Archive for Tuesday, February 8, 1994

LAWRENCE HIGH TURNS OUT A BUMPER CROP

February 8, 1994

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When Jason Thoren signed a national letter of intent to play football for Kansas University last Wednesday, he capped what has been a banner recruiting year for Lawrence High.

LHS will have its usual dozen or so student-athletes join the junior college ranks and a few more will head to small-college programs.

But last Wednesday, Thoren became the sixth LHS student-athlete to sign a letter for a Division One school.

The half-dozen are a varied lot.

Three of them -- Thoren, Brad Romme and Kristina Johnson -- played three sports in high school before narrowing it to just one for college.

Only one sport, softball, is sending two players to Division One colleges -- Johnson to Kansas and Nikki Smith to Missouri.

Four of the six -- Thoren, Johnson, baseball signee Romme and golfer Andy Bengtson -- are headed to KU.

Only one -- swimmer Joy Stover, who signed with Northwestern of the Big Ten Conference -- won't be joining the Big Eight.

LHS doesn't keep track of its Division One signees, but athletic director Darrell Falen confirmed the Class of '94 produced a bumper crop.

"We don't keep records, but I'm sure it ranks up there with the most we've had," Falen said. "Many, many years back we had four sign with K-State, but that was a long time ago. I'm sure this is one of the most, if not the most, we've ever had."

Here's a look at Lawrence High's Division One signees.

@briefhed:Jason Thoren,

Kansas football

@sc: Jason Thoren's toughest decision wasn't so much where he'd play but what he'd play.

He starred in football as a running back and linebacker, and in baseball as an outfielder. For fun, he also played basketball.

But he was torn between football and baseball.

"I like them right about equal," he said. "It was so hard to chose one to let go of. I still don't know if I'll let one go. I don't know if I want to play both in college. I don't know if there's enough time."

Colleges apparently were more convinced of his football prowess. Some big-time schools -- like Boston College and Arkansas -- came calling in football, but most baseball inquiries came from smaller schools and jucos.

Proximity played a role in Thoren's decision.

"Really, it came down to me wanting to stay close to home so I could play in front of my family," he said. "Plus, I started thinking about next year in August, thinking, would I want to be leaving?"

A consensus all-stater, Thoren is projected as a linebacker at KU, and that's suits him just fine.

"That's what I wanted to play. That would have been my choice," Thoren said. "I think I have more of a future in defense, plus they have a lot of running backs. I always pictured myself as a linebacker in college.

"In high school, I liked running back better. But everything changes when you go to college."

Thoren has some distant KU ties, but they had no bearing on his decision. He's distantly related to former Kansas standout quarterback John Hadl.

"We're second cousins or something," Thoren said. "I don't really know him. My family knows him. My grandparents know him, but they didn't really care where I went."

@briefhed:Brad Romme,

Kansas baseball

@sc: Brad Romme signed his letter just days before the Class 6A state football championship game, but he kept it a secret until two days afterward.

Romme, a quarterback, helped the Lions turn a 23-0 halftime deficit into a thrilling 27-23 win over Derby for Lawrence's unprecedented fifth straight large-class crown this past fall.

For Romme, who was well aware he was playing the final organized football game of his career, the finish couldn't have been finer.

"That's a big thing. I went out with all my friends, winning what we worked so hard for so long for," Romme said. "It just seemed like the perfect ending for me."

Like Thoren, his good friend, Romme was torn between football and baseball. Like Thoren, he also dabbled in basketball. He earned the starting point guard spot this season after taking off last year to concentrate on baseball.

"Jason keeps telling me I'll regret giving up football when I see him out there," Romme said. "Right now, it's real easy. When I feel I lost football, it's easy to pop in a tape. I'm sure I'll be all right.

"Sometimes I see people around town, and they'll congratulate me on our win at state and ask why I'm not playing football. I joke and say I took my share of knocks. I don't regret it. I think I have the opportunity to be a successful baseball player."

Romme was starting to worry about his future when KU came calling.

"As I was in my process, not many schools showed much interest," he said. "I was about ready to make some tapes and send 'em out."

Romme toyed with the notion of playing both sports but quickly discounted it.

"Some people have asked me, 'Why not try both?' I tell them it's just too much," Romme said.

@briefhed:Andy Bengtson,

Kansas golf

@sc: Andy Bengtson didn't exactly labor over his decision to become a Jayhawk.

"I basically bleed crimson and blue," he said. "I've been here a long time and I'm a big fan of the school. I truly love KU. It was not a tough choice."

Bengtson was courted by Princeton, Yale, Navy and Air Force. He also had feelers from Arizona, Arizona State and New Mexico State.

"I had my heart set on KU," he said.

Coach Ross Randall played a huge part in Bengtson's decision.

"He's been my coach since I started playing," Bengtson said. "He's such a great coach and a nice guy and he knows so much about the game."

His familiarity with Randall could have led to an awkward time: What if, after pinning his hopes on attending KU, Randall hadn't been interested?

"I don't know if I can answer that," Bengtson said. "I think I would have gone to KU anyway and just worked on my golf game more and tried to improve so I could meet the team standards."

That, of course, won't be necessary since Randall was interested in landing Bengtson.

"I had a lesson on the day of the Chiefs-Houston game in the second week of the season," Bengtson recalled. "(Randall) said he wanted to spend some time and talk to me. We talked a couple of hours. I thought it over and I think I gave my verbal commitment within two days."

@briefhed:Kristina Johnson,

Kansas softball

@sc: Kristina Johnson thought she knew everything there was to know about KU -- until she made her official visit.

"It's almost looks likes you're still far away from home," she said. "It's a different world, being on your own, being more independent. I thought I'd go up there and know everything, and I don't."

She still knew enough to pick KU over Missouri and Johnson County Community College.

"I'm pretty happy with it," Johnson said. "I'm really excited to get up there. I knew I wanted to play Division One and I also wanted to stay kind of close to home. I didn't want to go far away from my family."

Johnson, a catcher, also started for the Class 6A state runner-up volleyball team and is the starting shooting guard for the basketball team.

"Softball is my favorite," Johnson said. "Volleyball is probably my next choice behind softball. If I hadn't gotten any softball offers and I had gotten some in volleyball, I probably would have played volleyball. But I really wanted to play softball.

"It's a big weight off my shoulders. Now I don't have to worry about where I'm going to go or if I'm going to get a scholarship. Now I can concentrate more on my senior year."

@briefhed:Nikki Smith,

Missouri softball

@sc: A little familiarity didn't hurt Missouri's courtship of Nikki Smith.

"I just really like Missouri's softball program," said Smith, a centerfielder. "I like their coaching philosophy and the way they play. I have since I went to camp there in the summer."

Proximity and opportunity also played a part in tabbing the Tigers over Missouri-Kansas City, Southwest Missouri State and Texas A&M.

"I wanted to stay somewhere close to home," Smith said. "And, their centerfielder is graduating. That's one thing that helped me choose Missouri. I wanted to go someplace where I could start right away."

That two Lions are headed to Division One softball programs came as no surprise to Smith.

"We're a pretty solid team," she said. "We have a lot of good athletes. We might even have more go to college. I don't know if they've all decided what they're going to do."

The two D-I players are just part of reason Smith is eager for spring.

"This is the year we hope to go all the way to state," she said. "Before, we had the ability and the potential. Now we're all more mature. We started playing together in fifth grade. We know what to expect from each other. We're all one big happy family."

@briefhed:Joy Stover,

Northwestern swimming

@sc: Joy Stover could have gone just about anywhere.

She ranks among the nation's elite in her age group of freestylers and, athletic prowess aside, could have qualified for plenty of academic scholarships.

Northwestern, and the Windy City's climate, won out.

"I like cold weather," she said. "I don't know ... I just liked everything about Northwestern. I felt I got along with the coaches and the team. Everything just clicked for me."

Northwestern was ranked No. 11 in the nation at the end of last season. Georgia, Michigan and Texas also were on Stover's final list.

"It's a really good school academicswise," Stover said. "Not that the others weren't. I just didn't want to go to the others like I wanted to go to Northwestern."

Her enthusiasm was tempered a bit when the team's head coach resigned recently, but Stover overcame her initial distress.

"I was really upset at first," she said. "I like the assistant coach a lot. He would have been my main coach anyway. Now he's the head coach. I still want to go there."

Her commitment was a relief.

"Everyone always asks, 'Where are you going?' Now I can say I'm going to Northwestern," Stover said. "Now I don't have to worry about making visits and I can focus on my senior year."

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