The Northwest High School athletics department is booming—the Jaguars won five state championships in 2016-17 alone. So it’s no surprise that many star athletes who graduated in the spring will be continuing to compete in their respective sports at the next level in college this 2017-18 academic year.
Twenty-six athletes representing eight teams—football, basketball, baseball, softball, girls’ volleyball, boys’ soccer and cross country and track and field—were presented with college opportunities. Indicative of Northwest’s recent surge, 62 percent (16) of this year’s college-bound athletes are headed to Division I programs. Such success, coaches agreed, helps set a high standard for younger athletes and creates awareness of the abundance of opportunities. “Most definitely it encourages the younger kids coming in,” cross country and track and field coach Robert Youngblood said. “These kids aspire to be (like their older teammates). They look at what some of these guys go on to do in college and they’re like, ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’”
Cross country/track and field and football lead the way with nine and seven college-bound athletes, respectively.
Distance runners Jose Infante-Rosale and Komlan Attiogbe and middle distance runner Elton Quansah will take their camaraderie to Division I Delaware State University. Versatile middle distance/distance runner JJ Yamitishi decided on the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.
A trio of female indoor track athletes—distance runner Sofia Zarate (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), versatile jumper Stephanie Bateky (Towson) and Lananda Correia (Delaware State)—are also headed to Division I programs. Hurdler and jumper Robert Gicheru could have pursued Division I, Youngblood said, but should make an immediate impact at Salisbury State University.
Youngblood said he is especially excited for Rory O’Neill, who was “bitten by the running bug” as a junior and will continue to compete for Case Western Reserve University. Academics come first for O’Neill and his willingness to spend time tutoring teammates is a main reason many of them are in position to compete for strong programs.
Northwest football’s fifth consecutive playoff appearance last fall was a testament to the more experienced seniors’ ability to successfully step into more prominent roles.
Khalil Owens—also one of the state’s best wrestlers during the winter—transformed himself into one of the county’s most dynamic players in the backfield; his role as a slot receiver added another dimension to the Jaguars’ young offense. He finished with a team-high 18 touchdowns on more than 1,000 yards rushing and racked up more than 300 receiving yards. He and linebacker Sam Pagella, who led Northwest with 71 solo tackles last fall, are off to Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania.
While the offensive line’s work so often goes undetected by the average spectator, NCAA Division I Towson University recruit Cole Cheripko’s work up front, alongside Wesley University-bound David Riggio, was invaluable in creating open space for Owens. Riggio will be joined by fellow Jaguar Deion Mason. Monmouth University recruit and linebacker DeJaun Cooper represented Maryland at the prestigious Big 33 all-star game in June, and cornerback Wesley McCormick, whose explosive speed was on display while helping Northwest to indoor and outdoor track state titles, will continue his football tenure at James Madison University.
Swimmers Sydney Knapp and Jaycee Yegher were part of a talented class that took Northwest girls’ swimming to new heights—upper echelon of the county and state—the last four years. Yegher, who this year won her third consecutive Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving 100-yard breaststroke title—her first in 2015 was Northwest’s first—will bring her versatility to Harvard University. Knapp, who broke out this season with Metros titles in the 50 and 100 freestyle, and has played an important role on Northwest’s relays the past four years, is headed to Division I University of Miami. Nick Fitzwilliam and Mac Adelman on the boys’ side will swim for Towson and New York University, respectively.
Northwest softball has established itself as one of the county’s best the past 10 years but majorly broke through this year by beating five-time defending state champion Sherwood for its first-ever title. The Jaguars also ended the Warriors’ 105-game win streak earlier in the season. Outfielder Alexis Mack, who batted .391 in the spring with 21 runs batted in and 28 runs scored, is set to compete at Division I Saint Peters University in New Jersey and has already made an impact on the program, coach Mike Horton said. Younger teammates have already begun talking about their aspirations to pursue high-level college competition.
Josh Netterville, whose speed and range in center field helped Northwest baseball to the 2017 state title, is already down training with East Carolina University. Jaguars coach Todd Varesco said earlier this season that a professional career is not out of the realm of possibility for the dual-sport athlete—Netterville is also an indoor track star. Teammates Ryan Kennington and Zach Greber are off to Penn State, Harrisburg and Randolph Macon University, respectively.
Six-foot-2 middle hitter Leilani Mayer, who racked up more than 100 digs and 65-plus kills in helping Northwest girls’ volleyball successfully defend last year’s state title, will play for Middle Tennessee State. Christopher Newport commit Jimmy Allah-Mensah is the only soccer player who will continue to play in college.
Coaches agreed that the overall success of Northwest athletics has helped cultivate a friendly competition among athletes and teams; they push each other to be more successful. “You definitely see kids talking about other sports and how well they’re doing,” Horton said. “The kids are pushing each other.”