Allison Kwiecinski stood out on the dais, and not just because she was wearing what looked like a brand new - and very bright - Oklahoma hoodie.
Of all the students from Desert Vista signing national letters of intent on Wednesday at the school's auditorium, she is the only one to compete in a sport not sponsored by the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
Kwiecinski just started competing in the sport of rowing three years ago, but is already a wanted athlete as she was offered scholarships from Tulsa, St. Mary's and Oklahoma before deciding to head to Oklahoma.
"I really didn't realize there was that much rowing out there," she said. "I was surprised and excited when I started hearing from colleges."
Kwiecinski, who competes for the Tempe Junior Crew at Tempe Town Lake, said she picked up the sport rather quickly because of her volleyball background.
"I had a natural feel for it," said Kwiecinski, who has some aunts and cousins in Oklahoma. "Volleyball really strengthened my legs and that is really important for rowing."
Kwiecinski was joined in the celebration on Wednesday by athletes from more traditional sports like basketball and golf, but all were celebrated equally by Desert Vista Principal Anna Battle.
"We are proud to invest the time and provide the access to the next level for our student athletes," Battle said. "There are different channels of getting there and our coaches and athletic department does a great job providing those avenues."
The other Thunder athletes to sign letters of intent were Cody McManus (Pepperdine, golf), Sean Buchanan (University of Belmont, golf), Kassidy Long-Goheen (Idaho, golf), Tanisha Toussaint (Weber State, basketball), Jeff Lowery (Grand Canyon, basketball) and Danny Powell (Eastern Washington, basketball).
At Mountain Pointe Darian Spivey signed with Northern Arizona for golf.
At Horizon Honors, Alyssa Singh signed with Sienna College for tennis and next week Mikaela Bledsoe-Downs is expected to sign with Georgetown to play softball.
Spivey, who finished eighth at the recent state tournament, said making the decision before the season started made it easier to go out and play.
"It took off a lot of the stress," said Spivey, who works with Kent Chase as her swing coach. "I definitely thought my game improved because I wasn't really worried about my scoring average and what colleges were looking at. NAU was pretty much the only school I was looking at. I'll be ready for the cold."
The decision process for these athletes is always personal - everyone weighs factors differently.
For McManus how hard could it be? He gets to spend the next four years or so at one of the most amazingly beautiful campuses in the nation while playing golf for Pepperdine.
"For a few years it has been my No. 1 school," said McManus, who chose Pepperdine over Santa Clara, Colorado and Loyola Marymount. "It is a dream come true. It's a top 25 program and they play some of the best courses in the country."
Toussaint, a 6-foot-2 center, doesn't have eye-popping numbers but brings more than points (3.6) and rebounds (5.3) to a team.
"It's all about support for me," she said. "They were the first ones to contact me and showed me they really wanted me to be part of their program. I am the type of person who needs support, so that went along way with me."
Powell, who averaged 19.2 points and 10.2 rebounds, had opportunities to go to several other programs - Nevada, Butler, etc., but was sold on the idea of playing right away.
"Once I narrowed it down and they built the best relationship with me," Powell said. "I am going to be able to go and play my game. They said they are going to build the program around me and I will get the opportunity to play at the next level after college.
"That has always been my goal since I started playing. I am going to go there, work hard on and off the court, and take care of business."
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