It was a big Wednesday at Newark High School, and other schools around Licking County -- early signing day for area seniors.
Anni Thomasson (volleyball) and Paige Cashin (basketball) signed National Letters of Intent to attend Division I colleges, as did local baseball stars Ronnie Dawson (Licking Heights) and Ethan Schmidt (Granville). Newark Catholic's Jett Speelman will play Division II college basketball, while Watkins Memorial's Tony Winters will sign to play Division I baseball on Friday.
Thomasson verbally committed to the University of Kentucky after her sophomore season, and finally made it official on Wednesday. She also considered North Carolina, Dayton, Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan State and Notre Dame.
"I've had the thought of playing at Kentucky since I first went to camp there in the eighth grade," she said at the time of her verbal commitment in December of 2010.
A dominant hitter, the 6-foot-1 Thomasson was a two-time first-team Division I All-Ohioan and Central District Player of the year, and four-time Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division Player of the Year. She finished with nearly 2,000 career kills.
Cashin, a 6-4, shot-blocking post player, verbally committed to South Florida of the Big East a month ago before signing on Wednesday. She played for Sports City U, an elite AAU team, during the summer in tournaments around the country.
Last season, Cashin averaged 10 points, eight rebounds and five blocks per game for Newark, earning second-team All-OCC-Ohio and District 11 honors. She will be the only senior on a young but talented Wildcats' team.
Dawson verbally committed to Ohio State baseball in July, and one was one of seven Buckeye recruits to sign on Wednesday. He was Mid-State League-Cardinal Division Player of the Year in leading Licking Heights to back-to-back league titles, batting .459 with 24 doubles, five triples and nine homers as a junior.
OSU coach Greg Beals said Dawson has the potential to be a big-time hitter with serious power potential, and called him a "pro-type corner outfielder."
Granville's Schmidt, who has grown to 6-7, was one of four recruits signed Wednesday by Xavier baseball coach Scott Googins, a Granville graduate.
Playing first base last season, Schmidt helped lead the Blue Aces to an MSL-Ohio title and district runnerup finish as a first-team all-conference and all-district performer. He batted .483, second on the team, and tied for the team lead with four homers. He also had 10 doubles and two triples. Coach Vince Ghiloni pointed out that Schmidt started at third base as a sophomore, and is continuing to grow.
Googins said Schmidt's best days are ahead of him, as he adds strength to his tall frame. "We expect him to make big jumps as a corner infielder and power bat," he said.
Speelman, a versatile 6-7 first-team Division IV All-Ohioan and Central District Player of the Year, signed to attend Ashland University, where Newark Catholic coach Eric Sheck said he has a good chance to play a lot in the "4" spotas a freshman for an up-and-coming program.
As a junior, Speelman led the Green Wave to MSL-Ohio and Division IV district championships by averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 85 percent from the line and 52 percent from the field while making 38 three-pointers.
"He had some smaller Division I looks, but I think this is a good fit for him," Sheck said.
Winters gave a verbal commitment to play baseball at Ohio University in August, and he will sign with the Bobcats on Friday.
A left-handed pitcher, Winters helped Pickerington American Legion Post 283 win its first state championshipduring the summer and gain a berth in the Great Lakes Regional at Midland, Mich.
As a junior for Watkins Memorial, he struck out 79 in 41 1/3 innings and posted a 2.20 ERA. Winters, who had games of 17 and 14 strikeouts, had 10 strikeouts and allowed five hits in a tough 2-0 loss to Thomas Worthington in the Division I tournament.