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Seven Niwot athletes sign early letters of intent


November 20, 2019 | View PDF

Jocelyn Rowley

Seven Niwot athletes signed letters of intent on National Signing Day on Nov. 13. From left, Lexi Crow, Samrawit Dishon, Cruz Culpepper, Abbie Shaw, Elise Gillett, Kelia Portis, and Amber Nusser.

It was another crowded National Letter of Intent signing ceremony at Niwot, as seven athletes made official commitments to collegiate programs on Nov. 13.

Lexi Crow, Black Hills State University

Lexi Crow's collegiate soccer ambitions may be taking her away from Colorado, but the picturesque campus of Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D. will be like home away from home, according to the Cougar midfielder.

"There's going to be mountains there, and open spaces, and it's green, so it's just like Colorado. We play all of the Colorado schools, so my family can come and see my games. And it's going to be close to home, but just far enough away."

While mountainous may not be among the first images that "South Dakota" recalls, Spearfish is located in the far western part of the state, at the northern edge of the densely forested Black Hills, which rise thousands of feet above the prairies to the east.

BHSU competes in the Division II RMAC, and most of its league opponents are Colorado-based teams, including Metro State, Colorado Mines, UCCS, and Regis, which means Crow will be back in her home state regularly during the fall. She also considered offers from Colorado Mesa, University of Nebraska-Kearney, and Johnston and Wales before deciding to sign with BHSU, but she isn't quite sure where she'll end up on the field as a Yellow Jacket.

"I was recruited for a position I've never played before, outside back," she said. Crow is a three-year varsity midfielder for Niwot, and had two goals and five assists for the Cougars in the 2019 season before she was sidelined with an injury. "But then he got film of me playing center mid, so I don't know where I'm playing."

Cruz Culpepper, University of Washington

It's been a memorable 12 months for Niwot's standout runner Cruz Culpepper, bookended by back-to-back Class 4A state cross-country championships. In the interim, he also picked up individual Class 4A track titles in the 800- and 1600 meter races, and top-five finishes in the mile at New Balance Nationals and the Brooks PR Invitational.

Culpepper will be continuing his running career next year at the University of Washington, in Seattle, where he will be specializing in the 1500m. He also considered offers from the University of Northern Arizona and CU, but ultimately chose Washington for a host of reasons.

"I really liked the coaches there, and I think Seattle and the university are great places," he said after inking his commitment letter. "Training for the mile is a little bit more beneficial at sea level, but they were both great choices."

Samrawit Dishon, University of New Mexico

Fresh off her recent win at the Class 4A state cross country championships, Niwot senior Samrawit Dishon announced that she is taking her talents to the University of New Mexico, which has in recent years emerged as one of the top distance running programs in the country. But if Dishon feels intimidated by going into such a competitive atmosphere, she isn't showing much sign of it.

"I think it's cool," she said, when asked about the pressure of being on an elite team. The Lobos were runners-up at the 2018 NCAA Division I cross country championships, as was their top runner Ednah Kelati. "It makes you work harder."

As one of the top distance runners in Colorado, Dishon wasn't lacking in high-profile offers-she also considered Wake Forest (N.C.), and Alabama-but ultimately settled on New Mexico "because it was the best place for me running."

"I really liked the team and the coaches....It's warmer than Colorado, but not as hot as Arizona or someplace like that, and there's high altitude training."

Dishon isn't sure yet what event will be her specialty, but it's likely to be a long-distance one. In addition to the aforementioned state cross-country title, she was also the runner-up in the Class 4A 3200-meter run at the 2019 state track and field championships. Dishon has also been busy on the national scene. In June 2019, she won the emerging elite girls mile at the New Balance Nationals in N.C., and, in September, she finished third overall in the elite girls 5000M at the Nike Desert Twilight Festival in Casa Grande, Ariz.

As for what she plans to study, Dishon said that she is "leaning toward psychology."

Elise Gillett, University of Colorado

After her breakout performance at the 2019 Class 4A state track and field championships, hurdler Elise Gillett entertained some enticing collegiate offers from the likes of Marquette in Wisconsin and the University of Seattle in Washington. But ultimately she found that she wouldn't need to go quite that far to find everything she was looking for in a post-secondary program.

"When I got in contact with the CU coach I knew it would be the place for me, because of the relationship I immediately felt with him," she said after signing a letter of intent to compete for the University of Colorado at Boulder starting next year. "I really love the facilities, and being close to home is something I truly value, so I'm really excited."

So are her parents. Elise will be the first of the four Gillett sisters to remain in-state following graduation, but the third in four years to turn her speed and discipline into an NCAA Division I collegiate offer. Claire Gillett ('17) is currently a member of the Gonzaga University cross country team, while Mary ('18) runs the 200- and 400 meter races for Stanford, a CU Pac-12 rival.

Elise Gillett was a key component of Niwot's 2019 state title run at the Class 4A track and field championships, with silver medals in the 100-meter hurdles and in the 4x400 relay. At CU, she will be competing in the heptathlon, which combines seven events-100 meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin throw, and 800m. It's not typically staged at CHSAA meets, but Gillett did complete one earlier this year at the Great Southwest Classic in Albuquerque.

"The hurdles will be my focus within the heptathlon because it's my best event right now," she said. "I'm excited to try this new event because there's so many different areas to improve upon."

Gillett plans to study integrative physiology, though admits she not "entirely sure just yet."

Amber Nusser, University of California-Davis

Amber Nusser's path to the 2019 early Signing day may have been a little less traveled than her six Niwot peers', but that doesn't mean it was any less grueling. For one thing, she trod it mostly on the back of Miley or Bill, her trusted horses. For another, it was without the funding and support of a high school athletic department, as equestrian is not a CHSAA sanctioned activity.

That didn't keep Nusser from having an impressive high school career nonetheless. She is a three-year member of the Boulder County Fair royalty court, and currently serving a year-long term as Queen. Nusser has also competed with her horse Bill in state and national shows, both individually and as a part of the Rocky Mountain Wrangler Interscholastic Equestrian Association team. Last summer, the pair took first in varsity intermediate reining at the IEA Western National Finals.

Next fall, Nusser is headed to UC-Davis to join the Aggies' equestrian team. She plans to specialize in reining, one of four collegiate riding disciplines, along with jumping, equitation on the flat, and horsemanship. She also considered an offer from Texas A&M, but "absolutely fell in love" with the coach and her future teammates during her official visit in October.

"Davis is a smaller team-there are 30 girls instead of 60-so it's a lot closer and a lot more like a family, and it was cool to be able to see that."

But it's not just the team than a reminder her of home and family. UC-Davis is located about 20 minutes outside of Sacramento, and Nusser described it as "a little piece of heaven in California."

"I'm not a cold weather person, so I'm excited for all the sun....It's a little more agriculturally based, which coincides with my sport and also what I was raised on. It's super cool to have a combination of all that."

Nusser plans to major in psychology and then go on to medical school. She said she was also attracted to the 112-year old institution because of its robust academic support services and undergraduate research opportunities.

Kelia Portis, Western Colorado University

Niwot hurdler Kelia Portis didn't have any other schools in mind when she chose the Western Colorado University for her post-secondary education. Even though she's not a huge fan of the frigid winter temperatures in Gunnison, she felt drawn to the "small feel" of the mountainous campus and friendly faces of the Mountaineer track and field team, which includes former Niwot teammates Erin Carroll and Kayla Nowlin.

"The track team was super-welcoming," she said. "It will be nice going to a school where I know someone, and that really helped me through the process."

Portis will be competing in the 400-meter hurdles for Western, and possibly the triple-jump. As a member of Niwot's 2019 state championship team, she finished third overall in the 300m hurdles (45.24), and ninth in the triple jump (34-3.75). She also won a state title as a member of the 4x400 relay team, which also featured Nowlin.

Portis plans to study wildlife biology and conservation at Western, another reason she chose the "very outdoorsy" campus. She is also looking forward to working closely with other students and professors in the close-knit classes.

Abbie Shaw, University of Kentucky

Niwot swimmer Abbie Shaw had a number of tempting NCAA Div. I collegiate offers to consider in the lead up to her senior year, but even she was surprised by her decision to join the Big Blue Nation.

"I would have never ever pictured myself going to Kentucky," she said after signing a letter of intent to join the Wildcats' swim and dive team starting in 2020. "But I started talking to the school, and I loved the coaching staff and everyone there, and the second I visited, I knew it was where I wanted to go."

Jocelyn Rowley

Cruz Culpepper

Shaw has been a major factor in the Niwot girls swim and dive program's rise to Class 4A prominence over the past three years. In the 2019 championships, she helped lead the Cougars to the runner-up title, with top-three individual finishes in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke, which she will also compete in as a Wildcat.

Shaw is expecting a bit of altitude shock going from Colorado's high plains to the low-lying Bluegrass country around Lexington, but whether that will confer much of an advantage in the pool remains to be seen.

"It will be easier to practice and to breathe and to do certain underwater sets and hypoxic drills," she explained. "So it will help, but it's not a huge factor."

When she's not in the pool, Shaw plans to study pre-med and eventually become a physician's assistant, specializing in dermatology.


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