Salanoa said.

“I feel like having good chemistry really helps the dynamics on the court, and I feel by just watching how the Aggies play, and how the coaches interact with the players, I can tell that they care for them as a person and a player. … That’s what I really value.”

Alongside Salanoa, Brooklyn Taylor-Sparks, a four-year varsity pitcher at Timberline, signed to play softball at Stanislaus State, in Turlock, California.

Taylor-Sparks — who was a first-team selection on The Olympian’s All-Area softball team last spring — said she’s aimed to play in college since middle school.

“I knew I wanted to play in college,” she said. “It really came after I started getting looks from colleges that, ‘Wow, I can actually do this.’ It’s just crazy to think that I’m actually going to do it and fulfill a dream that I’ve had for a long time.”

Taylor-Sparks said she had originally planned to play at Western Washington until the program’s coach, Jessica Ventoza, moved to Stanislaus State. She took a visit to the California school, and was impressed by the campus and facilities.

“I walked on and was like, ‘This is where I want to be,’ ” she said. “I just knew.”

With her senior season at Timberline yet to play, Taylor-Sparks said having her college commitment locked up will allow her to focus on enjoying the final year.

“I just get to play my game and relax,” she said. “Knowing what school I’m going to, I know the players on the team, and what (Ventoza) expects from me, so I can just work on getting better at that, other than trying to do too much.”

Elsewhere, several other female athletes in the area signed letters of intent.

Yelm’s Ally Choate, who was named The Olympian’s All-Area softball player of the year last spring, signed with Seattle University.

An outfielder for the Tornados, Choate had a .641 on-base percentage as a junior, and a .566 batting average.

North Thurston’s Olivia Fairchild signed to play volleyball at Western Washington. She was a first-team selection on The Olympian’s All-Area team, and had more than half of the Rams’ kills in regular season play, finishing with 187.

Black Hills’ Emma Duff, who was a first-team selection on The Olympian’s All-Area girls basketball team last season, signed with Western Washington.

A 6-foot senior, Duff led the Wolves to a sixth-place finish at the 2A state tournament last season, and averaged 18 points and nine rebounds per game.

Black Hills’ Josie Krysinski, a swimmer, signed with Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. W.F. West’s Lexi Strasser signed to play softball at Central Washington, while Shasta Lofgren signed to play basketball at Warner Pacific in Portland.