Three Aiken High School athletes confirmed their college plans on Thursday, as Tyler Smith, Tray Roberts and Bryce Saunders signed their letters of intent.
Smith finished her 2012 senior campaign on the volleyball team with more than half of the team’s blocks at 97, and she’ll take her size and ability to NCAA Division II competitor Wingate.
Head volleyball coach Malynda Young said Smith’s physical gifts will be her main asset at the next level, but the intangibles are also there.
“Tyler is massive. She’s a blocker; she’s tough,” Young said of 5-foot-11 middle. “And I think one of the best things about Tyler is she’s a self-motivator. She is willing to go out and put in the time all on her own, and that’s going to help her succeed in college.”
Smith said she chose Wingate over Emory and McDaniel because she sees herself as a good fit in the team she saw practicing on a visit to the Wingate, N.C., campus.
“I went up there on a visit, and I got to watch them practice, and the team dynamic was just perfect for me,” she said. “They’re all loud, and energetic and fired up all the time, and that was the dynamic I was looking for.”
Roberts, who had once been a commitment to the University of South Carolina, switched his allegiances and signed with Liberty University. He said the smaller D-I school, located in Lynchburg, Va., was a better location for him at this point in his young baseball career.
“Kind of just more of the college town I was looking for, and baseball-wise, it was just, I think, a better choice for me at the time,” he said.
Head baseball coach Derek Luton said that Liberty is fortunate to be bringing in a talent like Roberts. He said that the outfielder’s speed and defensive ability could land him in the Flames’ lineup as early as his freshman year.
“You’re getting a steal here with Tray,” Luton said. “Speed-wise and great arm, he’s a good kid, and I think Liberty’s a good spot for him to get a chance to play right away.”
Saunders, likely the Hornets’ starting catcher this year, chose Francis Marion over USC Aiken and Brevard because of a combination of factors. He was attracted to the Patriots for the school’s location in Florence as well as the quality of the baseball program.
“It was the location,” he said. “I really like the coaches; the baseball program’s very good.”
Luton said that Saunders was a solid presence in the middle of the Hornets’ lineup, and that power should translate into Peach Belt Conference play.
“He’s one of our power hitters on the team,” Luton said. “He’s one of our team leaders, really good kid and I think he can step in there and play also as a freshman.”
Both coaches said they were proud to have players continuing their careers. Young expressed a special connection she felt on signing day.
“Well, it’s like having your children sign and go off to college. You’re happy for them, and I’m really happy for them because everybody doesn’t get to do it,” she said. “I know how special it is, and I also know how hard it is.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.