Friends and family surrounded Ashlyn Herlihy, Emily Sonny and Angela Gemignani on Tuesday as they signed national letters of intent inside the gym at Arroyo Grande High School.
Next year, all three will become student athletes at Division I schools. Herlihy will play basketball at Santa Clara University, Sonny will play water polo at powerhouse Arizona State, and Gemignani will run cross country and track and field events at North Texas.
Herlihy makes it official
Herlihy made her choice to play basketball at Santa Clara earlier this year, but the standout two-sport athlete made it official Tuesday.
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Arroyo Grande girls basketball coach Bryan Hutchens remembers when Herlihy walked into the same gym where she signed her letter of intent five years ago.
“I just remember a skinny, young eighth grader coming into our summer program and high-fiving everybody,” Hutchens said. “She had a lot of energy.”
Herlihy used her trademark energy to help the Eagles go from an 11-14 season her freshman year to a 24-3 record, the highest wining percentage in the program’s history, and an undefeated PAC 8 record.
“I felt really sentimental standing up here and realizing I’ve been here for four years, because it doesn’t feel like four years, that’s for sure,” Herlihy said. “It’s kind of emotional.”
Herlihy also spent the past four years as a varsity volleyball standout. During her time, she lost only one PAC 8 match and won Co-County Player of the Year honors last season.
“I’ve always loved volleyball; it has been super exciting for me,” Herlihy said. “But basketball has always been my true love and something that I’ve wanted to work to get better at, and it ended up working out pretty well.”
Despite going to Cal Poly basketball games as a kid and having parents who both attended the school, Herlihy chose Santa Clara.
“It was a tough one choosing Santa Clara over Cal Poly, because growing up in SLO that’s what everyone talks about,” Herlihy said.
She also considered Hawaii, CSUN and Westmont. Herlihy expects to move from her position now as a power-forward to either a shooting guard or small-forward at Santa Clara, a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2007-08.
“With the new coaches and new recruits, it gives me hope that we can bring up the basketball program,” Herlihy said. “Seeing myself in the offense as a guard really led to my decision.”
Sonny picks water polo over volleyball
Also a two-sport athlete, Emily Sonny had the luxury of choosing to play either water polo or volleyball in college. Despite leading the PAC 8 in digs and being second in kills for the Eagles volleyball team, she chose to go with water polo in part because health concerns.
“After playing volleyball I’ve had a lot of aches and pains,” said Sonny, who was recruited as a goalie by Arizona State. “In water polo I don’t really have as many, so I don’t want my sport to injure me for my life, so I thought water polo was the smart choice.”
Sonny, who was Co-Girls Volleyball County Player of Year with Herlihy as a junior, helped lead her team to a 13-1 record and a co-PAC 8 championship in 2014.
Sonny had played water polo as a field player since eighth grade, but she didn’t play her sophomore year before she transferred from Fullerton to Arroyo Grande as a junior.
“Last year I was like, ‘Hey, I’ll try it if I can be goalie,’ ” said Sonny, who also considered UC Davis. “So I did, and I really liked it.”
Sonny split time with talented senior Kayla Mankins in goal during Arroyo Grande’s run to a CIF Southern Section title last year.
“Her last two games were the only times where she played by herself as the starter the whole game,” Arroyo Grande water polo coach Steven Allen said. “She really blossomed there, and in the summertime she took it to the next level.”
In the Southern Section title game, Sonny had 15 saves, including a blocked penalty shot in the first quarter.
“Her athletic ability is incredible,” Allen said. “She is so aggressive with the ball coming after it. She is not scared.”
“Not everyone likes the ball thrown at them, but I like it,” said Sonny, who will join an Arizona State team that finished last season ranked No. 9 in the nation.
Early in her high school career, Sonny always thought she would play college volleyball, but her love for water polo developed under Allen.
“I really look up to him,” Sonny said. “He has helped me so much in the recruiting process. I couldn’t have asked for a better coach.”
Gemignani heads for Texas
When Angela Gemignani’s parents asked her to consider an out-of-state school for her next step as a student-athlete, she was reluctant. She wanted to be closer to home.
But eventually Gemignani, who had never visited Texas before, made an official visit to North Texas in Denton. Once she saw the campus, she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“I never thought I was going to go to Texas for college,” Gemignani said Tuesday. “I wanted to stay in-state, but then I went to go visit, and I really liked it a lot.”
Gemignani also went on an official visit to Utah Valley University in Orem, but she said it didn’t compare to North Texas, a public university of about 36,000 students just outside of Dallas.
“Everyone there was really nice, and I loved the whole community, and everything was so new. The dorms were beautiful and I really liked the coach,” Gemignani said, adding that she will miss the beach.
Gemignani says she will focus on the 800-meter distance in track but will also run on the cross country team. As a junior last season in track, Gemignani finished in fifth place in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 finals with a personal best 2:13:32 in the 800-meter race. Earlier in the season, Gemignani finished first in the SLO County 800-meter race.
“It’s nice to be done with the whole process,” Gemignani said of making the decision to go to North Texas. “It was stressful.”