Signing a letter of intent on April 20 to compete in track and field at Bowling Green State University might not necessarily have been the biggest thing to happen to Licking Heights High School senior thrower Kayla Velasquez that week.
Sure, an opportunity to compete in a Division I college program brought a smile to her face.
But only three days earlier, Velasquez cashed in on a more personal investment by achieving two milestones that nearly had her in tears. She set personal records in both the discus (132 feet, 9 1/2 inches) and shot put (33-6) during a five-team home meet, breaking her own program record in the discus in the process.
"That was a very emotional day for me," Velasquez said. "I've been waiting to break 130 in the discus for a very, very long time."
Her distance in the discus also is among the best this spring in central Ohio. It ranked second, in fact, in last week's district honor roll behind the 135-10 thrown by Olentangy Orange's Katelyn Daniels, who reached the podium in both throwing events in the Division I state meet last year.
Velasquez, meanwhile, saw her season end a year ago in the Division II regional in Dayton. She threw only 106-7 in the discus to finish seventh as the top four placers advanced. She had won the district title a week earlier by throwing 114-1, and her first state berth would have been secured if she had equaled that distance in Dayton. Her season best was 121-0.
"I'm definitely using that as motivation now," said Velasquez, a two-time regional qualifier in the event. "I've thrown at least one into the cage both times at regionals. For whatever reason, I just get nervous. Those have definitely been learning experiences. Hopefully, I'll be calmer next time. I think I will be because I've matured."
Velasquez does face a more challenging road to state this year, however, as the Hornets have moved up to Division I. Still, she placed third in the weight throw (47-11) in the indoor state meet March 17 at the University of Akron.
"She's been doing some weight-training classes, and those are a struggle for her because she has some back problems," coach Suzanne Ketcham said. "But she's definitely improved her strength. Now she just needs to fine-tune her form a little. "She spends hours and hours practicing, and she's gotten into some (throwing) camps at Ashland and Ohio State last summer. She's doing everything she can to get better."
Velasquez, whose younger brother, A.J., is a thrower with the boys team and also wrestles at Licking Heights, credits her father for some of her improvement because the Hornets do not have a throwing coach.
"Coach Ketcham, bless her heart because she does all she can, but my dad has been right there learning with me and helping every step of the way," she said. "He's like my life coach, too."
Striking a balance in terms of practice time is another thing Velasquez, a Junior Olympics participant last summer, is working to achieve.
"There are usually no breaks for me; I practice all I can," she said. "But last year, when I was away in St. Louis with the marching band, I came back and started throwing 130, 132 (in practice). I know taking a break can be good for me, but I'm usually thinking practice, practice, practice."
All that practice time paid off with the scholarship from the Falcons. Bowling Green's offer was one of the last she received even though she said she had her heart set on attending the school from the very beginning.
"Youngstown (State) was a choice (and) Otterbein was a choice," Velasquez said. "But Bowling Green was always the best fit for me. My parents grew up in (nearby) Fostoria, and I grew up there when I was little before we moved down here.
"It'll be nice because I'll have extended family right there just 20 minutes away from campus. I'm sure I'll feel right at home."Baseball team closes in on league title
A 10-0, five-inning victory April 25 at Berne Union put the baseball team on the cusp of repeating as MSL-Cardinal Division champions.
Dalton Golden had three hits and two RBI and pitched a three-hitter for the Hornets, who were 15-2 overall and 11-1 in the league before playing Millersport on April 27.
Licking Heights needed to win one of its final two MSL-Cardinal games to secure consecutive league championships for the first time since 1961-62. Its league final is Monday, April 30, at Fisher Catholic. The Hornets beat the Irish 9-1 on April 13.