Preps notebook: Mondi signs with Nebraska gymnastics, Thomsen inks with Cal volleyball

A pair of talented high school prospects who call Lawrence home recently signed with Power 5 universities in their chosen sports, with Lawrence High’s Chase Mondi joining the Nebraska gymnastics program and Free State volleyball standout Sawyer Thomsen signing to play at Cal.

Mondi, a 2021 National Champion on the floor and four-time level 10 state champion in the all-around, hosted a signing party at 23rd Street Brewery this week, and he said he was thrilled to be joined by family and friends on his special night.

“It’s been different obviously from other sports, as far as getting all my friends and family involved just because the meets are out of town,” Mondi said. “It’s never like Friday Night Lights and there’s not stuff here in Lawrence. I try to keep everybody updated on Instagram and stuff so that they can see what’s been going on. I’m glad everybody came out tonight.”

Back in May, he took first in the floor exercise, scoring 26.300 at level 10, in USA Gymnastics Development Program’s National Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida. Two months earlier, Mondi earned the title of national champion on vault at USA Gymnastics’ Elite Team Cup in Frisco, Texas. Mondi was the first Kansan in history to be picked for Elite Team Cup competition.

Mondi’s early-year performances kicked his college recruiting into high gear. Taking a visit to Lincoln, Nebraska, after finishing up his junior year at LHS, Mondi said Nebraska felt like the right move.

“It was the home environment,” Mondi said. “I wanted something like Lawrence. I love Lawrence, and I wanted something that kind of felt the same to the college-town vibe.”

Mondi, who competed with Emerald City Gymnastics in Overland Park, hopes his accomplishments and opportunity to compete at a high level can help shed some light on young athletes interested in competing in gymnastics, whether that’s at LHS or across the state.

“I want to tell people about gymnastics. I want to show them gymnastics,” he said. “I want to show them what everybody can do. Men’s gymnastics is a dying sport. And here in Lawrence, very recently, women’s gymnastics was almost a dying sport. And I just kind of want to kind of inspire people. I want to show them what I can do and what other people across the country can do.”

Thomsen, who committed to Cal before her senior season at Free State even began, said she was excited to head to the West Coast for new adventures and big time volleyball. Entering the week, Cal was just 7-19 this season, but the Bears play in a conference that features six of the top 41 programs in the current RPI rankings.

“I always had high expectations for myself,” Thomsen said “And I’m excited to see what I can do there.”

She expects to play a lot of middle blocker but also thinks other positions could be in her future. And she prides herself on her versatility. There’s also the academic side of Cal-Berkley, which Thomsen said was the perfect fit for her.

“I’m kind of a self-proclaimed nerd,” she said. “And also, it just felt right. It’s just like a bigger Lawrence. I know people think California people are kind of out there, but I like the quirkiness.”

Thomsen first fell in love with volleyball at an early age, playing on club teams throughout her childhood, including an Under-12 team that won nationals. She was more of a role player on that roster but found out the next year that she could hang with her older teammates who she knew would become highly recruited prospects. That’s when she realized that playing big time college volleyball could be in her future, as well.

“I guess I didn’t realize it when it happened,” she said. “But all of a sudden I wasn’t the worst one at practice any more. I knew then that if I kept working at it, this could take me somewhere.”

She did plenty during her FSHS career, helping lead the Firebirds to four consecutive state tournament appearances and earning all-state and all-Region 8 honors. And she said she’s looking forward to continuing to grow and push herself after high school.

“I started out as a very timid player,” she said. “I don’t think you’d notice it now, but I definitely want to continue to build on that and keep getting comfortable within myself.”

Kern signs

Free State High shortstop Brady Kern also recently signed a letter of intent with his chosen school. Kern made his commitment to Abilene Christian official late last week.

Kern was one of the Firebirds’ top hitters during last season’s run to the Class 6A state tournament, and he has been a key part of the FSHS program for the past couple of seasons.

Berquist honored

Free State High golfer Claire Berquist, who finished second at the Class 6A state golf meet this fall, recently was one six golfers named to the Kansas Golf Coaches Association’s all-state first team after her stellar senior season.

At the 4A level, Tonganoxie’s Hayden York and Eudora’s Joellen Vogt were both first-team all-state picks, as well.

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