Blakeley Griffith realized early during a recent recruiting visit that she belonged at the University of Tennessee.
The Loudoun County senior All-Met tennis player attended a football game, talked with the women's athletic director and watched the women's soccer team. She said she was overwhelmed when she walked past a wall in the athletic department that bears the names of every athlete who has won a letter at Tennessee.
Griffith took two more recruiting visits after that trip to Knoxville but already was sold on the Volunteers. Her other suitors were Purdue, Minnesota and Rice.
"I just really liked the whole athletic atmosphere at Tennessee," said Griffith, the two-time defending Virginia AA singles champion. "All their women's programs are great, and it seemed like being an athlete there is a big deal. I just like that."
Griffith, who will receive a full athletic scholarship, was one of several area athletes who signed to play for colleges last week. Park View pitcher Karie Morrison will play softball for Virginia Tech; Notre Dame's Gordon Johnson will play basketball for James Madison; and Grant Flowers will play baseball for Coastal Carolina.
Flowers received interest from national powers Georgia Tech, Miami and Nebraska but first caught the eye of Coastal Carolina assistant coach Kevin Schnall this summer. Schnall was an assistant on the Baseball Factory summer travel team on which Flowers played.
Like Griffith, Flowers was impressed by his future school's campus, which is just outside Myrtle Beach, S.C. The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder also liked the kind of teams Coastal Carolina traditionally fields.
"Their program fits perfect because they like small guys who are fast, can field and can hit," Flowers said.
Coastal Carolina was 44-19 last season and reached the NCAA tournament. The Chanticleers won the Big South Conference title with a league record of 16-5.
"Coastal Carolina has done a great job of upgrading its program," said Notre Dame baseball coach Mike Lockhart. "Grant will fit in well because of his style of baseball. Grant is a good runner; he's got good speed; and he hits with power. I think he has the ability to step in and play any outfield position."
Griffith will join a Tennessee squad on the rise. Last season, the Volunteers reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament for the first time, and No. 1 singles player Vilmarie Castellvi advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA singles tournament. Castellvi began this season as the nation's top-ranked player.
"I want to play my first year, but they have a really good team," said Griffith, who is 67-3 in high school singles play. "It won't be easy."
Griffith might well make an early contribution. She has been a dominant force in Virginia AA girls' tennis since her freshman season, winning three district titles (two Northwestern and one Dulles) and three Region II titles and advancing to the state final all three years of her career, winning the last two.
Griffith is training several times a week in mornings and evenings and said she hopes to play in the prestigious Orange Bowl Tournament this year.
After that, she will turn her attention to defending her singles crown and a quest for a team championship for Loudoun County. The Raiders were runners-up last year.
"I'd really like us to get the team championship this year," she said.