Three Aztec seniors made college commitments before the end of 2012, leaving them worry-free entering 2013 spring sports seasons.
Brooke Raney led the pack with a Division II scholarship from Western New Mexico University Mustangs in Silver City where she will play golf.
“I am absolutely ecstatic. I couldn’t be happier,” Raney said after signing in November. “I went down and visited the school and the girls and coach were all great. It is a great opportunity for me.”
The Mustangs have had success in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, and Raney will make sure head coach Kent Beatty has at least one San Juan County golfer on the team after Faylyn Beyale, a Kirtland Central graduate, completes her senior season this year.
Raney began her golf career in The First Tee program, an international organization that teaches golf and values to kids.
“I have to thank The First Tee because it was so great to participate in,” Raney said. “I never imagined signing with a college back then. I always dreamed of it, but it is surreal now that it is here.”
Raney also credited her parent, Kenneth and Traci, for the tireless dedication to helping her improve her game.
The support of coaches Tom McClurg and Don Greenwood has also been invaluable, Raney said.
“My parents and my coaches have always stuck with me and encouraged me. Even when I was down, they would help me out,” she said. “Hidden Valley Golf Course has always been welcoming to me. They want me to come out and play, and (McClurg) has been great to me.”
Raney finished fourth in the 4A state tournament last year. She hopes to only improve on that finish and a career-low round of 76 in her senior season now that the stresses of finding a college are gone.
“Now I can focus a lot more on doing my best. I would love to beat that fourth-place finish this year. It will be my focus,” she said. “I want to make everybody proud, especially myself.”
She hopes the opportunity to play for four years in college takes her golf-game to new levels.
“As a freshman, I want to consistently shoot in the mid-70s. That would be a good place for me to start,” she said. “I want to see what I can do in four years at college. Being around golfers as good as me or better every day will really help me dedicate myself even more. Whatever comes at me, I will take any opportunity to better myself as a golfer.”
For Aztec senior Randy Leplatt, the chance to get in on the ground floor of the Cornerstone University baseball program was an opportunity too good to pass up.
Leplatt signed to play for the NAIA school in Grand Rapids, Mich., in November.
“They have a brand new baseball program, brand new facilities and the college is all about Christ, which is what I was looking for,” he said. “I never really got recognized much in high school, so to be able to play at the next level is really exciting.”
The non-denominational Christian school will begin its baseball program this spring.
Leplatt is hopefull he’ll be able to contribute to the Golden Eagles’ infield.
“I’m going to have to work on my hitting, but my infield work is pretty good,” he said. “I plan on playing a utility role for them.”
The Tigers’ junior is looking to keep improving his game while at Cornerstone and keep the option open of playing at a Division I school in the future.
“I plan on playing there for at least two years because of the scholarship money and see where it goes from there.”
After a trip to the 4A state championship game a year ago, Amber Linker believes she will be prepared for NAIA softball at the collegiate level after she graduates from Aztec in 2013.
Linker signed with Kansas Wesleyan University, a four-year Methodist college in Salina, Kan., on Dec. 17.
“My sister went there and played soccer, so it won’t be that different for me because I have spent a lot of time out there,” Linker said. “It is pretty cool to be going there after she did.”
As a member of the Coyotes, Linker hopes to continue playing first base, but her ability to play outfield may also help her see the field right away.
“We are excited to add Linker to the Kansas Wesleyan University softball family,” said Coyotes head coach Daryl Hoelting in a prepared statement. “We liked what we saw when she tried out. Amber looked very comfortable at first base. It will also be nice to have another left-handed hitter on the team.”
It is Linker’s bat that Aztec head coach Jose Santistevan said will translate best to the next level.
Linker began her softball career as a 12-year-old when she first attended a Roy Johnson pitching clinic. Johnson, who is now an assistant on the Aztec coaching staff, was by her side when she signed.
Linker is a five-year letterman for Aztec. Now that she has signed with the Coyotes, she hopes to finish her career with a state title.
“It is so good to be signed before the season starts so I am not focused on where I am going to go all the time,” Linker said. “I want to do really good this season and bring home state before I go.”