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Twelve seniors highlight Central's spring signing ceremony
Twelve Forsyth Central seniors signed Thursday to play sports in college. Front row, from left, Tyson Upchurch, Thomas Gurr, Tyler Smith, Nicholas Holbrook, Jackson Boswell, Ricky Stever. Back row, from left, Hunter Ransom, Athena Constantinides, Grace Wilson, Hollan Rabensdorf, Gabby Cruzado, Mary Claire Henry. - photo by David Roberts

Athena Constantinides wasn't quite ready to end her volleyball career.

It wasn't until the COVID-19 pandemic shut down her club volleyball season that Constantinides confronted the idea of no longer playing the sport.

She didn't like it.

"With the pandemic happening last year and our club season being cut short, and our high school season and all that, I was like, 'You know what, this is hurting me. I'm not ready to let go of it just yet. I'm not ready to let go of volleyball just yet,'" Constantinides said. "I was just like, 'This is something I genuinely want to do.' Having that season taken away in 2020 really made me realize this is what I want to do."

Constantinides joined 11 other Forsyth Central seniors Thursday at the school's spring ceremony, signing her National Letter of Intent to play volleyball at Young Harris College.

Jackson Boswell [Toccoa Falls College], Thomas Gurr [Lenior Community College], Nicholas Holbrook [Motlow State Community College] and Tyler Smith [Emmanuel College] signed from Central's baseball team, while soccer teammates Mary Claire Henry [Birmingham-Southern College] and Gabby Cruzado [Gordon State] also signed for the Bulldogs.

Hollan Rabensdorf [Piedmont College] and Grace Wilson [Caltech] represented Central's tennis team, Tyson Upchurch [King University] signed for wrestling, Hunter Ransom [LaGrange College] signed for lacrosse and Ricky Stever [Western Carolina] signed for football.

Constantinides, whose mother also attended Young Harris, will join a Mountain Lions program that completed its inaugural season this spring.

"We did our Zoom call, and that's when [Young Harris head coach Jenny Michael] offered me via Zoom," Constantinides said. "I was super-duper over the top, freaking out. That's basically how it went. It was so fast-paced and I was like, 'This cannot be real. This just can't be happening.'"

Central's baseball program had four seniors sign in November and doubled that number Thursday.

The Bulldogs are 16-11 this season and entered the week atop the Region 6-7A standings.

"It's been amazing. It's been great to finally come back and really show the county what our team is like as a whole," Holbrook said. "I know we haven't played to the best of our abilities in some games, but I know that with how our region has been, it's anyone's game for the top spot. I just know that my boys and me are ready to play for it."

Holbrook chose Motlow State because he said he was drawn to Tennessee and hopes to transfer to an in-state Division I program.

Central girls soccer coach Angela Camp spoke highly of Henry and Cruzado, noting Cruzado's penchant for finding the back of the net.

"She has an amazing right leg on her," Camp said. "She can shoot from anywhere on the field. It's beautiful, and it makes some children duck — I'm not even kidding."

Ransom became the second Central boys lacrosse player to sign with LaGrange, joining teammate Jonathan Walden, who signed with the Panthers in November.

Rob Tomlinson is in his first season heading Central's boys lacrosse program, and he mentioned how Ransom helped him ease into the role of a first-year coach.

"As coaches, part of what we try to do is make athletes feel welcomed and feel a part of things, and I can say that Hunter has definitely made me feel welcome and made me feel a part of things," Tomlinson said. "I can't thank him enough for that. He's been a huge part of our program. He's our goalkeeper, and he keeps us in some games that I know we definitely wouldn't be in without him. He keeps us smiling and keeps us laughing. 

"His catch phrase is, 'Hey coach, want to hear a joke?' Admittedly, sometimes I don't."

Upchurch is a model of consistency for Central's wrestling program, collecting 78 career wins and graduating as a two-time state qualifier. 

Upchurch pinned his opponent in his first match at this year's Class 7A state meet before falling to the eventual 113-pound state champion.

Stever will join the Division I ranks at Western Carolina after collecting 91 tackles, 12 QB hurries and four sacks as a senior.

Former Central football coach Frank Hepler praised Stever's football IQ and physicality, even if the latter resulted in an occasional penalty.

"He was a great player on special teams," Hepler said. "[He's] probably one of the smartest players I've had a chance to coach, and probably one of the most aggressive players I've had a chance to coach ... I think he's got — well, we won't say the most penalties on special teams — but you love that as a football coach, because you want your guys to be aggressive, and he knew the game. I'm going to miss the heck out of him."

Hollan Rabensdorf didn't start playing tennis until the end of her freshman year but signed Thursday to play at Piedmont College.

Central tennis coach Allison Hankinson called Rabensdorf "one of the hardest-working athletes I've ever experienced."

Wilson will attend the California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, an elite science and engineering university in Pasadena, California.

"It's really incredible," Wilson said. "I would say, like, six years ago I wasn't expecting to play a college sport, and I also wasn't expecting to go to such a good academic school. But I took a chance four years ago to go out of district to be part of the STEM program and I just happened to get lucky that it's such a great school with a great academic program and a great tennis program. I really found my place here, and I'm really happy they helped me get to where I am today."

Wilson played all four seasons at No. 1 singles for the Bulldogs, admitting she was outmatched at times as an underclassman matched up against seniors, though she enjoyed the challenge.

Wilson said she plans to use her background with Central's STEM program to major in bioengineering at Caltech. 

"I really liked doing lab work, so I want to be a physician scientist," Wilson said. "I'd be practicing as a doctor and also doing clinical trials and conducting research. That's kind of my dream."