Austin Harry and Kaylee Hillard have known for years that they wanted to continue their favorite sports into college.
The attention they gained in the last two years led them to places they had not anticipated they’d ever go.
Both Lake-Lehman seniors gave verbal commitments early, then followed up by signing with their NCAA Division I programs last week. A signing ceremony was held Feb. 7 at the Lake-Lehman High School library.
Harry is committed to wrestle for the United States Military Academy at West Point (Army) after spending a year at West Point Prep. Hillard accepted an athletic scholarship to American University in Washington, D.C.
After first wrestling as an 8-year-old, Harry did not need long to begin showing the dedication that has brought him to the point where he is one of the state’s top high school wrestlers and a committed recruit to one of the nation’s top programs.
Harry, who gave a verbal commitment om Aug. 20, has the only unbeaten record this season among Wyoming Valley Conference wrestlers. He will join a program that has produced nearly 700 victories all-time.
“I can still remember being 8, 9, 10 years old, getting up at 5 or 6 o’clock and me and my dad (Keith) going all over,” said Harry, who has wrestled between 132 and 145 pounds this season. “It was a lot of early mornings and a lot of dedication, but it paid off.”
As the last set of postseason individual tournaments approaches in his high school career, Harry already has two District 2 and two Northeast Regional Class AA championships, along with a pair of state medals for finishing in the top eight in his weight class. With that history and a 27-0 record this season, Harry, who is 143-14 for his career, appears ready to contend for a possible state title.
Harry said the Division I wrestling dream developed even before high school when his father, a former high school wrestler, coached him and took him around on the tournament circuit. He found success yearly at the Middle Atlantic Wrestling Association Nationals and won the tournament’s title in Salisbury, Md. as a sixth grader.
As he moved through a successful high school career, Harry gained college attention. He did not have his mind set on the military academies, but when both Army and Navy reached out to him, they joined Bucknell as the options he considered seriously.
Harry also played soccer throughout his time at Lake-Lehman and plans to rejoin the track program this spring now that his future is set.
“It’s an honor for Austin,” Lake-Lehman coach Tom Williams said. “He’s a great kid, a very hard worker and has shown leadership with our program for four years.”
Like Harry, Hillard has known for years that she wanted to play in college.
When she joined the Long Island-based Albertson Fury club team two years ago, Hillard drew attention that made her aware that she could play on the Division I level.
Hillard signed her Letter of Intent on Feb.5 at home.
American became Hillard’s clear favorite college choice over the past two years when she attended camps there and also made her official recruiting visit and another unofficial visit to the campus. She plans to study exercise physiology.
Although she played midfield for the Black Knights, Hillard was recruited for her play as an outside forward on her club team. She will continue this spring with the Fury, which plays in league games on the East Coast and has traveled to tournaments as far away as Florida, Chicago, Colorado and California during her time with the team.
“I think, as a whole, it’s really important to develop as a player before going into college because it’s a different experience and environment,” Hillard said. “So, right now I’m really just trying to work on everything from touches and skill works to fitness, which is another real big thing when you get into college.
“I’ve been doing a lot of cross training to prepare myself.”
Hillard was a first-team Wyoming Valley Conference coaches’ all-star selection after helping Lake-Lehman to an 11-4 record this fall.
American went 4-4-1 in the Patriot League and 6-12-2 overall during the 2013 season.