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Denmark honors six senior signees
Denmark seniors, from left, Taylor Gajdik [Chattanooga State, softball], Sammy Leis [Alabama, baseball], Ryan Bitterman [Anderson, lacrosse], Hanna McNamara [Birmingham-Southern, swim], Liam Beguiristain [Neumann, lacrosse] and Ella Collier [Memphis, volleyball] signed their National Letters of Intent Tuesday at Denmark High School. - photo by David Roberts

Ryan Bitterman had plenty of reason for optimism following his freshman lacrosse season.

He led the Danes in the circle, winning 60 percent of his faceoffs while collecting 83 ground balls with 30 points. All told, it was a solid foundation for Bitterman's rookie season in Denmark's inaugural school year.

However, Bitterman's sophomore season ended just weeks after it started because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in December, Bitterman's junior season was wiped away when he tore his ACL in a national tournament.

He had surgery the following month and faced a nine-month recovery, which was a crushing blow to one of Denmark's most promising players.

Bitterman said he spent an hour and a half four times each week rehabilitating his knee, always keeping a lacrosse stick in hand to remind him of his ultimate goal.

Bitterman reached his goal of getting back on the lacrosse field a few months ago.

"I'm just happy," Bitterman said. "Every time I just put a smile on my face. I'm lucky to be back."

And on Tuesday, Bitterman reached another goal, signing his National Letter of Intent to continue his lacrosse career at Anderson University (S.C.).

"It's very exciting. I'm very proud of myself with everything that I've gone through. With my setback with my ACL, I just had to get past that and persevere."

Bitterman is one of six Denmark seniors who signed their National Letter of Intent to continue playing sports in college, joining teammate Liam Beguiristain [Neumann University], Ella Collier [University of Memphis, volleyball], Taylor Gajdik [Chattanooga State, softball], Sammy Leis [Alabama, baseball] and Hanna McNamara [Birmingham-Southern College, swim].

Beguiristain played football and basketball at Denmark before dedicating himself to lacrosse. Beguiristain emerged as a team captain and key defender for the Danes, also filling in at goal last season.

Collier finishes her career at Denmark as the school's all-time leader in blocks, adding a team-high 91 as a senior. She also had 167 kills this season and is second in program history in career kills. 

Collier, whose father, Jason Collier, played five seasons in the NBA, actually signed her National Letter of Intent last Thursday, which is exactly 26 years after her father signed to play basketball at Indiana University.

Gajdik finishes her career as a four-year starter for Denmark, helping the Danes to both their first Class 4A playoff appearance in 2019 and their first Class 7A appearance this season. She hit .405 in region play and reached base at a 44.4 percent clip. Gajdik also pitched 81 2/3 of Denmark's 125 2/3 innings in the circle.

McNamara competed in four events last year at the Class 7A swim & dive state championships. She helped the Danes' 400 free relay team to a 14th-place finish [3:47.14], also finishing 18th in the 200 medley relay [1:55.22], 23rd in the 500 free [5:31.30] and 32nd in the 200 free [2:18.56].

Leis broke out last season behind the plate for Denmark's region champion baseball team. He hit two home runs in Game 1 of Denmark's first-round playoff series against Duluth, helping the Danes to the Class 7A Sweet 16, where they eliminated North Gwinnett to reach the Class 7A Elite Eight.

"It means a lot," Leis said. "It's definitely a day I've been dreaming about my whole life. I've always been looking forward to this."