June 25, 2016


Seniors will graduate, then play for state berth

From left, Medina senior softball players Maria Vanadia, Megan Lawrence, Lauren Peak, Abby Knechtel and Jen Sansonette will graduate this afternoon at the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena. They will then jog to nearby Lee Jackson Field and join the rest of their teammates for a game against Mentor, with the winner earning a berth in the Division I state tournament. (DAVID KNOX)


Rick Noland

The Gazette

AKRON — Weather permitting, it will be the most memorable doubleheader of their lives.

The five seniors on the Medina softball team — Abigail Lindsey Knechtel, Megan Cassandra Lawrence, Lauren Elizabeth Peak, Jennifer Lynn Sansonette and Maria Christine Vanadia — will take part in graduation ceremonies today at 1 p.m. at the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena.

After walking across the stage and getting their diplomas, they will exit early out of a side door, head to the nearest restroom to put on their softball uniforms and then jog several hundred yards to Lee Jackson Field, where the Bees (23-7) will play Mentor (19-10) in a University of Akron Division I Regional championship game at 3 p.m.

“It will be very hectic and eventful, that’s for sure,” starting catcher Vanadia said Friday. “It will definitely be an experience none of us seniors will ever forget.

“I’m happy about it, because it will make it more memorable getting to graduate and then go play for my school right down the street.”

The regional final — Medina won the event last year to secure the first state tournament berth in program history — was originally scheduled for noon today.

The Bees were also originally slated to play their regional semifinal game Wednesday at 5 p.m., but they agreed to switch to Thursday, when they defeated Austintown Fitch 5-3.

That allowed Solon, which held its graduation ceremonies Thursday evening, to play its semifinal against Mentor on Wednesday, which the Comets lost 3-2 in nine innings.

In part because Medina accommodated Solon, Mentor and tournament directors returned the favor and pushed the start of today’s game back to 3 p.m.

“It’s going to be crazy,” said Sansonette, the starting third baseman. “My parents told me they didn’t want me to do anything (Friday night) so I would have enough sleep for (today).

“It’s going to be a long, exciting day. I’m just happy we get to graduate and play another regional final game together.”

The five seniors will each drive with their family to graduation, with most aiming to leave Medina about 11:30 a.m. Doors open for graduation at noon and the ceremony will begin at 1 p.m.

The rest of the Bees will meet at the high school and travel via bus at approximately 12:45 p.m., which should get them to Lee Jackson Field at about 1:30.

“It has the potential to be an emotional day for the seniors, but they have a lot of motivation and support from their teammates, so they’ll be able to pull it together for the game,” Medina coach Jessica Toocheck said. “This is what they’ve been waiting for.

“Any day you can have two things in your life that are very important to you, you’ll remember it for the rest of your life. Academically and athletically, it will be a day to remember.”

Medina athletic director Jeff Harrison said the graduation ceremony usually takes about an hour and 15 minutes, but accommodations have been made that will allow the five senior softball players to exit in approximately 30-45 minutes.

The players will all be seated at the end of a row, so after their names are called and they walk across the stage, they will be easily able to exit out a side door in order to join the rest of their teammates for pregame warm-ups.

“As adults and administrators, we get worked up about a kid possibly missing graduation,” Harrison said. “But you know what? Every time I’ve talked to student-athletes, there’s never even a second thought.

“To them, it’s kind of neat. They roll with the punches and make the best of the situation.”

That’s exactly the approach being taken by the five senior softball players in a graduating class of 558 students.

“I would rather graduate with my softball girls,” said Peak, the starting center fielder. “We’re all so close. They’re important to me.”

Sansonette and Peak were not planning on wearing their softball uniforms under their gowns, but Vanadia, who will be the last player to walk across the stage, was considering it.

“I should wear my mask,” the catcher joked. “I will be extremely anxious, especially knowing I will be the last one out. My team will already be on the field warming up, so I’ll be antsy.

“But it will be something memorable that not many people can say they’ve done. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Medina normally arrives about 90 minutes prior to the start of a game, but the seniors, who are hoping to be on the field a little before 2 p.m., didn’t seem overly concerned about having a little less time to warm up.

“I believe the seniors and the underclassmen can adapt to change,” Vanadia said. “We’ll take everything on a full run and go with it.”

If the Bees beat Mentor, they will play the winner of today’s Columbus Regional final between Grove City (27-4) and North Canton Hoover (31-0) in the state semifinals. That game would be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.

Right now, though, Medina’s five seniors are thinking only about today.

“I’ll definitely be nervous,” Sansonette said. “This will probably be the biggest day of my high school career when you combine graduation with the game.

“I love softball and it’s been a great four years. It will be a great experience to have the opportunity to graduate and then go play a big game with my teammates. I’m sure I’ll remember it the rest of my life.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.