The first time Lincoln-Way East girls track and field coach Caroline Gerritsen met Aaliyah Brown's father she was set back on her heels by his line of questioning.
Angelo Brown wanted to know if the Griffins ran in any national track meets. Gerritsen soon learned she was in for the ride of her life when Aaliyah joined the program at Lincoln-Way East.
Four years later, Brown is the reigning Gatorade Illinois Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year. And she stands at the head of Lincoln-Way East's February recruiting class, one that was unvieled during a national signing-day ceremony Wednesday afternoon in the Griffins' Lair at school.
Eleven student-athletes made their college choices official, Brown opting for Texas A&M where she plans to study medicine in hopes of one day becoming a physical therapist.
Two others—football standouts Tommy Fuessel and Justin Corbett—signed before the bell rang to start the school day, bringing the class total to 13.
Griffins' Recruiting Class
1. Stephanie Bitz, Wisconsin-Whitewater, swimming
Daughter of Steve and Amy
Biggest splash at East: "It was in my sophomore year when my relay at sectionals qualified for state," Bitz said. "It was the most exciting moment of swimming career. It was a really close race, and we just got the cut, too. So, everyone was jumping around."
2. Aaliyah Brown, Texas A&M, track and field
Daughter of Angelo and Lametria
Major: Medicine/Physical therapy.
Pick of the litter: "I picked Texas A&M over all those other schools because, No. 1, I had a good connection the coach and, No. 2, I had a good connection with the team," Brown said. "Also, a lot of good teammates are coming in and cycling back in to next year, so there's going to be a lot of good talent at Texas A&M. I want to win a ring—an N-C double-A ring. That's my goal."
3. Justin Corbett, Northern Illinois, football
Son of Earl and Glenda
Offense or defense? Corbett rushed for 82 yards on 15 carries in East's 10-8 loss to Glenbard West in the Class 7A state championship game. He also caught one pass, good for 22 yards. He likely will switch to safety at Northern Illinois.
4. Brittany Felice, Illinois State, swimming
Daughter of Rob and Rhonda
Why ISU? "I heard so many good things about it, and I thought it was a good school, so I looked into it," Felice said. "I met the coach, and he had a big impact on why I chose ISU. He seemed to know what he was doing, and I wanted to be a part of his team."
5. Tommy Fuessel, Northwestern, football
Son of Tom and Eileen
Switcheroo: Fuessel signed with Northwestern after first committing to Northern Illinois. He changed his mind after coach Dave Doeren announced he was leaving the Huskies. Fuessel combined to run and pass for more than 2,600 yards while leading East to a 13-1 record and a second-place finish in the Class 7A playoffs. He likely will convert from quarterback to wide receiver at Northwestern.
6. Scott Hammond, Dartmouth, track and field
Son of Scott and Anne
Why Dartmouth? "Well, they sent me an email," Hammond said. "After talking to them, they offered me an official visit. When I went to take it, I feel in love with the school. I'm planning on studying economics, but I chose Dartmouth because I thought it was the total package. They're Division I, Ivy League. It was such a fun time (visiting)."
7. Juell Hodges, Illinois Central College, softball
Daughter of Matt and Yvette
Family matters: "My sister is right there at Bradley—10 minutes away," Hodges said. "Then, my grandparents live 5 minutes away from the campus. Also, I loved the coach right from the beginning. The team really made me feel at home there, too."
8. Taylor Jach, Xavier University, swimming
Daughter of Paul and Judy
Bracket-ology? "I did my college search by looking at the NCAA bracket because I wanted a school with a bunch of school spirit," Jach said. "So, I looked at the NCAA bracket from last year. One of my friends visited that school over the summer and she showed me pictures. I was like, 'Oh, it's a really pretty school. I should look into it.' So, I did and I fell in love with it. I never expected to fall in love with it, but I did."
9. Kaley McLawhorn, Drake University, track/cross country
Daughter of Sherman and Amy
Major: Secondary education/Math.
Daddy's girl: "Well, yes, my dad went there," McLawhorn said of Drake. "But that wasn't a big factor in picking. One day I was online looking, and it seemed like a good fit for me. They had my major. I want to be a math teacher. I like that it's a big school for sports but the classes are smaller and more intimate."
10. Meaghan McMahon, St. Xavier, basketball
Daughter of Dermot and Jennifer.
Pressure is on: Meaghan's older sister, Caitlin, already plays at Saint Xavier. She presented East coach Jim Martin with a Saint Xavier T-shirt and cap. Martin put both on during his brief remarks and informed Meaghan in a tongue-in-cheek fashion she has a lot to live up to with the Cougars. "I've heard so many positive things about Coach Hallberg (Saint Xavier's Bob Hallberg), and he has a really good reputation with all of his past players," Meaghan McMahon said. "So, I think that was one of the major parts of my decision."
11. Christina Mizera, College of St. Scholastica, softball
Daughter of Larry and Lisa
Hello, Duluth: "I visited so many schools—I went out East," Mizera said. "But St. Scholastica was a good fit because it snows there, and I ski. I just loved it."
12. Anna Palermini, North Central College, golf
Daughter of James and Lisa
Major: Radiation therapy.
Lab techie? "I've always felt like MRIs are cool," Palermini said of why she plans to study radiation therapy. "It will be fun to see what it's really about and how everything works."
13. Samantha Stewart, Valparaiso, softball
Daughter of Lance and Suzette
Slugger on deck: "I met the head coach (Jordan Stevens), visited the campus," Stewart said. "I love coach Stevens. We kind of hit it off. I met the team and saw they were building up a strong program and thought I would fit in great there."