Signing day: Local athletes sign their college lives away

Federal Way High School seniors Nick Tanielu (left) and Talia Walton signed their national letters of intents Wednesday at the school
Federal Way High School seniors Nick Tanielu (left) and Talia Walton signed their national letters of intents Wednesday at the school's cafeteria. Tanielu will play baseball at Washington State and Walton will play basketball at Washington.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

Several Federal Way school district student-athletes made it official Wednesday by signing their names on national letters of intent.

Wednesday marked the opening day of the early signing period for sports like basketball, baseball, tennis and swimming, among others.

Over at Federal Way High School, seniors Talia Walton (University of Washington basketball) and Nick Tanielu (Washington State baseball) inked letters. At Decatur, Jerron Smith (Portland State basketball) and Meghan Cassens (Iowa State tennis) will both play Division I sports, as will Beamer’s Rachel Kim (Northwestern swimming).

Talia Walton, Washington basketball

The 6-foot-2 Federal Way HS forward officially inked her letter of intent in the school’s cafeteria Wednesday morning and is one of three recruits signed by Husky head coach Tia Jackson.

“This has to be the most versatile and explosive class we’ve accounted for since the start of my tenure in 2007,” Jackson said. “We work hard every day to take steps forward as a program and I cannot be happier about this signing class.”

Walton is joined by Kennedy forward Aminah Williams and San Jose point guard Jazmine Davis.

“(Walton) is a very accomplished player and her versatility on the basketball court will help us tremendously,” Jackson said. “Not only can she score but she also can impact a game on the boards. She is an outstanding rebounder because of her size and jumping ability.”

Walton narrowed her list of potential destinations to four schools, including Oregon, the University of California Santa Barbara and the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

“In the end it was really between UW and Santa Barbara,” said Walton. “I really like their style of play. And playing near my home town also helped out. There is going to be crazy support there.”

During her junior season, Walton was the Eagles’ most consistent force, leading Federal Way to a 13-3 record in the South Puget Sound League North Division and a berth into the state tournament for the second year in a row. Walton excelled in all aspects of the game on both the offensive and defensive ends.

She averaged 12.8 points a game and scored in double digits in all but six games last season, including a 27-point outburst during a state-clinching win over South Kitsap.

She also led the SPSL in rebounding during the regular season by grabbing 11.8 per game. Walton also led the league in blocked shots and was 10th in the league in steals (2.13 a game). She was a first-team, All-SPSL North selection for the third time.

As a sophomore, Walton averaged eight points and 11.2 rebonds a game, following a huge freshman season, when she averaged 14 points and 12.5 rebounds and earned first-team, All-SPSL North honors.

According to ESPNU’s website, Walton is ranked as the 31st-best forward in the nation and the top forward in Washington.

The Huskies finished the 2009-10 season with a 13-18 overall record and were 7-11 in the rugged Pac-10 Conference. Washington did end the season by winning three out of their final four Pac-10 games after dropping 10 of 11.

Walton and the rest of the Washington high schools start basketball practice Monday.

Jerron Smith, Portland State basketball

The 6-foot-3 Decatur guard officially inked his national letter of intent to play basketball for the Vikings Wednesday in the school’s career center.

“I feel very blessed to have signed,” Smith said. “I’m glad that all my hard work has paid off.”

Smith choose Portland State over schools like Lehigh, San Diego, Montana State, UC Davis and the University of Portland, among others. But Portland State always had the inside edge. Smith’s father played basketball at the school during the mid-1970s.

“I didn’t want to go to the East Coast,” said Smith, who sports a 3.8 grade-point average. “The school is only two hours away and my parents will be able to see my games. Education was also very big to me. My parents raised me to think schoolwork comes before sports and I’m very proud of that.”

Smith was a first-team, All-South Puget Sound League South Division selection last season after leading Decatur in scoring at 20.9 points a game and failed to score in double digits just once. In the last two seasons, Smith has scored in double figures in 58 of 60 games. He tallied 30 or more points five times last year and should become Decatur’s all-time leading scorer this season.

Smith hopes to lead the Gators to their fifth state basektball tournament in a row. But Decatur will be competing as a Class 3A school during the 2010-11 season. Smith is also a two-time member on the Mirror’s All-City Team.

“I expect the team to come out and work hard and make it back to the state tournament,” Smith said. “We will be playing some new teams, so we’ll see what happens.”

Portland State plays in the Big Sky Conference and lost in the league tournament semifinal last season to Weber State, 69-60. The Vikings (13-19 in 2010) are coached by Tyler Geving and last went to the NCAA Tournament in 2009.

Meghan Cassens, Iowa State tennis

Cassens is a two-time Class 4A singles state champion and committed to the Cyclone tennis program after visiting the Ames, Iowa campus earlier this year.

“I met the coach and really liked him,” Cassens said. “The campus is absolutely amazing and I got along great with the team.”

Cassens has lost only one match during her three-year career at Decatur — the state championship final her freshman season. Since then, she has won a pair of state singles titles,

As a sophomore, Cassens beat Lake Stevens’ Antonia Liebenow in the title match and also helped the Gators capture the Class 4A team title.

Decatur tied Kamiakin and Newport for the girls team championship. All three teams finished with 10 points.

Last year, Cassens won her second Class 4A singles title, beating Stanwood’s Megan LaLone, 6-1, 6-3.

It looks like Cassens might play doubles during the spring for the Gators, she said.

“That’s just because it’s (Class) 3A and the competition is not as good,” she said.

According to, Cassens is currently the 74th-ranked recruit in the nation and the top recruit in the Northwest and Washington.

The Iowa State tennis team finished with a 9-15 overall record last season and 2-9 mark in the Big 12 Conference.

Rachel Kim, Northwestern swim

The Beamer senior is set to swim at Chicago’s Northwestern University in the best swimming conference in the nation next year — the Big Ten.

Kim, who is competing in her final Class 4A State Swimming and Diving Championships tonight at the King County Aquatic Center, signed with the Northwestern Wildcats Wednesday.

Kim, who also swims for the prestigious King Aquatic Club, has proven herself as one of the best all-around swimmers in the state during her Titan career.

In the last two seasons, Kim has earned “Ironwoman” status, which means a swimmer has achieved automatic state-qualifying times in all eight of the individual swimming events offered.

At last year’s state meet, Kim swam an automatic All-American time (2:05.12) in the 200-yard individual medley, but finished second in the event. Kim also finished in third place in the 100 backstroke (56.88).

She also helped a pair of Beamer relay teams snare two bronze medals.

During her sophomore season, Kim finished in fourth place in the 100 backstroke in a time of 58.21 and was fifth in the 200 individual medley in 2:09.02 at the 2008 Class 4A State Girls Swimming and Diving Championships.

Kim also does have a first-place medal from the state meet.

As a sophomore, she was part of the Titans’ state championship 200-yard freestyle relay team.

Northwestern finished in eighth place at last year’s Big Ten Championships despite being the 24th-ranked team in the nation entering the meet.

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