What was this strange combination of colors on the cookies outside the West Forsyth High School auditorium, the banner hanging off a table in front of the stage, the scarf around senior girls basketball player Jenna Staiti’s neck, this concoction of red, gold and black?
So much about Staiti’s career at West has been unfamiliar – her size, her skill, her national notoriety. Here was one more thing: the 6-foot-5 center signing her national letter of intent to play for the University of Maryland in front of a crowd of administrators, coaches, family and friends.
“It feels really good to make it official,” Staiti said.
Staiti’s signing in the morning kicked off a day of ceremonies for West. Later that afternoon, baseball player Mason McWhorter (Georgia Southern), volleyball player Jordan Leitch (Berry), girls lacrosse player Sarah Grady (Florida Southern) and boys lacrosse players Reed Bagwell (Jacksonville) and Justin Kabo (Young Harris) signed their letters of intent.
Staiti joined South Forsyth senior Sarah Myers, Kaila Charles (Glendale, Md.), Blair Watson (Nutley, N.J.), Stephanie Jones (Havre De Grace, Md.) and Destiny Slocum (Meridien, Idaho) as part of a Lady Terrapins recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN’s HoopGurlz.
“That’s crazy,” Staiti said. “I can’t believe that. To be on an amazing team with amazing teammates, it’s all coming together.”
Staiti was the second-highest rated player in Maryland’s recruiting class, a five-star prospect ranked No. 17 in the country in the Class of 2016 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz after averaging 29 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks last season to lead West to a school-best 21-6 record and second straight appearance in the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
Staiti first committed to Maryland and head coach Brenda Freese the summer going into her sophomore season, leaving three years for the vagaries of college athletics to test Staiti’s commitment, and indeed they struck.
First, Maryland left the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big 10. Whatever plans Staiti had to play games close to home against opponents like Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and N.C. State were exchanged for a schedule full of teams in the Midwest.
Freese told Staiti of the move the first time she visited College Park. Staiti said Freese promised to find room in Maryland’s schedule to play near Georgia, perhaps a Thanksgiving tournament hosted by Georgia State. Plus, Staiti looked on the bright side. The Lady Terrapins agreed to a three-year deal with women’s basketball power Connecticut through the 2017-18 season, and the Maryland team will spend a couple weeks in Italy next season leading up to its season-opener.
“I love travelling,” she said.
Then, Maryland’s coaching staff began to turn over. David Adkins was hired by the Washington Wizards, the NBA team nearby in Washington D.C., as a player development assistant. Tina Langley left to become the women’s head coach at Rice University. Marlin Chinn left to become the women’s head coach at Florida International University.
But each replacement Freese hired appealed to Staiti.
“I loved the old staff, I love the new staff and I’m sure if any changes were to happen I’d love whoever were to come in,” Staiti said.
Wednesday brought an end to that part of Staiti’s journey.
“It felt like it was taking forever,” Staiti said. “But now that it’s here, it hits you.”