Meridian senior Sydney Gray has been dreaming about attending college at Pepperdine University longer than she's been dreaming about being a college cross country and track runner.
When she got accepted into her dream school, it turned out she could do both.
"Only 800 kids get admitted, so the academic merit of the school is very high," Gray said in a phone interview. "I went there on a recruiting trip, and that's when it sunk in that this was the school for me. I attended a class, and the professor addressed the students by their first name. It felt good to be there - it was real close knit."
Gray said she has come to enjoy that close-knit, small-school feeling while at Meridian, and it was something she sought when she started looking for schools as a freshman.
Ultimately, that was what sold her on Pepperdine over Gonzaga, Seattle Pacific and Santa Clara.
"I knew that I really wanted that close student-teacher relationship," said Gray, who plans to major in Political Science, minor in Spanish and try to get into law school at - you guessed it - Pepperdine. "Meridian being a smaller 1A school, I knew that's what worked for me. I think that really benefited me academically."
That same close-knit feeling attracted Gray to the Waves cross country team.
"When I went down there for my visit, one of the girls on the team came right up and introduced herself," Gray said. "She lives in Seattle, and asked me if I wanted to go on a morning run with her. During the run, she told me all about her experiences at Pepperdine, willingly. I stayed overnight in the athletes' dorm, and you could tell right away they were a family. It was kind of like the team we have here at Meridian, and that really excites me."
Gray admits she was a little worried about whether she would still be an attractive collegiate runner after she missed a good portion of her senior cross country season with a stress fracture.
"I was worried that a Division I school wouldn't be interested in me running anymore after I missed most of my senior season," said Gray, who had a career-best time of 20 minutes, 8.60 seconds on a 5,000-meter course as a junior at the Northwest Conference Championships and placed 44th at the 1A State Championships that year. "But I was able to run this winter, and I talked to the coach, and he said they still wanted me."
Gray also has been running track for the Trojans this spring, and finished fourth in the 3,200 (12:11.30) at the Birger Solberg Invitational and third in the 1,600 (5:37.32) at the Bedlington Twilight.
Though she didn't start running competitively until she was a sophomore, Gray said she started to take the sport seriously about two years ago, when she joined Whatcom Tesseract Running Club. It was about then that she started to think about running in college - long after she'd set her sights on Pepperdine for its academics.
By signing to compete with the Waves, who finished eighth at the West Coast Conference Championships and 27th NCAA Division I West Regional last fall, Gray becomes the fourth Tesseract runner this year to move on to a Division I school, joining Squalicum seniors Patrick Gibson (Stanford) and Brittany Gappa (Boston University) and Blaine's Tom Bradley (San Francisco). Add in Bellingham's Joe Charbonneau, who has signed to run for Seattle University, and this year's senior class of runners is already quite impressive, with a couple of others expected to join them in the Division I ranks before next fall.
"I think the consistency of the Tesseract team really helped me," Gray said. "It gives us the chance to train year-round. Peter Oviatt is an amazing coach. Besides the workouts, he really teaches the discipline, the diet and the lifestyle you need to have to be successful. Those little things make you so much better, like sleeping more. We have fun, too."
But as much fun as she has running, Gray admits it was nothing compared to getting her acceptance letter from her dream school.
"I'm still awestruck that I'm going there," she said. "I'm dumfounded when I think that I'm going to be there in a few months. It's a dream come true."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Here is a look at the Whatcom County high school seniors who either have signed or are planning to sign National Letters of Intent to be student athletes in college:
Student athlete High school Sport College
Rachel Albert Sehome Basketball Western Washington
Bo Banner Sehome Football Central Washington
Kelli Bannerman Ferndale Soccer Saint Martin's
Brooke Bonsen Lynden Softball Bellevue Community College
Tom Bradley Blaine Cross Country San Francisco
Brooke Branigan Bellingham Golf Western Washington
Jeremy Brockmann Meridian Baseball Centralia College
Aaron Burke Bellingham Baseball Oregon Tech
Joe Charbonneau Bellingham Cross Country Seattle University
Alex Check Bellingham Baseball Bellevue College
Luke Christianson Lynden Baseball Lower Columbia College
Josh DeVenere Ferndale Cross Country Skagit Valley College
Marcus Fakkema Lynden Lacrosse University of Great Falls
Gina Flint Squalicum Track Washington
Brittany Gappa Squalicum Cross Country Boston University
Patrick Gibson Squalicum Cross Country Stanford
Mario Gobbato Blaine Football Montana State Northern
Daniel Goebel Sehome Baseball Westmont College
Sydney Gray Meridian Cross Country Pepperdine
Patrick Gregory Sehome Swimming Cal Lutheran
Maddi Hommes Lynden Volleyball Bellevue College
Kahokuloa Kauhi Sehome Volleyball Everett Community College
Devon Kollmyer Lynden Soccer Simon Fraser
Tyler Knutsen Sehome Baseball Hawaii-Hilo
Josh Kraght Lynden Football Portland State
Bridget Kruck Lynden Christian Softball Mesa (Ariz.) Community College
Charlie Linneman Sehome Basketball Carleton (Minn.) College
Brice Longanecker Sehome Baseball Yakima Valley
Forrest Longanecker Sehome Baseball Yakima Valley
Jake Manson Sehome Baseball Yakima Valley
Matt Meyer Lynden Football Washington State
Larkyn Nelson Bellingham Soccer Peninsula College
Caleb Newman Lynden Football Army
Tanner Olson Lynden Baseball Lower Columbia College
Audrey Orem Bellingham Golf Western Washington
Austin Rapp Sehome Football Washington State
Palmer Sandel Blaine Football Western Oregon
Dak Shagren Lynden Basketball Northwest University
Rachel Short-Miller Bellingham Soccer Hesston (Kan.) College
Austyn Sprague Ferndale Baseball Everett Community College
Michael Steele Ferndale Soccer Oregon State
Brooke Steinberg Bellingham/WCC Soccer Western Oregon
Kayla Tiemersma Lynden Christian Basketball Whatcom Community College
Thomas Vazorka Bellingham Football Idaho State
Zach Vis Lynden Football Montana
Emily Visser Lynden Christian Cross Country Dordt College
Ryan Wallen Blaine Golf Wyoming
Sydney Wasilewski Meridian Volleyball Walla Walla Community College
Corrie Wilson Ferndale Softball Saint Martin's
NOTE: To report a Whatcom County high school student athlete that is planning to continue their playing career in college, please contact David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.