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Athletics: Toppers breathe sigh of relief after signing

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By Mike Cote

Excitement mixed with relief.That’s how the four Los Alamos High School signees all felt as they put their name in ink on their National Letters of Intent Wednesday.Wednesday was the official signing day for high school and junior college student-athletes to sign commitments to play for Division I and Division II sports programs.LAHS hosted a small ceremony in its media center for four outstanding student-athletes, Sarah Ethridge, Desirae Hull, Heidi Nakaoka and Ruben Martinez.Ethridge, Hull and Nakaoka signed to played college women’s soccer at Wednesday’s event, while Martinez inked to play college football.Martinez will move on to play football for New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. He was recruited by head coach Hal Mumme at the fullback spot. Martinez committed to NMSU prior to the 2007 football season — he was also recruited by the University of New Mexico and Air Force — but said he was happy that the deal was finally done.“It’s official,” Martinez said. “It’s just like the state track meet. We talked about it, talked about being the number one 4-by-100 (relay) in the state and we did it. It makes you feel like you really accomplished something.”NMSU was the only school to release a statement on recruits’ signing as of Thursday morning. In the release, Mumme said this year’s signing class was a solid one.“I’m extremely happy with this year’s signing class,” Mumme said. “I feel we have addressed our needs and I expect most of these players to contribute immediately.”NMSU runs many two-back sets and Martinez said he’s hopeful he can jump into one of those two slots soon.“The reason they liked me a lot was that I have the type of build that they can put more weight on or take it off so they can use me as a receiver.”Martinez isn’t the only athlete among the four staying in the state. Nakaoka signed Wednesday to play with New Mexico Highlands, a Division II school in Las Vegas.While staying near home was a big plus for Nakaoka when making her decision — she traveled to northern Italy for one semester as a junior and said that while she loved it there she did get homesick — but it wasn’t the only one.“It wasn’t really the school, but it was the coach,” she said of what got her interested in playing for Highlands.Highlands’ head coach is Ron Blue, a former soccer development coach for the Los Alamos Youth Soccer League. Nakaoka has known Blue since she was very young.Nakaoka also considered playing for Adams State in Alamosa, Colo., before deciding to be reunited with Blue.On Wednesday, Nakaoka was fighting off a cold, but said once that gets cleared up, she’d be ready to start working toward getting ready for fall.“Hopefully, I’ll keep in shape,” she said. “That will be the one thing that will be really hard is the training. I’m just really excited to start playing soccer.”Nakaoka said she plans on studying pre-dentistry.Ethridge, who will lace up for Northern Arizona University this fall, said she flirted with the idea of not playing college ball when pondering her future.“I wasn’t looking to play soccer in college, but I e-mailed a couple of coaches in Colorado and Arizona and didn’t get any replies,” she said. “I thought about not playing in college, but that just wasn’t an option for me.”Ethridge actually didn’t come through the Los Alamos soccer system, moving to town during her sophomore year.During her time at LAHS, she emerged as one of the top soccer and basketball players the school has to offer. She served as team captain in both sports.She said she’d like to play forward or center-midfield at NAU, a Division I school in Flagstaff. She wasn’t sure how much action she’d see immediately, but knew she’d be in the midst of a competitive field pushing for field time.“I’ve just got to start out, go to practice and see where that gets me,” Ethridge said. “In college, I’ve got to work hard. Playing time is on the line.”Ethridge, like her teammates, is expecting to report to college sometime in early July.The student-athlete who will be venturing the furthest away is Hull, who will play for the University of Idaho this fall.Hull made an unofficial visit to Idaho last year, not expecting much to come of the visit, but was introduced to the campus, the players and the coaching staff. She said she felt very comfortable with everything on that visit, particularly head coach Peter Showler.“I liked how he was really personal with me,” Hull said. “He treated me like an individual, not just a player.”During the 2007 season, Hull was scheduled to make an official visit but an airplane mechanical problem quashed her plans. By that time, she said, her mind had already been made up where she wanted to go.Hull said she plans on studying mechanical engineering in school, which she knows is a challenging subject for even non-student-athletes.On the pitch, she’d like to play center-mid or defense. She wasn’t sure about what kind of playing time she might see in the near future, however.Hull said one of the things she’ll have to do to get ready is weight training. “A lot more than I’m used to,” she said.