Softball standouts sign Division I letters of intent

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Tri-Valley's Juli Weber and Pine Grove's Ethel Santai were teammates for two seasons on the Central Pa. Xplosion.

The two area softball standouts shared another special time November 14 as the seniors signed national letters of intent to continue their athletic and academic careers in Division I programs.

Weber signed with the University of South Florida and Santai signed with St. Francis (Pa.) University.

To make the occasion even more festive, November 14 was also Santai's 18th birthday.

"It's a day I'll never forget,'' Santai said. "It's a complete dream come true in so many ways.''

Juli Weber Tri-Valley

The 17-year-old outfielder remembers the first time South Florida coach Ken Eriksen saw her play.

It was October of her sophomore year, and Weber was batting second for Wagner's Gold in a fall tournament game. With a runner on first base, Weber's job was to sacrifice, but she bunted the first two pitches foul.

"I was really nervous because it was the first time where college coaches were watching behind home plate,'' Weber said.

On the next pitch?

"I closed my eyes and swung and happened to hit it over the fence,'' she said.

South Florida has been Weber's No. 1 choice as she gave a verbal commitment after her sophomore year.

The Bulls went 50-14 last season and qualified for the Women's College World Series. And Weber's former Wagner's teammate, Erica Nunn, is a freshman on this year's USF squad.

In 2001, head coach Ken Eriksen was named assistant coach with the United States Women's National Team and helped lead Team USA to an Olympic gold medal in 2004. Eriksen stayed on throughout the decade and was responsible for pitching, catching and scouting for Team USA before being named head coach this year.

"I love summer, and having palm trees on campus isn't a downside,'' Weber said. "It's a winning program, and Coach Eriksen coaches the national team.

"It's a good feeling. Maybe I can go play for them (Team USA) someday,'' she added. "And I have friends on the team.''

Weber also loves to help kids, and her major will put her on a path to become a child life behavioral specialist.

Since she started playing at age 7, Weber wanted to play big-time softball. Though she was getting recruited by the likes of Syracuse and Virginia Tech, South Florida is the right place for her.

The Bulls get one of the most prolific, five-tool players in Schuylkill League history. In addition to being a superior defensive center fielder, the speedy Weber has a career batting average of .583 (119-for-204), with 101 runs scored, 34 doubles, 11 triples, nine home runs, 75 RBIs and 45 stolen bases.

"It was my first visit, and I knew that was where I am supposed to be,'' Weber said. "I went a day early, and I felt that I didn't need to look anywhere else.''

Ethel Santai Pine Grove

For Santai, St. Francis has everything she's looking for: It's a smaller school at which she can play Division I softball and complete her education with a six-year doctoral program in physical therapy.

"They took time to get to know me on a personal level and understand what I wanted in a college,'' Santai said. "Even after my first visit there, I knew I really liked it. I was comfortable there coming from a small town.''

Other schools interested in Santai included Stony Brook, Youngstown State, Lehigh, Fordham and California (Pa.).

"In my final decision I realized I could see myself going there,'' Santai said. "I can handle a difficult major and play Division I softball and still be able to make it work.

"After thinking about it, it was crystal clear to me where I needed to go to school and where I would be happiest,'' she added. "I needed a place where I was becoming part of a family.''

That family adds a right-handed pitcher that has a 45-5 record and 0.44 career ERA. In 331 innings, Santai has struck out 569, walked 52 and given up just 108 hits.

She's also worked hard to make herself a formidable hitter. Santai has a career average of .302 (57-for-109) after batting .388 with two home runs and 25 RBIs last season.

"It's a huge relief for me,'' Santai said. "I talk with my friends and they're filling out 30 applications and there's huge stress. I filled out one.

"I can focus on my senior year and making the most of it,'' she added, "keeping my grades up, enjoying my time at Pine Grove and do all the things I want without worrying about college.''

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