Takeaways From North Carolina Signing Day

UNC-Charlotte Keeps Recruiting Top Tier In-State Talent

The men of UNC-Charlotte have kept themselves in the national spotlight. They are currently ranked No. 30 in the USTFCCCA Coaches Poll, and peaked at No. 27 earlier this season. 

They are fresh off a C-USA Championship with a incredibly low score of 31 points. They will have defending champion Nickolas Scudder (Millbrook '19), as well as 4th place conference finisher Hunter White (North Henderson '19), back in 2023. Only one of Charlotte's top five from the championship is graduating, the rest will come back and join a loaded freshman class.

Keaton Anderson (Hickory Ridge '18) and Aaron Rovnak (Franklin Academy '21) both placed top 10 at C-USA as well, going 9th and 10th respectively. Right behind them in 12-13-14th places, were Maddon Muhammad (Myers Park '21), Brian Picone (Cary '19) and Alex Esposito (Cypress Woods, TX). 

Leading this incoming class are Stephen Fernetti (North Lincoln)and Andrew Burrell (Mount Tabor).

Fernetti was runner-up in the NCHSAA 3A XC State Meet and is the defending NCHSAA 3A Indoor 3,200m state champion. Burrell is more of a mid-distance focused athlete, he was 3rd at the NCHSAA 4A Outdoor State Meet in the 800m in 2022.

Joining them is two-time NCISAA 2A State Champion Cruz Hesling (Westchester Country Day) and Alex Fernandez (Green Level).

The women are getting some big-time talent as well: Anna Wells (Ardrey Kell), Lily Rogers (Middle Creek), and Keely Bradle (Providence).

In Fact, a Lot of the Best Elect To Stay Close to Home

Rocky Hansen (Christ School) burst into the national spotlight last spring and has continued to erupt this fall. He ran a state record 14:20.90. at the ASICS Invitational in Georgia, and ran a NCISAA State Meet record of 14:44.90. He also set the state record in the mile, running 4:00.76 in May. Next fall, he is headed to Wake Forest to join the currently ranked No. 7 Demon Deacons. Wake Forest dominated the 2022 ACC Championship, winning over Syracuse and UNC 44-86-87.

Joining Hansen at Wake Forest is Cuthbertson's Alyssa Preisano. Preisano is a two-time individual champion on the track, and has helped deliver a cross country state title to Cuthbertson every year she was there. 

UNC-Chapel Hill snags some top tier athletes. They get Cuthbertson duo Killian Fahy and Reece Morgan. Fahy won the NCHSAA 4A 400m title in 47.23 in 2022 and looks to repeat in 2023. He was also the indoor 300m runner-up in 2022.

The biggest name going to Chapel Hill may be Jacob Laney (Porter Ridge). Laney has been out for most of the cross country season, but he won the 3,200m at the NCHSAA 4A State Championship during outdoor season. During indoor, he won the 1,600m and 3,200m titles.

Athens Drive's Krister Sjoblad is staying close to home, as well. He stays in Raleigh to join the Wolfpack of NC State. Joining him at NC State is NCISAA DI 400m champion Quentin Clarke (Cannon School).

Some Found Home 600+ Miles Away...In All Directions

While some found home in North Carolina, some of the state's elite are heading over 600 miles away to continue their athletic and academic careers. 

Leading the bunch is Akala Garrett, who is attending the University of Texas almost 1,200 miles away from her high school. 

Garrett is the defending 100mH and 300mH state champion and she won gold at the U20 IAAF World Championship in the 400mH. She is NC No. 2 all-time in the 100mH, 300mH, and 400mH.

A pair of top tier distance runners who have been competing against one another since their middle school days, will team up 600 miles away in Mississippi at Ole Miss. Zack Gilbertson and Caden Townshend, who went 1-2 at the NCHSAA 4A state meet, will team up for the next four years in the SEC. In fact, we've seen a lot of North Carolina boys distance runners elect for the SEC in the last couple of classes. 

While Garrett, Gilbertson, and Townshend head southwest. Another trio are headed up north for school. 

Lily Nasta, a two-time all-state cross country runner, will head almost exactly 600 miles north to the University of Toledo in the northernmost part of Ohio.

Olivia Bufalini will join the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) Panthers of the ACC.

Arran Swift (Cary Academy) is going up to Illinois to the University of Chicago.

Where Is Shawnti Jackson Going?

The biggest question left unanswered is where the indoor 60m national record record holder is headed next fall. Shawnti Jackson (Wakefield) has narrowed it down to her top six: Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, USC, and Texas Tech.

Jackson won gold at the U20 World Championships in the 4x400 and bronze in the 100m dash. She also is the defending indoor 55m, 100m, 200m, and 400m NCHSAA 4A state champion. 

Will Akala Garrett's presence at Texas sway Jackson into joining the Longhorns?