Six Granite Bay seniors ink NLIs this week

By: Steven Wilson,
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GRANITE BAY HIGH - 2016 National Signing Day

Signee - Sport - University

Gianni Cannon, Lacrosse, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

Kennedy Christie, Soccer, Azusa Pacific

Emma Darragh, Soccer, Illinois Wesleyan University

Laura Perjanik, Soccer, University of California, Riverside

Sammi Tafoya, Volleyball, University of Redlands

Savanna Thompson, Soccer, University of San Diego

Friends, family members and coaches packed the Granite Bay High library Wednesday morning as six student-athletes signed their National Letters of Intent (NLI) to continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level.

Four of those signees came from the Grizzlies girls soccer team as Kennedy Christie, Emma Darragh, Laura Perjanik and Savanna Thompson all inked their signatures with programs across the nation.

Last year’s Sierra Foothill League MVP, Savanna Thompson led the charge as she signed with the Division I program at the University of San Diego. 

“She led one of the league’s stingiest defenses for the past two years,” Thompson’s high school coach Mark Broers said. “She is well respected by all and plays the game with joy and passion.”

As a four-year varsity defender for the Grizzlies, Thompson was an integral part of Granite Bay’s back-to-back SFL championships. She also competed with Placer United’s 98 Gold team alongside Cal Berkeley commit Maggie Bell. Now, she has the opportunity to join Bell at the Division I level, and may even see her on the pitch in the future.

“When I visited the school in San Diego, I just fell in love with it,” Thompson admitted. “I knew it was where I wanted to go. They have a great academic reputation, which was important to me, and they have a great soccer program.” 

Last season, the Toreros program squared off against seven 2014 NCAA Tournament teams including Georgetown, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, BYU, San Diego State, USC and Pepperdine, but missed the playoffs with a 5-13-2 record. Thompson hopes to change that.

“I’m a really competitive person, so I’m excited to play soccer with a new team that’s just as excited about it as I am,” Thompson confessed. “I’ll be playing against competitors who will make me better, so that’s a plus.”

Granite Bay’s senior goalkeeper Laura Perjanik will join Thompson at the Division I level as she signed an NLI with UC Riverside’s soccer program. 

“They have an up and coming athletic program,” Perjanik explained. “I’ve always loved Southern California and I really had a good connection with the head coach, who’s also the goalkeeper coach down there. So that was important to me.”

Although the level of competition will increase, one could argue Perjanik has already met the demands of a collegiate training program. On a normal day in the spring, following her schedule of classes, Perjanik endures a two-hour high school practice before attending a night practice for her club team. Some local programs limit club practices to two days a week, but Perjanik’s San Juan squad trains four days a week.

“Girls soccer is one of those sports where you can compete for both your club team and your high school team at the same time, and it can be stressful,” she explained. “They’re both in the spring and we’re getting ready to graduate at that time … so it’s going to be interesting trying to balance everything.”

Broers believes Perjanik has the potential to become one of the league’s best goalkeepers this year. After beginning her soccer career at forward, Perjanik made the jump to between the sticks and has excelled at a difficult position. 

“She will be the starting keeper for us this season and a team captain,” Broers explained. “She has great quickness, soft hands, and plays really well with her feet.”

While Perjanik heads down south, Emma Darragh will travel the farthest out of all the commits from Wednesday’s signing as she commits to Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.

Darragh, who admitted to never leaving the state of California before this past summer, first visited Illinois with her Placer United club team in July as they partook in the 2015 NPL Championships. 

“We had a day off before we were leaving and we traveled into Chicago,” Darragh explained. “I absolutely fell in love with the city. I had never seen anything like it.”

The Granite Bay native knew at that point she wanted to attend a university in Illinois. One week after returning from the NPL tournament, Darragh reached out to the coach from IWU and he attended her next tournament and took interest in the high school senior.

“In September, I flew out to Illinois Wesleyan and toured the campus,” Darragh added. “I stayed in the dorms with the team and the girls were just so nice, I felt like I would really fit in there. Plus, they have a really good business program, which will be my major.”

Darragh, who spent nine club seasons at Placer United in Rocklin competing with the 99 Gold team, hopes to eventually get an internship at the headquarters of State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, which is located just three miles from IWU’s campus.

Although she will have to withstand snow and 6-degree weather in Illinois, Darragh admitted the rolling green hills and beauty of the state factored into her decision and she plans to train in the college’s indoor facility during the winter months.

“I’ve been looking at the weather and because of how windy it is there it will be 10 degrees, but it will feel like negative 18,” Darragh pointed out. “They have an indoor track, so we’ll train outdoors in the fall, indoors during winter season with weights and then we compete in spring once it warms up a little bit.”

Although she has mostly played defender in her career, Darragh made the jump to forward last year to help the Grizzlies out. That switch prompted her coach to call her one of the most versatile players on the team. 

“She is aggressive, speedy and smart,” Broers added. “She moved from a crowded back line full of talent to play forward last season and provided many good good scoring opportunities for her teammates. She works extremely hard at training and will do anything to help her team succeed. She will be an important player for our team this year and her leadership skills will help mold our very young team.”

Granite Bay forward Kennedy Christie also signed her NLI this week as she joined Azusa Pacific University’s soccer program.

“I definitely wanted to go to a christian college,” she admitted. “My main motivation was to pick the college first and then athletics. I really felt that’s where I should be going.”

The Cougars women’s soccer program reached the NCAA West Region Final last year and finished with a 16-3 record.  

“I’m just really excited to get to know the team, play at the next level and all-around better myself,” Christie stated. 

The four soccer standouts will all join forces this spring for the Grizzlies girls soccer team as they look to earn their third-straight SFL title.

“This talented group of young women have worked extremely hard on academics and athletics,” Coach Broers stated. “I’m proud to have had a chance to help them in any way possible.  Their contribution to our team and school will be dearly missed next year. This is a very special group.”

“It’s amazing to sign with so many teammates,” Perjanik added. “I’ve played with Kennedy and Savanna since I was a little girl. So just seeing them grow as athletes over the years and having the chance to sign with them is surreal.”

Sammi Tafoya & Gianni Cannon sign NLIs

Volleyball standout Sammi Tafoya and fellow senior Gianni Cannon also inked NLIs Wednesday as they signed with big programs. 

Cannon will join the lacrosse team at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs next fall as she preps for the Division II level. 

“It’s a new program, so I have the opportunity to see a lot of playing time,” Cannon explained. “It’s a beautiful campus and everyone I’ve met is really nice and very supportive.”

The Grizzlies standout joins her brand new teammates in year No. two of the program and hopes to establish a winning culture. 

“They had been talking to me for a while and they saw me compete at a couple national tournaments, so that’s how I found out about it,” Cannon added. “I was traveling to Florida and Virginia and got a lot of exposure and playing time by doing that.”

Meanwhile, Tafoya will attend the University of Redlands and compete for the Division III Bulldogs volleyball program. 

“I didn’t want to play at a school where all my time would be dedicated to my sport,” Tafoya confessed. “I want to be able to balance school, volleyball and actually have time to enjoy a normal college experience. That’s why I really didn’t pursue a Division II program.”

Tafoya is just a few short months removed from a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Championship victory with the Grizzlies volleyball program, but she says the grind hasn’t stopped for her.

“It’s been a crazy couple of months,” she confessed. “We didn’t expect to make it that far in sections or (the) state (tournament), but it was great to end on a high note. Actually, it hasn’t really hit me because I only had two days off from the high school season to the club season.”

As is the case for many of these prep athletes, that sort of work ethic will pay dividends at the next level as they continue their respective careers.