Chapel Hill: Sports

Athletes commit to next level of competition

Left to right, East A.D. Ray Hartsfield discusses National Signing Day with seniors Caroline Kolk (Northwestern); Chris Cox (Tampa); and Mo Rooker (Sewanee).
Left to right, East A.D. Ray Hartsfield discusses National Signing Day with seniors Caroline Kolk (Northwestern); Chris Cox (Tampa); and Mo Rooker (Sewanee). East Chapel Hill High School

One of the area’s top high school players who committed last week to a college program didn’t even play high school ball this year.

Chapel Hill High School senior Katherine Esterley skipped her last two years of eligibility with the Tigers’ varsity program to concentrate on club play. She still attracted plenty of attention and Wednesday she committed officially to the University of North Carolina’s volleyball program.

“I wish we could have seen her play here,” Chapel Hill director of athletics Tim Bennett said. “She was really good.”

Wednesday was “National Signing Day” – just the first day of a week-long period for high school athletes who wanted to sign their NCAA National Letters of Intent as soon as possible. An NLI officially binds the student-athletes to their respective schools under NCAA rules.

The fall’s early period ends Wednesday, Nov. 18.

The “ regular” signing period for football is Feb. 3, 2016, through April 1. For all other sports except basketball, it’s April 13 through Aug. 1. Basketball’s regular period is April 13 through May 18 for Division I and through Aug. 1 for Division II.

At least six local athletes signed their letters last week. Three more are expected to sign at noon Monday in a brief ceremony at Orange High – baseball players Bryse Wilson (North Carolina) and Brad Debo (South Carolina), and Panther softball shortstop Montana Davidson (Mississippi State).

East Chapel Hill soccer player Brynn Donnelly elected not to sign last week as expected with UNC Wilmington and chose to wait until February to commit officially.

Three other seniors signed their letters Thursday in a short ceremony at East Chapel Hill: boys lacrosse player Chris Cox (Tampa University); field hockey co-captain Caroline Kolk (Northwestern University); and volleyball player Mo Rooker (Sewanee University).

At Carrboro High School, swimmers Mia Morrell and William Macmillan also confirmed their collegiate athletic choices last week. Morrell signed with Emory University, which has won six consecutive NCAA Division III championships in swimming. Macmillan, a high school All-American, signed with Stanford University, one of the elite Division I swimming programs in the nation.

“Mia and Will are considered two of the top male and female athletes from Carrboro High School,” athletics director April Ross said in an emailed announcement.

Morell, whose older brother Justin swims for Washington University in St. Louis, qualified for the N.C. High School championships as a sophomore and junior, finishing in the top eight with the 200 individual medley relay team both years.

Macmillan set a N.C. High School record (1:52.53) for the 200 individual medley as a junior, and last year he set another record (1:38.85) in the 200 freestyle and led off Carrboro’s record-setting swim (1:35.0) in the 200 medley relay.

Esterley was one of five volleyball players who signed with North carolina last week – joining Taylor Borup of Leesburg, Va.; Holly Carlton of Sterling, Va.; Mariah Evans of Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Julia Scoles of South Iredell High School in Mooresville.

“I would say this is probably one of the most talented classes we’ve ever brought in to North Carolina,” said head coach Joe Sagula. “It is likely going to be recognized as one of the top classes in the country. This class will keep UNC nationally relevant for years to come.”

A 6-foot-1 middle blocker for Triangle Volleyball Club, Esterley was named to the 2015 JVA All-National Team after helping her club to a third-place finish at the 2015 Disney Showcase Qualifier and a ninth-place finish at the 2014 AAU Junior Nationals.

She was an academic all-conference selection her ninth-grade and sophomore years while playing for then-coach Sherry Norris at Chapel Hill High School.

“Katharine Esterley is probably one of the best high school and club blockers I’ve seen, and I think her ability to read the game is what’s going to get her playing time early,” said Sagula. “She’s a good offensive player, but she’s way ahead of things in terms of her ability to be a defending middle blocker. A great student and a great teammate, I think she will add a lot of depth to that position, which is a position that’s going to be pretty open with the graduation of two All-ACC middles. We’ll need her to step up early in her career.”

April Ross and UNC Athletics contributed to this report.