By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- Five Stonewall Jackson seniors signed their letters of intent Wednesday to play sports at the collegiate level.
Ashlie Clar (Hollins University), Cassie Conley (Virginia Wesleyan), John-Michael Pirtle (University of Virginia), Lucas Ryan (Old Dominion University) and Ricky Tisinger (McDaniel College) will be playing at the next level next year.
Ryan was a dominant wrestler for the Generals. He won back-to-back Group A state titles as a heavyweight. This year he won every match by pin, and only went to the second period twice.
Ryan said he was also considering Appalachian State University, but after visiting both schools the choice was obvious.
"I really liked the coaches at ODU more," Ryan said. "I really liked the campus, and felt it would be the best fit for me."
Ryan said he was also being looked at by schools in other states across the country, including Iowa and Wisconsin, but he didn't want to go to school that far away from home.
Ryan won't be the only local wrestler at ODU next year, as Millbrook's Joe Jessen will also be going there next year. Ryan said he will be red-shirted, which will give him a chance to see how things work.
The Monarchs have a young team, and Ryan said he's looking forward to being a part of it.
"I think they will just keep getting better over the next couple years," Ryan said. "It's always been my goal to be part of a wrestling program like that and to be able to go to college."
Pirtle's decision didn't really take shape until the last few months. Pirtle will run track and field at U.Va. Pirtle, who also played football, was leaning toward going to East Carolina University, but decided a couple months ago to send U.Va. some tape of him in track.
U.Va.'s coaching staff liked what they saw, and decided to offer him a partial scholarship.
"ECU really wanted me to run there, but for me I just felt more comfortable at U.Va.," Pirtle said. "I've been going to games there since I was a kid. It just has more [of] a home feel to it for me, and that's important to me."
Pirtle said he could have played football in college at smaller levels, but it was important to him to go to a good academic D-1 school.
Pirtle will run the decathlon for the Cavaliers. The decathlon is a series of 10 events that take place over the course of five days. Some of the events Pirtle, who is a hurdler and jumper for the Generals, has never tried before. Pirtle said he is looking forward to the new event.
"I am very excited about it," Pirtle said. "I just want to give it a try and see what I can do. And I'll go from there."
Tisinger, like Ryan, was also a two-time state Group A wrestling champion at 195 pounds. Tisinger said he had opportunities to go to schools at all three levels, but he liked the idea of going to a D-III school like McDaniel College.
"When I really thought about it, the main reason to go to college is to get an education," Tisinger said. "Division III schools aren't as intense as D-1 and D-2 schools. And you still get a good education and can be on the wrestling team."
Tisinger said he looked hard at Virginia Military Institute, but was turned off by the military aspects of it. He was also being looked at by Division 1 schools Northern Illinois University and Clarion University.
Clar and Conley will both be seeing more of each other on the basketball court in college, as they will be playing in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.
Clar said she was also looking at Roanoke College and Ferrum. Clar said she picked Hollins University, where she will continue to play at shooting guard, because it's a small school.
"I really liked the coaching staff," Clar said. "I've always wanted to play at the next level, and it's just nice to know that all my hard work has paid off."
Conley said one of the big reasons she decided on Virginia Wesleyan was how much the coaches wanted her. Conley was also looking at Christopher Newport University and Eastern Mennonite University.
"Once I went for a visit, I just fell in love with the campus," Conley said. "They want me to play at forward, at the four, which is the position that I'm used to playing, so I think it will work out great."
This year marks the first time Stonewall Jackson has had two athletes going on to play at the Division 1 level at the same time.
Pirtle said he was happy to be able to share the day with some of his fellow athletes.
"I think it's great," Pirtle said. "I think it's a testament to our work ethic, and to all the sacrifices we made. It just shows that all that hard work you put in pays off."