RENO - Five Galena High School seniors took their first step toward their future in collegiate athletics when they signed national letters-of-intent on the first day of the NCAA early signing period Wednesday afternoon.
Billy Paganetti and Joe Hooft signed baseball letters with Stanford and Miami of Florida respectively, Annabeth Eberle signed a gymnastics letter with Utah, Kellie Burton signed a volleyball letter with Arizona and Julie Hinton signed a track and field letter with Nevada during a brief ceremony held before family, friends and members of the media in the school's theater.
Paganetti and Hooft were leaders for a Galena team that finished second during the Northern 4A baseball regular season last spring, although the Grizzlies saw their season end before the playoffs even began in the wake of a controversy involving game forfeitures for using an ineligible player. Any controversies aside, however, nobody can deny the numbers they put up: Hooft, a middle infielder, hit .640 with 16 home runs, 45 RBIs and 14 stolen bases; and Paganetti hit .515 with 15 home runs and 56 RBIs.
"I'm very happy to be able to go to such a great academic as well as great baseball school like Stanford," Paganetti said. "I'm going to work just as hard on my academics as I will baseball because I know you can't pass up that opportunity for an education."
Off season shoulder surgery hindered the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Paganetti's 2000 season when he was limited to DH duties because of an elbow injury. Then he sustained a broken hand during his summer season while playing with the Carson Capitols. He doesn't regard any of that as hard luck, though.
"It's something I think happened for a reason," Paganetti said. "I don't regret any of it. I think it made me a better player, taught me to be patient and to work even harder, and taught me a couple of things about life."
Paganetti will play outfield and possibly pitch - "I'm 100 percent as far as my throwing" - his senior season at Galena. He is projected as an outfielder or first baseman for Stanford. Furthermore, he is projected as a possible high pick in baseball's free agent draft next June - which would force him to make a decision between Stanford and major league ball.
"You know what, that would be a great problem to have," Paganetti said, flashing a smile. "It's (major leagues) my dream, every kid's dream, but there's a lot of time between now and then. I guess we'll just have to cross that bridge when we get there.
"I feel very blessed and fortunate with everything that's happened to me and all the people who have helped me get this far."
Hooft selected Miami from a list that included Houston, Florida and Nevada.
"It was a really tough decision," Hooft said. "You just work for it and you hope for it and hope everything works out.
"I was really impressed with everything when I went down there. My overall feel for it; their program is first-class, along with the others, but I could just tell Miami was the right school for me."
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Hooft played shortstop last season, but expects to see more time at second base this coming season for a Galena team that should content for the Northern 4A title.
"We've got the talent, we'll just work hard, go from there and see what happens. I'm looking forward to next season, especially after the way it ended last year, and I know everyone else is, too," Hooft said.
"I'm just looking forward to this high school season," Paganetti added. "We feel like this is a pretty special team up here that's going to work hard and have a lot of fun."
Eberle was highly recruited among the nation's top college gymnastics programs, according to Starz Gymnastics girls head coach Derick Moellenbeck.
She won two bronze medals, one silver medal and finished fourth all-around at the 1997 Puerto Rico Cup in San Juan. She competed at the Bluewater International Invitational last year in Ontario, Canada, and is headed to Amsterdam for another international event on Nov. 15. She finished eighth all-around at the 1999 World Team Trials in Kansas City, Mo.
"She's the top gymnastics recruit in the United States this year. All the big guns were after her," Moellenbeck said. "This is exciting. It's a great program, great coaching staff, beautiful facility and a great school. Absolutely, we'll be hearing a lot about her (in the future)."
Eberle, 17, who has been a member of the U.S. national team the last seven years, selected Utah from a list of schools that included Georgia and Michigan.
Utah finished second at the NCAA national championships last April, but that wasn't the only reason Eberle decided on Salt Lake City. For example, Utah won the NCAA academic national championship with a 3.72 team grade point average, and the Utes also led the nation in attendance for the 18th straight year in 2000 with an average home crowd of 9,808.
"When I went to Utah, I bonded with the girls, and I'm real excited to work with the girls there. I got to watch their training while I was there and they have a very good work ethic. Their GPA is the highest out of all the schools, and they a physical therapy school, which is what I want to go into, and it's closer to home and more like home," Eberle said.
Having missed a berth on the U.S. Olympic team this year, does a trip to Athens in 2004 figure into her plans?
"Maybe. Possibly," Eberle said. "That's a long ways off. We'll just have to see when we get there."
Burton is regarded as one of Nevada's top female basketball players - and a key performer in Galena's drive to the 4A state championship back in February - but her sights toward the future are now geared toward a volleyball net and court.
"I'm really excited about this. Arizona is a great opportunity for me," said Burton, who settled on Arizona from a list that included Arizona State, Nevada and Cal Poly.
The 6-foot-2 Burton averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game for a Galena team that went 29-6 and won the 4A state championship last season.
"Basketball was my first sport," she went on. "But after I started playing club volleyball, I began to realize more and more that I'm not really built for basketball. I'm more suited for volleyball."
Burton, who plays all the way around for the Grizzlies, has figured prominently for the Grizzlies during a fall season in which they finished second during the High Desert League season and then captured third-place at the Northern 4A Regional Tournament last weekend. She was credited with 18 kills, 27 digs, six blocks and 11 service points in Galena's state tournament clinching win against Carson on Saturday.
Now, the Grizzlies have high hopes for the 4A state volleyball tournament which begins today at Galena.
"I think we have a pretty good chance to go, if we play well," Burton said, looking ahead to the Grizzlies' first-round match against Green Valley today at 4 p.m. "We beat them in the Las Vegas tourney; they've gotten better since then, but so have we so it should be a good game, either way."
Hinton, who placed fifth in the girls 800 meters at the 4A state meet last May, signed for a partial track and field ride at Nevada but will strive to turn that into a full ride as a middle distance runner.
"I'll have to see what they want me to do at UNR," Hinton said. "But I really want to focus on the 8, that's just my favorite race."
Hinton is happy to have the opportunity to stay close to home and compete as a Division I athlete.
"I like their program, there's a lot of good athletes and a lot of people I know," said Hinton, who was recruited by Nevada cross country coach Kay Gooch. "They moved up to the WAC this year, so the competition is going to be very good."
Hinton's best time for the two-lap distance is 2:20, but she hopes to make a run at the Nevada state meet record of 2:14.64 set by Reno High's Angela Cook in 1982 (Cook ran 2:09 two weeks after her graduation at a meet in California).
"I'm definitely going to bring it down. I want to break 2:15 and I'd like to get down somewhere around 2:12, 2:13," said Hinton, who was a qualifier for the state cross country championships last weekend in Boulder City.