Big day for Galena athletes | NevadaAppeal.com

Big day for Galena athletes

MIKE HOUSER
Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – While there is no truth to the rumor that Meat Loaf was at Galena High School on Wednesday, the University of Nevada would agree that two out of three ain’t bad.

Two Galena student-athletes – forward Luke Babbitt and pitcher Jacob Anderson – signed national letters of intent to play for the Wolf Pack next year.

Gymnast Anna Szatkowski was the third Galena product to sign a national letter of intent Wednesday – she will go to Iowa – and a fourth Grizzly, Libby Walker gave a verbal commitment to play soccer for Weber State.

Babbitt had previously given a verbal commitment to play for Ohio State, but he said he chose Nevada for several reasons.

“I love (Nevada) Coach Mark Fox – I can’t wait to play for him,” said the 6-foot-8 Babbitt, who looks thicker across the chest and shoulders after adding 10 pounds of muscle with a three-day-a-week weight-training regimen. “I’ll be real close to my family (his parents are Bob and Laura Babbitt). To be close to my family and my home is nice. I’m really excited.”

As the driving force behind the Grizzlies, who won their first state championship under coach Tom Mauer last year, Babbitt averaged 29 points and 11 rebounds per game. He is ranked No. 6 nationally for his class and at his position by scout.com and No. 12 by rivals.com.

Mauer said Babbitt has yet to plateau.

“He’s gotten a helluva lot better,” Mauer said. “No. 1, I’m really delighted the kid was able to make his own choice and that his family supports him. He wants to stay loyal to his family, community and the University of Nevada.

“He’ll also be playing for an outstanding program that won 29 games last year. Coach Fox is an excellent coach and under him Luke can continue to get better. The whole idea from day one was that he could continue to get better and keep growing. So many kids reach a goal and stop.”

Nevada finished 29-5 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, where it fell to Memphis. By signing to play for the Wolf Pack, Babbitt will get to join friend and Hug standout Armon Johnson, who is a freshman guard for Nevada this season.

First up for Babbitt, however, is to try and lead the Grizzlies to back-to-back state titles.

“We’ve got a lot of good guys. We have a chance to be good,” said Babbitt, who carries a 3.9 grade point average. “We’re hoping to repeat. Everyone is working hard. It should be another good season.”

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Anderson is coming off a stellar season for the Grizzlies baseball team and currently leading the school’s football team as its quarterback.

“As a kid in my program, he’s been huge for us,” Galena football coach Steve Struzyk said of Anderson, who has passed for more than 2,200 yards for the Grizzlies, who face McQueen for the Northern 4A regional championship Friday at Damonte Ranch High School. “I’m happy he’s found a home. Whether it’s football or baseball, he’ll do us proud for sure. UNR is lucky to have him for four years.

“He’s the type of kid that loves being on the mound as much or more than he does being under center. We support him 100 percent.”

The 17-year-old Anderson – a lefty – was 11-0 last year for the Grizzlies, striking out 90 batters and carrying a 2.14 earned run average. Galena went 35-4, losing to Bishop Gorman in the state championship game after winning its second consecutive Northern 4A regional championship.

Anderson said about 20 universities recruited him, including Washington State, Kansas and Texas Tech, among others.

Anderson’s decision to go to Nevada mirrored Babbitt’s.

“I really like their coaches a lot – I get along with them well,” he said. “Gary McNamara, my high school coach (the last several seasons), is an assistant up there now. I have a good relationship with him. I love the area. I went up there and talked to the coaches. They recruited me heavily. And I wanted my family to come watch me play. That was important.”

Nevada advanced to the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference last year, where it lost to Fresno State. The Pack finished 15-9 in the WAC and 35-26 overall.

“I was told I could get in the rotation (as a starter) or (become a) closer my first year,” said Anderson, who will hope to display the same wicked changeup he did for the Grizzlies. “My goal is to get in the rotation.”

Unlike Babbitt and Anderson, the 5-foot-3 Szatkowski never got to perform for Galena, which doesn’t carry a gymnastics program. The 17-year-old, who specializes in the vault and the floor exercise, began her career at the age of 5 and for the last three years has competed for Deltchev Gymnastics Academy in Reno.

Szatkowski, recruited for her all-around ability, will major in broadcast journalism with an emphasis on mass communications next fall and will join senior Katie Burke, who was the lone Hawkeye to compete in the individual NCAA Championship.

“Next fall is going to be fun – exciting,” said Szatkowski, who said she was influenced by Carly Patterson, the 2004 Olympic gold medallist for the United States and who became the first American to win the Olympic all-around since Mary Lou Retton in 1984. “(Patterson) is a great athlete. She set the standard for the rest of the gymnastics world.”

Szatkowski said she developed back problems three years ago, which nearly stood in the way of her dream.

“I have a great physical therapist – Brad Sidener, of Reno Sport and Spine,” she said. “He basically saved my career and I was able to get better.”

Now she’ll not only be able to compete in the Big Ten, but – like Patterson – she’ll be able go for the big 10 – the score, that is.