By Mike Beas
Daily Journal sports writer
A high school senior signing a National Letter of Intent to play college athletics never ceases to be a significant event.
Some are made into full-blown media events complete with television cameras, every relative and friend within driving distance in attendance and the suspense of the athlete finally selecting one baseball cap over two or three others.
Six Johnson County athletes kept things simpler this month while signing to play for Division I programs beginning in the 2015-16 school year.
Center Grove seniors Conner Andersen, Mallory Baker, Ali Line and Regan Wentland took advantage of the NCAA’s early-signing period Nov. 12-19 to make official what they had known for months.
Likewise Franklin Community athletes Jess Admire and Evan Giles.
Here is a closer look at those who by putting pen to paper have shaped the initial stages of their post-high school academic and athletic careers:
JESS ADMIRE (Franklin volleyball), Butler University: The Daily Journal’s Player of the Year both as a sophomore and junior, the explosive 5-foot-10 left-handed outside hitter made the All-County Team for a third consecutive year after helping lead the Grizzly Cubs to a 27-9 record.
Admire for her career produced 1,507 kills, including 318 this past season as Franklin advanced to the title match of its own Class 4A sectional before losing to eventual semistate finalist Roncalli.
Though she orally committed to Butler on July 3, 2013, signing her Letter of Intent was special to Admire as she prepares to play home matches for coach Sharon Clark’s Bulldogs in revered Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“Signing, it was like, ‘OK, this is real.’ It was awesome because it made it official,” said Admire, who signed her letter of intent flanked by her parents, Jim and Beth, younger brother George and Grizzly Cubs volleyball coach Travis Gabeheart.
“My high school career went by so fast. I remember everything from my freshman year. It really was more like a family experience, and I was getting a chance to represent my school.”
CONNER ANDERSEN (Center Grove tennis), Ball State University: Andersen is a three-time First-Team All-State selection having produced a 24-5 record this season occupying the Trojans’ No. 1 singles spot.
The younger brother of BSU sophomore tennis player Luke Andersen, Conner signed with the Cardinals after also considering Toledo and Valparaiso as possible collegiate destinations.
“I had to figure out where I wanted to go. Once I knew, I wanted to get it out of the way,” said Andersen, who also was a Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference singles champion this season. “I picked the place that was best for myself. The fact (Luke) is there is a bonus.”
MALLORY BAKER (Center Grove softball), Purdue: The Trojans’ catcher helped lead the Trojans to a 20-8 record last spring by ranking second in both batting average (.378) and RBIs (22). She contributed 14 runs.
A combination of athletic versatility and a willingness to do what’s needed to make Center Grove succeed makes Baker a valued commodity entering the 2015 softball season.
“Mallory’s competitive drive and desire to be the best sets her apart and is the reason she is a Division I talent. However, her best attribute is she truly puts team ahead of herself,” Trojans coach Russ Milligan said.
“Mallory will serve any role to make her team better. Last year she played first base, designated hitter, left field and catcher. She is a catcher but willingly played these other positions to make her team better.”
EVAN GILES (Franklin baseball), Indiana State University: A threat to impact competition both on the mound and at the plate, Giles led the Grizzly Cubs to a 14-11 record as a junior in becoming the Daily Journal’s Player of the Year in 2014.
Pitching 61 innings, Giles assembled a 5-1 record by striking out 105 batters and surrendering only 20 walks. The 6-1, 185-pound right-hander, who last season primarily was used a fastball-slider combination, finished with an earned-run average of only 0.69.
Batting leadoff in Franklin coach Ryan Feyerabend’s lineup, Giles hit .377 with 29 base hits — six of which were doubles — to go along with 25 runs.
Though Giles orally committed to ISU as a junior, signing with the Sycamores allowed the senior to exhale somewhat not having to deal with the recruiting process any longer.
“It was definitely a big relief. To finally make it official felt like an accomplishment,” said Giles, a guard for the Franklin basketball squad this winter who had drawn interest from baseball programs at Wichita State, Wright State and Western Kentucky.
“It helps because you don’t have to worry about scouts and things like that. I can just focus on the team, improving my hitting and things like that.”
ALI LINE (Center Grove volleyball), Illinois State University: The 6-2 senior middle blocker capped an outstanding four-year volleyball career by being named the Daily Journal’s Player of the Year for its 2014 All-County Team.
Line’s 426 kills, 90 blocks, 31 service aces and invaluable brand of coach-on-the-floor leadership not found in stat lines proved major factors in the Trojans’ 29-4 season. For her career, Line produced 1,039 kills.
Currently a starting forward for Center Grove’s girls basketball program, Line is also a four-year varsity letter winner in that sport.
“Ali completely bought in to the Center Grove volleyball culture. She is a selfless competitor who always put the team before herself. Her leadership and mental toughness set a tone for her younger teammates to follow,” third-year Center Grove coach Dana Daprile said.
“She strived for improvement every day and represented Center Grove Volleyball with humility, hard work and perseverance. I am proud to have coached her and proud of the impact she left on the culture of the Center Grove Volleyball program.”
REGAN WENTLAND (Center Grove basketball): Indiana State University: A 6-1 senior swingman for the undefeated and fifth-ranked (Class 4A) Trojans, Wentland currently averages 6.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 4.3 steals per game for what is a very balanced team.
As a junior, Wentland stepped up big for a 16-4 Center Grove squad by producing norms of 8.3 points, 3.9 boards and 2.3 steals. Wentland also started as an outside hitter for Center Grove’s 29-4 volleyball squad this fall, finishing with 194 kills and 46 blocks.
“No one takes more pride in doing the hard-hat parts of the game than Regan. She is the best defender I’ve ever coached and takes great pride in getting deflections, loose balls, floor burns and just plain making opposing offenses miserable,” sixth-year Trojans basketball coach Shawn Sanders said.
“She is an amazing team player that does whatever it takes to help her team win. She doesn’t need any of the glory of the glamorous stats such as leading scorer, etc. She just wants to win. Regan is a major reason Center Grove has improved every year since her freshmen year.”