Lady Cavs sign college offers as a team

Published 11:24 pm Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Seniors: Lakeland seniors, from left, Marissa Betkowski, Jennifer Hedrick, Kelsey Smither, Taylor Young, Megan Johnson and Kendell Combs show their new school colors during their college signing ceremony Wednesday. All six will be playing field hockey for their new schools: Betkowski and Combs at Virginia Commonwealth, Hedrick at Radford, Smither at Old Dominion, Young at Christopher Newport and Johnson at Liberty.

Even as six Lady Cavalier field hockey seniors celebrated how they will be going their separate ways next school year, they did so together.

Kelsey Smither, Kendell Combs, Taylor Young, Marissa Betkowski, Megan Johnson and Jennifer Hedrick will continue their field hockey careers all around Virginia next fall. All six made it official, all six with school-specific cakes to honor their choices, Wednesday afternoon in Lakeland’s library.

“What an honor it’s been to coach these ladies,” said Lakeland head coach Tara Worley.

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The Lady Cavaliers won the Group AAA state championship with a 24-0 record. The state title is Lakeland’s first for a team sport since the school moved from Group AA to Group AAA 15 years ago.

“It’s a special day for me and I know it’s special for all of you, too,” Worley said.

“This is a historic day. It’s the first time (Lakeland) has had six athletes on any one team go on to college programs and we’re very proud of you,” said Dr. Thomas Whitley, Lakeland’s principal.

Combs and Betkowski are going to Virginia Commonwealth. They will now be annual conference rivals against Smither at Old Dominion.

Young will be playing at Christopher Newport. CNU’s reached the NCAA Division III Tournament each of the last five years.

Hedrick is going to Radford, where she’ll be joining former Lady Cavalier defender Lynsey Daughtrey.

Johnson accepted a joint athletic and academic scholarship to Liberty. She’ll be on the inaugural Liberty field hockey team at the NCAA Div. I level this fall.

For the five Lady Cavaliers going on to scholarships at the Div. I schools, the scholarships add up to more than $60,000 for the coming school year.

Hedrick and Johnson weren’t planning on continuing their playing careers until the Radford and Liberty coaches came calling.

“Initially I didn’t plan on playing in college,” Hedrick said. “As this season went along though, it was so good being with friends and being on a team so I didn’t want to give those things up.”

“When (Radford’s) coach called I said, ‘well, I should give it a shot.’ Then when I visited the campus and met my teammates, I knew I’m going to love playing there,” Hedrick said.

“Liberty really drew me in,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t going to play until the coach there asked me, and then getting a full ride to go there and play there is just amazing.”

“I love the coach, she’s so sweet, and it’s going to be exciting to be a part of building a new program,” Johnson said.

“I can’t wait to look back years from now and know I was part of the first team,” Johnson said.

Betkowski, Lakeland’s starting goalkeeper for the last four seasons, verbally committed to VCU a year-and-a-half ago.

The majority of Lady Cavalier wins during the past four seasons, including the perfect state championship run, were lopsided contests.

“Mostly I’m looking forward to getting some good competition. It hasn’t been often where I’ve had a really good game to play in,” Betkowski said. “It’ll be exciting to do something every game.”

“VCU and ODU are rivals, definitely,” Betkowski said. “I might be a little nervous playing versus Kelsey. I’ve never played against her.”

Smither, the Virginia Group AAA Player of the Year and a national All-American, is following in her older sister’s footsteps in playing for Old Dominion.

Katelyn was on conference-champion and NCAA Tournament Lady Monarch teams in her four years as a starter. Both sisters are in the U.S. National Team program. Katelyn’s on the National Developmental Team, a squad one step down from the full Olympic and World Cup U.S. team. Kelsey’s made the U19 and U21 national teams for the 2011 schedule after playing on the U17 national team last year.

“Having this and signing with people, your friends, who you see every day, it makes it more special,” Smither said.

The usual photo shoot took place before the official signings, but with a twist on normal protocol. The Lady Cavalier seniors turned the cameras on their parents for a different type of team photo.

“Everyone’s been together for so long, with all the work, all the practices, this all makes it worth it,” Johnson said.