by Tom Uteshcer
When the NCAA’s winter signing period began on February 2, a pair of Springside School athletes each made their mark on a national letter of intent, agreeing to accept a scholarship to play their chosen sports at the Division I level in college.
Sprinter Taylor-Ellis Watson will cross the state to run track at the University of Pittsburgh, while Nicole Volgraf will head out to the Midwest to play field hockey at Indiana University.
A two-time high school All-American, Ellis-Watson holds multiple school records and team MVP awards, and at her first Girls Inter-Ac championship meet as a freshman she broke league records in the 200 and 400-meter dash. In each of her first three outdoor seasons she was an All-Inter-Ac selection, and on the indoor circuit she is currently ranked 46th in the nation in the 200 and 92nd in the 400, despite coming off injuries in both her sophomore and junior seasons.
Volgraf was a three-year starter for the Lions’ hockey team, accumulating 38 goals and 33 assists during her tenure. As a member of the Viper Field Hockey Club she played at major indoor and outdoor events around the country. She was a Springside team captain as a junior and senior, and last fall she was named team MVP and was an All-Inter-Ac first team selection. She made her college choice early, giving a verbal commitment to Indiana in April of her junior year.
“I really liked the girls on the team and I felt that I connected with the coaching staff and their style of program,” explained Volgraf, who also had American University and Richmond on her short list. “I’m used to coaches that bring a lot of intensity to the team and I liked that about IU. It was bigger than the other colleges I visited, and coming from a small school I liked the change of having that big, busy campus.”
Volgraf never lays down her hockey stick for long, and it shows in her ball-control skills.
“She’s very dedicated and she plays all year round,” said Springside coach Lydia Imperiale. “She’s one of the hardest-working athletes I’ve been around, and she has a great sense of the game, too.
“She played midfield for us because that’s where we needed her,” Imperiale continued, “but I have a hunch she’ll get up on the forward line in college. She has a nose for the goal, and the personality of a natural leader.”
Volgraf noted, “Going into IU they have me down as a forward, but of course I’m willing to be flexible and play wherever they need me.”
She has been interested in the field of nutritional science, and she related, “When I visited Indiana my guide was in that same program and she really sold me on it.”
She played lacrosse for two seasons, but stopped after her sophomore year to focus on conditioning for her primary sport. She already has a copy of Indiana’s workout regimen, and is going through the paces under the guidance of trainer Aaron Sistrunk, a partner in Chestnut Hill’s Balance studio.
Springside’s Ellis-Watson took longer to make a final decision on college. She was leaning toward the University of Maryland early on, and also visited the University of Mississippi. A trip out the Pa. Turnpike transformed her outlook.
“Pitt made me an amazing offer and I fell in love with the team and the coaches,” she enthused. “I liked the way they interacted; they had the best team ‘feel’ of the places I visited.
“Their campus is beautiful and their whole science program is amazing,” observed Ellis-Watson, who would like to become a child psychologist. “They have everything I need.”
Springside coach Bob Shoudt praised the senior star, pointing out “She’s a gifted track athlete, and she’ll be healthy this year for the first time since the ninth grade. She rehabbed in the fitness center at school during the fall, and she was ready for the start of the indoor season. She’s been able to do everything we asked of her without any problem.”
After her impressive freshman season, Ellis-Watson had to deal with significant medical problems over the next two years. She strained hip flexors on both sides of her body, and suffered from tendinitis in both of her knees.
“There were times when it felt like rehabbing was my whole life,” she reported. “This year I’ve been healthy and I’ve been running some pretty good times.”
Coach Shoudt said, “Taylor seems to excel in the 400. She really gets moving with those long legs in a longer sprint.”
She’s looking forward to participating in the strong sprinting program at Pittsburgh, noting, “Their 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 sprinters all go to [NCAA] Nationals just about every year, and the head coach trains the 400 runners. I’m very happy with the way things worked out; Pitt’s just a good fit for me in so many ways.”