FAIRBANKS — Three Lathrop Malemutes seniors signed National Letters of Intent in ceremonies in the Lathrop High School library on Tuesday.
Kasey Barnes signed on to shoot rifle for the Alaska Nanooks, Jacob Wharton signed to wrestle at the University of Great Falls in Great Falls, Montana, and Matt VanMuelken signed the play baseball at Elmira College in Elmira, New York.
Barnes, the three-time Mid Alaska Conference air rifle champion, had interest from other schools but decided to stay close to home.
“I looked at a few other schools down south so it was definitely nice that this one was so close to home,” Barnes said, “and the fact that it had everything I wanted and it was close to home so I’d always be here.”
Barnes isn’t expecting to step into the Nanooks rotation and make an immediate impact.
“I think early on, my personality is the first thing that will help with team and after that, hopefully I’ll improve enough to be competitive with them and be able to help them out score wise,” Barnes said.
But Kasey isn’t the first Barnes to shoot for the Nanooks. Kasey’s older sister Jaimie, who sat next to Kasey as she signed her letter, is a sophomore for the Nanooks. The two shot together for Lathrop before Jaimie moved on to the Nanooks.
“It’s going to be really awesome to have her on the team again. She’s awesome to have as a teammate,” Jaimie said. “It’ll be fun to be on a team together pushing each other again to be better.”
Barnes is set to major in geological engineering, but she said could change her mind.
Wharton choose the University of Great Falls, which finished second in the 2014 NAIA Division I Wrestling National Championships, after meeting the team during his visit.
“They all hunted, fished, all the outdoors. Thats what I’m interested in,” Wharton said. “It was an instant connection.”
Wharton, who finished runner-up in the 182-pound class at last season’s Class 4A state Achampionships, intends to major in criminal justice with a plan on returning to Alaska to attend the Alaska State Troopers Academy and becoming a wildlife trooper.
While he wrestled at 182 pounds for Lathrop, Argos head coach Caleb Schaeffer isn’t overly concerned with Wharton losing weight.
“He’s not real big into cutting weight. Pretty much work out, eat, do your homework and the if you lose the wieght, great,” Wharton said. “He’s more into getting big and strong and healthy than cutting a whole bunch of weight.”
VanMuelken is part of the in inaugural recruiting class for Elmira College. This will be the Soaring Eagles’ first baseball season and they will play in the Empire 8 Athletic Conference.
“I’m excited to be a part of it,” VanMuelken said. “It’s going to be different in the sense that everyone’s going to be wanting to play. That energy is going to make everyone better and that is another draw to the program.”
A big sell for VanMuelken, who plans on majoring in biology, was head coach Corey Paluga.
“I like his vision for the program for the next few years and I like what he does with his players,” VanMuelken said.
Malemutes baseball head coach Tyler Hollister is the perfect player with whom to start a program.
“If I’m thinking about the qualities in players to first start a program, I would think of players that want to be the first guy at practice, they want to be the last guy to leave, that are willing to show up at
8 a.m. on a Saturday for extra work,” Hollister said. “And all the things that you would look for in a foundation player for a program, you’re describing Matt.”
Contact sports reporter Tim O’Donnell at 459-7583. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.