Galena's Lerud, Hixon sign Division I letters

RENO -- It didn't take a lot to convince Galena High School's Steve Lerud or Joanna Hixon who they wanted to sign with Wednesday on the first day of the NCAA early signing period.

Hixon signed a national letter-of-intent with the Montana State women's basketball program. Lerud signed a baseball letter with Santa Clara during a brief gathering in front of family, friends and media in the Galena gym. The decisions seemed to be pretty clear-cut for athletes who have been starters for the Grizzlies since they were freshmen.

"Santa Clara's where I wanted to be during the entire recruiting process," said Lerud. "The mixture between the baseball and school, everything about it just fits me. I like the smaller school a lot better, the campus is beautiful, I really like the coaching staff there. And with the new facility there, how could I go wrong?"

Hixon, a three-sport athlete who also helped lead Galena into NIAA/U.S. Bank State Volleyball Tournament this week, decided in September to commit to play basketball the Montana State Bobcats.

"I visited a couple of California schools over the summer, then when I got to Montana State, I just said, 'This is the place for me,'" said Hixon, a 5-foot-9 guard. "I like the players and coaches there. The coach is very motivating."

Last season, Montana State went 18-11 overall and won the Big Sky Conference regular season championship in its first season under head coach Robin Potera-Haskins.

"They said I would have a chance to step in and play as a freshman, so I'm excited about that," Hixon said.

Coach Karen Friel, who played at the University of Nevada after her graduation from Tonopah High, looks at Montana State as a good choice.

"It's a great spot for her," Friel said. "I think she's going to be able to go in and play right away. It's a small enough school where I think she will fit in perfectly."

Hixon has been an impact player for Galena since her freshman year in 1999-2000, when she helped the Grizzlies win the 4A state girls basketball tournament.

"She changed our team that year," Friel said. "We knew we were going to be pretty good, but with her, we went from being a team that had a chance of going to the state tournament and she turned us into a team that could win the state tournament."

In addition to her contributions on the basketball and volleyball court, Hixon has also been a state track and field meet qualifier.

"She's such a tremendous athlete," Friel said. "I don't know that I'll ever have anyone with that kind of athletic ability again."

Lerud joins former Galena teammate Mark Folgner, who started last season as a freshman walk-on at Santa Clara and finished the Broncos' starting third baseman. Folgner and Lerud both played on the Galena squad that reached the 4A state finals in 2001.

"Mark and I were good friends when I was a freshman and sophomore here at Galena and we kind of kept in touch, so that did have a little bit to do with it," Lerud said.

The left-handed hitting Lerud was a first-team all-league selection at catcher last season. Among his highlights from last season was a double header in which he hit four home runs against Reed.

"They recruited me as a catcher. I've played pretty much everywhere, but catching is what I love to do," Lerud said.

By signing with Santa Clara, Lerud has a chance to continue playing against long-time rival and acquaintance, Austin Graham of Douglas High, who was set to sign with Nevada on Wednesday. Graham and Lerud have played alongside and against each other dating back to their Little League all-star days in 1996.

"I'm sure we will see each other on the field, definitely. We usually play a series with UNR, hopefully they'll get to come down and play in our new park," Lerud said with a smile after he was informed of Graham's decision. "Austin and I have played against each other and we've played together on the same teams. We were together on the Capitols and we played on an all-star team in Japan last summer.

"Japan was a great experience. We spent two weeks there so we got to travel all around the southern islands and go play all-star teams from the different cities."


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