Even with the spring sports season several months away, three area high school softball players have made their decisions on where they will continue their athletic and academic careers after high school.
Lakeview's Alyssa Nicholas, Girard's Kylie Kulon and Bailey Shade of Newton Falls have each made their selections, with Nicholas going to Akron, Kulon to Gannon and Shade to Fairmont State in West Virginia.
Nicholas chose Akron over Cleveland State, Ohio University, Ashland and Gannon. She said her personal history with the Zips helped her make her decision.
"I've been attending their camp ever since the eighth grade," she said. "The coaches gave me great advice on improving my skills. They are really nice and very comforting. I loved meeting the girls. They made me feel at home."
Nicholas, a catcher, helped Lakeview go 19-4 and advance to a district final this past season. She batted .545 with 10 doubles, seven triples, nine home runs (a school record) and 25 RBIs. She has been named first team All-American Conference her first three varsity seasons.
Also a volleyball player as a freshman for the Bulldogs, Nicholas plans to major in education at Akron.
"I want to increase my career in the education field and hopefully coach a high school (softball) team," Nicholas said of her plans for after college.
Kulon, a second baseman and outfielder at Girard, was also considering Case Western Reserve and Mount Union before selecting Gannon to attend college.
Last season as a junior, Kulon batted .505 with 40 runs scored. She also has four career home runs with the Indians. Kulon helped lead Girard to a district final last season and she has been named first team all-AAC her first three seasons.
As far as her future plans for after college, Kulon said, "I just want to get a job with my (mechanical engineering) degree."
Shade, a hard-throwing pitcher for Newton Falls, will be attending Fairmont State instead of Cedarville, Ashland, Gardner Webb University, Coastal Carolina or Queens University in North Carolina.
She said she chose Fairmont State because of how welcoming the school was to her.
"They really came out to me and told me how interested the were in me," said Shade, who led the Tigers to an 18-6 record last season. "When I went to visit they were really nice and outgoing and they made me feel comfortable. They really made me feel they really wanted me, not as just another girl they were recruiting."
Shade has been named first team all-AAC her first three seasons. She played volleyball her freshman through junior seasons, but didn't play this past year as she wanted to put in extra preparation for softball.
She said her most distinctive memory of playing softball at Newton Falls was from the 2012 season.
"The first game last year against Waterloo," she said. "We were down 3-0 and came back in the last inning, 4-3. That's when I realized the program was really turning it around and the girls were really stepping up."
For her career, Shade batted .384 and compiled a 1.74 ERA. In 2012, she batted .432 with 237 strikeouts and went 14-4.
Shade said she hasn't decided on a major, but she has narrowed it down to veterinary or she wants to enter the CIA or Secret Service.
Shade - who also plays for Valley Extreme 18U - added she wanted to thank the players and coaches that have helped her over the years.
"I just want all the coaches that I've had in my life to know that I appreciate all the hard work, time, and dedication that they have put into help me become the person and softball player I am today, thank you so much," she said. "And to the girls I've played with; I've made a lot of great memories and good, long-lasting friendships that I know I could never find anywhere else. It's truly been an honor to be able to play with such a talented group of athletes."