TOWAMENCIN >> For every high school athlete that goes on to play in college, the moment where they decide they want to take things to the next level is different.
For North Penn senior basketball player JJ Melchior, it was there from the start, wanting to follow his father, Steve’s path to a college career. For Knights swimmer Corey Smith, the moment came during a strong junior season when his first letter from a college arrived. And for basketball forward Mikaela Giuliani, it sank in a few moments after her final game and she realized she didn’t want that to be the end of it.
Thursday morning, the three seniors signed their letters of intent and were honored for their accomplishments in a small ceremony at North Penn High School. Melchior and Giuliani are both off to the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia while Smith will swim for Eastern Michigan.
All had stellar senior years and played a key role in their respective teams’ seasons.
Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 meet
“My junior year at states, our relay team broke a school record and I never thought I could swim that fast and then I swam faster this year,” Smith said. “Junior year really put it into perspective for me that I had it in me and then getting a letter from Eastern Michigan after all of that really hit me.”
That letter sparked Smith to push himself even harder and he did, nearly breaking an individual school record this season. Other schools were interested of course and he kept his mind open, but the first one was always the right one.
The senior expects to compete in his main events at the next level, including the 100 back and 200 IM medley and likely some relay work. Smith credited North Penn swimming coach Jeff Faikish for his improvement each year and said he’s going to continue training hard all summer.
“On my trip to Eastern Michigan and getting to know the team, I already felt home,” Smith said. “I think that’s a big part of college athletics is the team. I’m very excited to have that experience.”
Basketball runs in the Melchior family and it’s easy to see that anytime JJ rose up for a picture-perfect jump shot. Injuries slowed the guard at points in his first three seasons but he never stopped planning on a college basketball career.
With a late growth spurt shooting him up to 6-foot-4, Melchior put in a lot of work this past summer trying to add strength to his slender frame and also add more to his all-around game. A healthy summer, plus a couple of strong showings at exposure camps, put the guard on some college radars.
“I shot the ball well, I was fortunate that Coach (David) Pauley was able to see me and fortunate that he liked my game,” Melchior said. “He came to me with an offer and that really set the bar higher. It made my decision easy.”
Melchior, whose younger sister Mia plays on the girls varsity team, said the biggest improvement he made over the summer was learning how to fit into a role. For the Knights, that was taking over at point guard, diversifying his game from just knock-down shooter to all around guard.
It was a big adjustment, but USciences sees him as a point guard. He said his shooting, which was crafted by his dad making sure every shot was taken the right way with the right form, could be an asset early in college.
The senior said his plan is to major in pharmaceutical and healthcare business. Getting minutes at point as a freshman isn’t easy, but Melchior said he plans to continue working hard all offseason with his main goal continuing to try and add some strength and tighten his handle.
“Since I could pick up a basketball, I’ve wanted to play college basketball,” Melchior said. “My dad played, I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He always took me to games and it’s always been something I wanted to do for myself.”
When North Penn’s season came to an end in the state semifinals, Giuliani could have easily gone off to the other school she was considering, Penn State, maybe played club basketball and known she was a big part of the Maidens’ success the last four years. A four year starter, 1,000 point scorer and part of 100 wins in her high school career, something hit the 6-foot-1 forward after that final game.
“The excitement you have in the playoffs, you don’t get that anywhere else and it’s something I didn’t want to give up,” Giuliani said. “I didn’t want the game where we lost to Cardinal O’Hara to be my last basketball game ever. That’s when I decided for sure that I wanted to play.”
Giuliani had visited a number of schools, mostly Division III, the last two years, but none felt like the right fit. A handful of PSAC schools also were interested, but none had the academic side that Giuliani wanted. The visit to USciences put everything into place and once she determined her career was continuing, it was an easy choice.
The Devils, under coach Jackie Hartzell, have made a mark locally with this recruiting class adding Gwynedd Mercy Academy guard Brigit Coleman and CB South’s all-state guard Jordan Vitelli as well.
“I’ve been playing against or with Brigit for a long time so I know her and how good of a player she is and Jordan is one of my best friends and when she committed, I was so happy I had four more years with her,” Giuliani said. “It will be a good time.”
Academically, she plans on taking an accelerated physician’s assistant program and working toward that alongside playing basketball. Giuliani said her hope is to be someone who can contribute right away for the Devils.
“At this next level, the girls are just faster, quicker and stronger, so that’s something I’ll need to work on,” Giuliani said. “I have to be working every day if I want a chance to get time next year.”