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More than 20 Tigers have signed on to compete in college, including five at the NCAA Division I level

The doors to Newberg High School's McGrath Gymnasium are decorated with a mural of a tiger's face, with eyes that look out to greet visitors long before they reach the building's threshold.

It's a familiar site not only to students and daily visitors to campus, but to the wider athletic community in Oregon because more and more it has been serving as the backdrop to signing ceremonies held in honor of NHS athletes who will continue their careers at the collegiate level. SETH GORDON - Newberg High School water polo standout Katie Kisling signs a letter of intent to play for Fresno Pacific earlier this spring. Kisling is one of nine NHS athletes moving on to compete for an NCAA Division I or II institution.

That was certainly the case during the 2016-2017 school year, as Newberg is sending at least 22 student athletes from the class of 2017 into the college ranks.

Athletic director Tim Burke said he believes that's at least in part due to the visibility previous classes have had, as their success has motivated younger kids coming up behind them, showing them it's possible to achieve their dream of becoming a college athlete.

"I think that started opening up doors, like 'I could probably do this at the next level. I just have to work my tail off,'" Burke said. "You see Taylor Rarick in the gym for hours on end by herself, that type of mentality. I think that tone was set by classes before."

Burke doesn't keep track of the number of students in each class who go on to compete in college, but he does believe the class of 2017 stands out because nine student athletes are bound for NCAA Division I and II institutions. That includes five students — Anthony Adams to Portland State in football , Peter Gentile to the University of Portland in track, Savanna Milory to Portland State in track, Natalie Peterson to the University of Montana in track and Paityn Willoughby to Oregon State in softball — who will compete at the highest level. SETH GORDON - Newberg's Peter Gentile heads down the backstretch en route to winning the district title in the 800 as a senior. Gentile originally intended to play soccer in college, but eventually decided on running track at the University of Portland.

"I don't know that we've ever had this many kids at Division I or Division II," Burke said. "We had that class with (Rachel) Yurkovich and (Cyrus) Hostetler and Alex Wolf, those three going to the University of Oregon, but those three are definitely abnormal kids."

An all-state performer in basketball, Rarick has been one of the more high-profile student athletes at Newberg the past few years, she'll play at Division II Concordia-Irvine next season, as will track standout Madison Hergert.

When track coach Brandon Ramey encouraged her that she had the ability to compete for bigger programs, he was impressed that Hergert's response was that she loved it at Concordia-Irvine and that it was the best fit for her overall.

"That's really what you want to hear," Ramey said. "I do a lot of work with these kids trying to contact coaches and go to camps. When they come to you and tell you they found a place they really want to be, that's really fulfilling as a coach."

Also heading to Division II schools are lacrosse player Ann Nelson, who will compete for Fort Lewis College in Colorado, and water polo standout Katie Kisling, who signed on with Fresno Pacific in a ceremony in front of those iconic doors in the gym this spring.

In an interesting twist, a big reason Gentile ended up at the University of Portland is because he long wanted to play soccer there. After visiting a few times, he fell in love with the school, so when playing soccer didn't work out, he approached the track coaches about possibly joining their program.

"It kind of opened that door to still go to the school he's always really wanted to go to and be part of an athletic program," Ramey said. "He's a very driven person in whatever he does and one of the nicest people you could ever meet. I think when he found his fit, he really didn't want to look around anymore."

A number of recent grads found the right balance of academics and athletics at Division III schools, like Conner Morris and Nathaly Sanchez, who will play football and lacrosse, respectively, at nearby Linfield College.

Also headed the Division III route are swimmer Tyler Bell, who will compete for Ohio Wesleyan, and soccer player Isabela Vargas, who will play at Whittier College in California.

Fellow soccer player Brenna Smith will continue her career at Central Oregon Community College, joining a handful of Tigers who will head that route.

That includes baseball players Spencer Trout, who is off to Glendale Community College, and Taylor Palmer, who will enroll at Clackamas Community College, as well as wrestling standout Dallas O'Bryan, who will help get the new program at Umpqua Community College off the ground.

O'Bryan's teammate, Patrick Boulanger, will join the relatively new NAIA program at St. Mary's College in Leavenworth, Kan., while baseball player Trey Reohr has agreed to walk on at Gonzaga.

It's certainly been a banner year for the track and field program, which produced four college athletes this year, with cross-country runners Quinton Read (Goshen College) and Grace Hanna (Westmont) also headed to the next level.

Newberg encourages athletes to play multiple sports and Ramey has been especially flexible in welcoming new athletes into the fold. The Tigers have certainly reaped the rewards of that approach, as when senior Michael Tarakhchyan decided to come out for the first time as a senior even though he had already signed on to play baseball at OIT.

"You look across the board and most of those kids who had success in track this year are multiple sport kids," Burke said. "Part of it is those track coaches leave them alone. They let them get a mental break away from track. It's a nice balance."

Burke added that the class of 2017 has been especially supportive of one another, even across sports, which he also credits partially to the fact that so many of the school's athletes end up on the track team together at one point or another. He also praised many of them for taking time to mentor younger athletes as part of the school's Leadership Academy.

"They understand that part of being at Newberg High School and being a student athlete means giving back to those younger kids," Burke said. "They were just phenomenal. I don't think I've had so many kids across different sports nominated for our Carolyn DeCrevel Award, our top character award. We had dozens of kids who easily could have won it. Usually we have four or five."

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