By?Zach Baker and Tony Maluso
Playing Division I?college athletics is a dream for just about every athlete that suits up for his or her high school.
However, it's a dream only a select few get to realize.
Wednesday, four local standouts had that dream come true when they signed National Letters of Intent to continue their careers at the Division I collegiate level.
Columbian wrestler Seth Williams, a three-time state qualifier and a defending state runner-up, signed to wrestle at Ohio State. New Riegel's Taylor Kirian, Ohio's single season home run record holder, signed to play softball at Akron. Seneca East's Mason?McWilliams, who has led the Tigers to two straight district baseball championships signed with Ohio. And, Upper Sandusky's Taylor Graboski, fresh off an appearance at the state volleyball tournament, signed with Valparaiso.
Seth Williams - Ohio State, wrestling
Seth Williams said he probably could have received a full ride at other colleges, but he decided to go with his dream.
On Wednesday, the Columbian wrestler, who was the Division II state runner up in the 152-pound weight class last winter, signed a National Letter of Intent to go to Ohio State.
"It was always a dream to go to the Big Ten, especially Ohio State," Williams said.
"My dream is to be an all-American."
By joining the Buckeyes, Williams will face plenty of top competition, in and out of the program. His coach at Columbian, Chad Long, said that's just the way his wrestler wants it.
"The competition's always going to be there, and that's why he went there, to wrestle the best," Long said. "He's not scared of anybody."
Long called it a "great day for the Tiffin wrestling family."
"By far he's the best wrestler I've ever coached," Long said. "[Ohio State] Coach [Tom] Ryan liked him, he said, 'there's something about him, I just like the way he moves.'"
Williams said wrestling in the Big Ten should be good motivation for future TC wrestlers. He also said he will be approaching his final season at Columbian with plenty of motivation.
"The only way to approach it is to work harder, set an example for the other kids, that if you work hard enough you can make the Big Ten," he said.
Taylor Kirian - Akron, softball
Taylor Kirian's performance this past softball season allowed her to put her name all over the New Riegel record books. Wednesday she able to put her name one more place: a National Letter of Intent.
Kirian, who set Ohio's all-time record for most home runs in a season, signed to continue her athletic and academic career at the University of Akron.
"It feels like all my hard work has finally paid off," she said. "And now I have my college decided so it's one less thing to worry about."
"She's been incredible," said her coach at New Riegel, Jamie Lininger. "Just a hard worker, she's everything you would hope for in a player. Softball means a lot to her obviously, and it's not just that. She's a great kid, great academically. I'm glad we have her for another year."
This past season, in helping her team to a Division IV district championship, Kirian set school records for batting average (.600), hits (57) and RBIs (63) and the state record with 18 home runs.
Kirian said she also considered Ohio and Miami, but the choice for her was clear.
"They offered and I really liked the campus when I visited there, so it was a pretty easy choice," she said. "It was far enough away from home for me, without going too far."
Kirian was also a 20-game winner in the circle for New Riegel, but says pitching won't be one of her duties at Akron. According to Kirian, she'll likely play first base or outfield for the Zips.
Kirian won't be going to Akron alone. Paige McMemeny and Caitlin Gambone who team with Kirian on the Ohio Lasers Gold summer team also signed with the Zips. Kirian said on their official visit they got to spend time with the current players who welcomed them with open arms.
"Two of the girls I've played with over the summer are going in the same year as me so I know both of them really well," she said. "On my official visit a few weeks ago, we got to stay with current players.
They were all very nice and welcoming to us."
Kirian, though, expects a number of changes going from New Riegel to Akron.
"It's definitely going to be a big change," she said. "It's a Division I college and I'm used to my small town and small team. It's definitely going to be a big step."
Kirian says she's looking forward to playing for Akron coach Julie Jones, noting a big difference between her and Lininger.
"I've never had a female coach so that will be something different," Kirian said. "I'm really excited."
Mason McWilliams - Ohio, baseball
ATTICA - Seneca East baseball coach Frank Lamoreaux says Mason McWilliams has talent that can't be ignored.
The SE pitcher signed a National Letter of Intent Wednesday to play at Division I Ohio University.
"It's always a big deal, anytime you have anyone with that kind of athletic talent," Lamoreaux said. "It just goes to show whether it's a Division I or Division IV school, if you're good enough, they're going to find you."
But it's more than talent that has made McWilliams successful.
"It's Mason's love of baseball, that's his biggest thing," Lamoreaux said. "That's what he wants to do. It's his desire, it's his love for the sport. It's what he wants."
McWilliams said he was impressed with Bobcats' coach Rob Smith and his staff.
"The coaches alone was enough for me," McWilliams said. "And their passion for the game and also their plans for the future sealed the deal, along with their beautiful campus... it all seemed to match up perfectly."
McWilliams credited Lamoreaux and assistant Rick Bowerman for helping him reach this point.
"I think it's done a lot," McWilliams said of the coaching. "Coach L and coach Bowerman have done more for me than any two guys I could think of."
But before he moves on to Athens, McWilliams has some business to take care of at the high school level.
"It's gonna be a big year to carry on the tradition, get back to regionals if not further, at least," he said. "We have a younger team and hopefully we can give them the mindset right now to keep the tradition going."
Taylor Graboski - Valparaiso, volleyball
UPPER?SANDUSKY - During Matthew McConnaughey's first year coaching volleyball at Upper Sandusky, at a preseason camp, one player stood out among the rest. McConnaughey was ready to suit her up and put her in the starting lineup. Only one problem: Taylor Graboski was still in junior high at the time.
"When she came to the camp my first year here, the year we were 2-21, she came to camp and I didn't know all the kids here. I said, 'What grade are you in? You can play right now,'" McConnaughey recalled. "I would've taken her that year, and she would've made a difference and probably would've started."
Before too long, McConnaughey finally was able to get Graboski on the varsity roster and since then the program has reached new heights, culminating in a state semifinal appearance last week.
After four years leading the Rams, Graboski will embark on a new crusade. Wednesday she signed a National Letter of Intent to play volleyball at Valparaiso.
Graboski made it clear the atmosphere was what set the school apart from all the others.
"They just had a very good atmosphere to it and I knew that I would fit in well there with the coaches and the players and just the atmosphere," she said. "Because, it's not too big but its big enough where I won't get bored and the class size is just big enough, kind of like Upper where I know that I'll be getting the attention I need to succeed."
Helping bring Graboski to the Horizon League school was fellow Ram Jake Diebler, who was a graduate assistant for Valparaiso's men's basketball team during Graboski's recruitment.
"When I was at my visit, Carin Avery, which is the volleyball coach, took me to Jake's office and we talked to him in the middle of my visit and he talked about how it's so close-knit and how it's just like Upper," Graboski said. "He said that he's had so many good years there just with the support from everybody."
Graboski said the personalities of her coaches was another big drawing point.
"They're really laid back. They don't want us to call them coach, they want us to call them by their first names, because they don't call us players," Graboski said. "That's how laid back their personality is. They say that it's more about being a family then being a team. It's really homey."
Graboski knows the transition to the Division I college level won't be easy, but she was able to get some advice on what to expect from her older sister, Tasha, who played basketball at Cincinnati and Stetson.
"I know from my sister, it's going to be a huge transition," Graboski said. "That's what the summer is going to be for, and the spring season. I'm going to have to work out hard and I'm going to have to hit my repetitions hard because it's not going to be easy. But, I think that if I do what I'm capable of doing, I can make a difference down there."