For Nicki Hauser, Michael Larson and Sarah Peplinski, the first day of the NCAA signing period on Wednesday was a weight lifted from them.
The trio of Stevens Point Area Senior High student-athletes had spent much of their senior seasons weighing multiple options in search of the perfect fit to continue their athletic careers.
After signing letters-of-intent, Peplinski (soccer), Larson (cross country/track and field) and Hauser (volleyball/softball) were dealing with a gamut of emotions.
Peplinski, a standout keeper for the Panthers, who has yet to surrender a goal through three games, signed with NCAA Division I San Jose State, while Larson and Hauser will go the Division II route at Lewis University and Southern Connecticut State, respectively.
“It’s relief and excitement. I’m ready to start the next chapter in my life,” said Hauser, who will compete in volleyball and softball at the next level.
A visit to the New Haven, Conn. campus this spring, and having a chance to meet coach coach Lisa Barbaro convinced Hauser, daughter of David and Stephanie, the Owls’ campus were the place for her.
A three-sport standout — basketball, volleyball and softball — Hauser also looked at Augustana (Ill.) and Minnesota-Duluth before settling on the Owls.
“When I went for my visit, I loved the campus and the coach and felt it was a good fit,” said Hauser, an outside hitter on the Panthers’ volleyeball team and and shortstop for softball. “I always have high expectations to do well. I want to come in and play right away. I’m optimistic.”
Larson, who chose Lewis University over interest from North Central College, Minnesota State-Mankato and UW-Oshkosh, has made a name for himself in the Wisconsin prep ranks.
He became only the second individual in the history of the Wisconsin Valley Conference to win three consecutive individual cross country titles, placing him in some elite company with SPASH’s Chris Solinsky.
Larson, son of Greg and Lea Ann, also earned first team all-state honors this past season after finishing 13th overall at the WIAA Division 1 state meet last fall.
“It’s a big relief. It (the college decision) has been on my mind ever since cross country in September. It was about the best location and who believes in me the most,” Larson said. “You just can’t step in (the varsity lineup). It’s going to take a lot of work from Day 1 and having the right mindset.”
His high school coach actually thinks Larson might be even better-suited to the college competition after enjoying a stellar career at SPASH, where he ran 5,000-meter courses for cross country, and the 1,600 and 3,200 in track.
In college, Larson will compete at 8,000 meters in cross country, and have the option of running 3K, 5K and 10K distances in track.
“In college, it’s (having success) more about how driven you are, and Michael has that drive,” SPASH coach Donn Behnke said. “Five miles won’t be a problem for Michael. He’s used to that with his training and I think he’ll get better as the distances get longer.”
For Peplinski, the daughter of Wayne and Claire, the decision ultimately came down to Marist University and the Spartans, and a visit to the California school eventually sealed the deal.
She is looking forward to a chance to compete for playing time as soon as possible.
“I used to want to play college hockey, but I’ve put so much time into goalkeeping that it became my passion,” said Peplinski. “When I visited out there, I got a better feel and it fit me better.”