Judd Wagner signed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday. Many athletes make such a choice weeks, months or maybe even years after initially committing to a college program.
Wagner’s signing occurred two days after he publicly announced his commitment. To a Division I team, no less.
“It’s a dream come true. Ever since I was really little, that’s what I wanted was to compete at the highest level of college and find the right fit for me,” the Champaign Central senior said. “I found that in Wofford, and I’m 100 percent sure of that.”
Wagner will suit up for the Terriers’ men’s soccer squad. He made that official Wednesday along with the D-I early-period signings of five other local standouts: Central’s Mira Chopra (Michigan volleyball), Danville’s Erin Houpt (Mercer women’s basketball), Mahomet-Seymour’s Aubrie Shore (Southeast Missouri State softball), Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s Baylee Cosgrove (DePaul softball) and Tri-County’s Kaylenn Hunt (Bradley volleyball).
“They have two really young coaches who I like. ... It’s going to be their second year with the program, and they were really young last year,” Wagner said. “They started 10 freshmen a year ago, so I see them improving. ... They play to win every game, and that’s what I like.”
Wagner is a reigning News-Gazette All-Area boys’ soccer second-team selection who has been involved with two Class 2A regional title wins. His older brother is Peter Wagner, a former Maroon currently on Illinois-Chicago’s men’s soccer roster.
Fittingly, Judd Wagner’s final two in his college search were Wofford and UIC.
“They’re obviously a really good soccer program, as well,” Wagner said. “I couldn’t just choose it because of him. But that was hard.”
Chopra, meanwhile, committed to Michigan volleyball in March 2019. The senior and defending All-Area volleyball first-teamer was having a solid day even before putting pen to paper inside Central’s Combes Gymnasium, as she was named an Under Armour All-American honorable-mention pick. Only 150 volleyballers across the nation were selected to Under Armour’s All-America unit.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Chopra said of the honor. “Just to be recognized is always great. This is my last year, so it was nice to be recognized.”
Chopra, Wagner and Ben Dickerson (Kankakee Community College baseball) sat at individual, socially-distanced tables inside Combes to sign their NLIs, with small segments of family and friends spread out among the lower bleachers.
It’d be an unusual scene in a typical year, given signing ceremonies typically see throngs of supporters packed tight around a table. But Chopra didn’t mind a smaller arrangement amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It really meant a lot,” she said, “because I know some people couldn’t even have an event. They had to do it at their houses. So I’m super blessed to just have all my friends here. I wouldn’t have wanted anything else.”
Over in Danville, Vikings senior Erin Houpt officially linked to Mercer after committing to the Bears in May of this year.
“It feels good,” Houpt said. “It’s just a relief to know that everything’s just ready to go for next year and I’m set.”
The two-time All-Area girls’ basketball first-teamer let her parents — current Danville girls’ tennis coach Kathy Houpt and former Vikings boys’ basketball coach Ted Houpt — do the talking ahead of her actually signing an NLI.
Erin Houpt could’ve played tennis for her mother this fall, as the younger Houpt did under former coach and current Danville athletic director Mark Bacys during her freshman and sophomore years. But Houpt opted for a different track in preparation for a 2020-21 basketball season that is allowed to begin this coming Monday.
“Two of my friends ... were just excited to run cross-country, and so they mentioned to me that I should do it, too,” Houpt said. “I’m just like in the best shape I’ve ever been in. Just running that far every day and getting used to that, it’ll be good.”
M-S’s Shore, a two-time All-Area softball first-teamer, may have received a little extra attention from SEMO softball because of past ties. Two of her former Premier Fastpitch club teammates, Kynzie Wrigley and Jillian Anderson, are freshmen on the Redhawks’ roster.
“I guess it just kind of helped that they were there, so SEMO was already watching,” Shore said. “The coaches are so easy to talk to. ... I just wasn’t worried talking to them.”
PBL’s Cosgrove is a longtime DePaul softball commit — since October 2019. She initially wasn’t sold on the idea of living in Chicago, but once her dad convinced her to check out the Blue Demons’ campus, Cosgrove found it a perfect fit.
“I hope it does have an impact (in the PBL community),” Cosgrove said. “I’ve had a lot of experience helping (younger players) at their practices. I try to always be the best example for them as I can.”
Tri-County’s Hunt is a reigning All-Area girls’ track and field first-teamer and All-Area volleyball second-teamer. She earned three jumping medals in the 2019 Class 1A girls’ track and field state finals, but the lure of playing volleyball at the D-I level proved strongest.
“I love track, don’t get me wrong. But volleyball is definitely my passion,” said Hunt, who has been committed to the Braves since August 2019. “The coaches are great. I love the athletes there already. ... I could go on forever.”