Archive for Sunday, August 17, 2003

Four former city standouts taking different career paths

Lawrence and Free State highs have turned out many college standouts over the years. Here’s a look at four of them who have excelled at the university level.

August 17, 2003


Laura Gravino

Gravino, Free State High's first state tennis champion, has two years left at Illinois State. After that, she's done. No professional aspirations, no mini-tours.

That's just fine with her.

"I'll have fun for the last couple years and that will be that," Gravino said.

A 2001 FSHS graduate, Gravino won the 1999 Class 6A singles title as a junior. She didn't play as a senior, opting for the USTA Juniors route. It didn't hurt her college choices, signing with the Division One Redbirds and playing singles and doubles as a freshman.

Gravino relishes her team's success and playing doubles -- something she rarely did in high school. Illinois State won the Missouri Valley team title her freshman year and was second last year.

"For me, it's more related to how our team does," she said. "All of my focus is on our team and making sure we excel. I really don't set any individual goals anymore."

An early childhood education major, Gravino said she would graduate in four years, except her program won't let her student teach while playing tennis. After hanging around for an extra semester, she'll be done with college and tennis and move on to her next career.

Curtis Ledbetter

Few Kansas preps have logged better single-season baseball stats than Ledbetter, a 2000 Lawrence High graduate.

The Lions were 22-2 that spring, winning the Class 6A state title, as Ledbetter, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound catcher, hit .629 -- the best single-season average according to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame -- with 47 RBIs and 13 home runs.

So it's no surprise he's excelling in college.

Ledbetter, who played one year at Garden County CC, now is a junior at Nebraska, hitting .348 with 13 homers and 54 RBIs. He started 48 of 53 games in the outfield for the Cornhuskers, earning All-Big 12 Conference honors.

"It's a big jump from high school to junior college, but it's an even bigger jump from any place to a Division One school -- especially a place like the Big 12," he said. "Obviously, when you get to this level, everybody's an all-state player or player of the year. You have to work if you want to play."

After playing in the Northwoods league this summer for the Rochester Honkers, Ledbetter had surgery July 21 after popping the joint where the collarbone meets the shoulder blade in the Huskers' regular-season finale against Baylor.

Todd Trahan

If Trahan has his way, he'll be playing soccer long after his career is over at South Carolina-Spartanburg. A summer trip to the Netherlands only reaffirmed that dream.

"I would love to play some semi-pro ball," he said. "Get on a team over there, get paid to play; I wouldn't mind doing that."

The 2001 Free State grad was a first-team all-state selection in 2000, when the Firebirds posted their first winning season ever with an 11-5-1 mark.

Trahan's playing time grew considerably last year with the Rifles, who were ranked No. 5 among Division II schools. They finished 19-3 overall, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

By his estimate, Trahan played about three-fourths of every game, mostly in the midfield. He hopes to move to striker this season, but said the Rifles were loaded up front, mostly with international players.

Coincidentally, that's the reason he went to the Netherlands.

Teammate Stefan Van Der Speck is from Amsterdam, so Trahan spent about three weeks with him -- most of it playing street soccer.

After three weeks of that, semi-pro ball would be a dream.

"Man, that's the life," he said.

Chris Williams

The 2000 LHS grad was one of the state's most dominant cross country runners, wearing the Class 6A crown in 1997, '98 and '99 -- one of six Kansas prep runners to win three times. It was hard to slow him down on the track, too. He claimed 3,200-meter titles in '98 and '99.

Yet, Williams rarely was 100 percent, and won his last two titles despite injuries.

This past college season at Duke was the same way. Williams suffered a tendon strain midway through the season and continued to run on it, but never felt great. Still, he qualified for the NCAA Championships for the third straight season and finished 59th among 255 runners, just out of All-American status.

"Well, then I found out I ran all season with mono," Williams said. "And that was something I'm just now getting over."

He sat out the track season, which helped him recuperate, then started running seriously again this summer. Williams could become the first Duke athlete ever to qualify four straight years for the NCAAs.

A pre-law major, Williams interned in Kansas City this summer and would like to attend law school in Washington D.C. -- preferably at George Washington or Georgetown -- and possibly focus on international trade law.

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