Mike Koch isn’t prone to exaggeration, so when the Quakertown soccer coach threw high praise in the direction of seniors Haley Pursel, Kyra Handel and Ashley Gluck, he was speaking from his heart.
“We had a lot of success during their tenure, and the leadership they provided and the example they set – I’ve never seen it before and I don’t think I’ll see it again. It was an incredible run by them,” the Panthers’ coach said. “They’re obviously really good soccer players, but they’re even better people.”
The trio was part of a group of 10 seniors recognized at a special college signing ceremony recently.
Pursel, an All-Southeastern Pa. selection the past three years, chose Lafayette from a final list that included Rochester Institute of Technology, Old Dominion, Drexel and Carnegie Melon.
“I was focusing on the academics because I knew I wanted to do engineering, so that was really important for me,” said Pursel, who will major in mechanical engineering. “I really wanted my parents to come to my games, and the (Lafayette) coaches definitely made an impact.”
Handel, who was sidelined with an injury her senior year, chose Ursinus College from a final list that included Bloomsburg and California University of Pennsylvania.
“I just loved the environment there when I went on my overnight,” Handel said. “This is the coach’s second year, and at the last school, she was able to take a program that was horrible and they won their division. I’m going to be part of that change.”
Gluck, the Panthers’ leading scorer the last two years, will play soccer at California University of Pennsylvania.
“I visited the campus and I fell in love with the coach and I fell in love with the campus, and I knew right there and then it was the place for me,” Gluck said. “When I got to high school, it really started to hit me that I wanted to play in college because I didn’t want these four years to be the end of it.”
Since picking up a basketball for the first time, Elias “Eli” Ortiz knew that basketball was the sport for him.
“Ever since my first real season in seventh grade, I wanted to play college basketball, no matter what division it was,” the Quakertown senior said. “I aimed high and I actually made it. It’s still surreal, but I’m going to be playing college basketball, which is what I wanted for six years now.”
The Panthers’ captain will continue his basketball career at Cairn University where he will pursue a pre-physical therapy major with his sights set on becoming an athletic trainer. He also considered Geneva, Hood and Seton Hill.
“The decision was actually easy,” Ortiz said. “Most of those colleges, I went to their basketball games, I saw how they played and I saw the crowd they got.
“Nothing matched up with Cairn. Cairn plays fast-paced, upbeat, always has the stands sold out. I couldn’t believe how much support they got for a smaller school.”
Dan Grubb has been playing lacrosse since he was in fourth grade, eventually joining the club circuit where he was recruited. He will continue his career at Chestnut Hill but also considered Alderson-Broaddus, Georgian Court and West Chester.
“A lot of it was the academics – it’s a small school, and the support they have for athletes is fantastic,” Grubb said. “Coach (Mike) Terranova is a great guy, and the guys are really cool there too.”
Dennis Pierce is one of three members of the baseball team who will be taking their game to the next level. He chose West Chester from a final list that included East Stroudsburg and Delaware State.
“West Chester has a great baseball program,” Pierce said. “I took a visit and I really like the campus. The media and culture program is pretty good there.
“Around middle school, I started playing for a travel team, and that’s when I really started liking baseball. I stopped playing football, and I just focused on baseball.”
Mason Hicks, who also considered Lackawanna and Clarion, will continue his career at Harford Community College in Maryland.
“They have a great reputation for getting players into D1 schools,” Hicks said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to play in college. I started playing for a travel team in middle school, and I really started to work hard because I knew it was something I wanted to accomplish.”
Matt Ciarrocchi, who will major in history, chose Moravian but also considered DeSales and Eastern.
“I just liked the campus and where it was located, I like the academics they offered for my major, and I liked the coach and players,” he said. “Playing in college started to become a reality last year when I saw how far along I came with pitching.”
Sam Rice narrowed his choices down to Clarion and Misericordia, and he chose Clarion.
“The campus is beautiful, I liked the area,” Rice said. “They just got a new coach the past couple of years, and they’re eager to go.
“I always wanted to play in college, and when I joined my travel team, the Shockers, that’s when the recruiting started.”
Tori Caputo, who anchors the Panthers in the circle, will continue her softball career at Elizabethtown College. She chose the Landmark Conference school from a final list that included DeSales and King’s as well as Penn State where she would have played club softball.
“I had been in communication with the coach, and when I walked on the campus for a clinic a couple of weeks ago – that’s what I wanted out of college,” Caputo said. “In eighth grade I started thinking about high school and how far I wanted to go with softball.
“I remember my first Senior Night freshman year, I realized I didn’t want to stop with high school. I wanted to continue on.”