By Zach Cavanagh
National Signing Day was a family affair on Wednesday, Feb. 3 at San Clemente High School.
With only immediate family members in the stands San Clemente honored 21 college-bound student-athletes in a socially distanced ceremony outside at Thalassa Stadium.
Among the signees were Dane and Hannah Hillis, a brother-sister pair who are both continuing their volleyball careers at the next level. Dane is signed with Long Beach State, and Hannah is signed with Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire.
“We both worked really hard, and (signing together) kind of motivated each other, as well as our parents,” Hannah said. “It’s easier for them to do it all at the same time with both of us. It was a whole family movement.”
Hannah and Dane are following in the family business, as it were, as their mother also played volleyball in college.
“We weren’t forced into the sport,” Dane said, “but being around the sport all the time, it was kind of inevitable that we both started playing. Now she pushes us more than anybody else. It’s definitely helped me grow into the player that I have and the player my sister has.”
Neither Dane or Hannah has been able to play volleyball for San Clemente since last March when the boys volleyball season got canceled due to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but luckily for both, they committed to their schools early on. The girls volleyball season is still slated as a fall sport with an end date of March 20, and boys volleyball has moved back to a spring sport with a possible late March start date.
“I’ve been able to look on the bright side,” Dane said. “Even when something gets cancelled, I know I have Long Beach to fall back on and something bigger to look forward to. It’s really hard to see some of my teammates and best friends not be able to commit to colleges they wanted to because of the cancelations.”
Dane is excited to play for the reigning back-to-back national champions at Long Beach State. Hannah is set to study physical therapy in an accelerated six-and-a-half-year program to get her doctorate degree.
Aidan Coulson was another signee for whom family has been a huge part of the process to get to Signing Day. Coulson signed on to play football at Arizona Christian University, which plays at the NAIA level in Glendale, Arizona.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Coulson said of signing. “I’ve had to overcome a lot in my high school days. I’m just really thankful that I kept my head high and always worked hard even when times weren’t going my way. I’m just super blessed and excited to be where I am today.”
Aidan’s father, Michael, died of brain cancer during the 2019 football season, which ended with the Tritons being removed from the playoffs after a court fight over an ineligible player. Then, of course, coronavirus hit the following spring and pushed the 2020 football season potentially into spring 2021, if it happens at all.
“It’s been really hard, but attitude is everything,” Coulson said. “Your mindset towards things is what really matters. No matter how many times you get kicked, you can always get back up with the right mentality.”
Coulson said he’s excited about the Arizona Christian football program, and that it would mean everything to his father that he signed on to continue playing in college.
“He’s been there for me since day one, since third grade when I started football,” Coulson said. “I just know he’d be so proud of me. I’m so blessed to call him my dad, and I know he’s looking down on me right now, very happy. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
Here is the full list of honorees at San Clemente’s National Signing Day ceremony:
Football: Cole Batson (Boston College), Bentley Redden (BYU), James Bohls (Arizona), Keegan Even (Benedictine College), Noa Serpa (Concordia, Wisconsin), Aidan Coulson (Arizona Christian)
Men’s Volleyball: Noah Keelin (USC), Cade Martin (UC Irvine), Dane Hills (Long Beach State), Kobe Kiley (Concordia, Irvine)
Women’s Volleyball: Hannah Hillis (Franklin Pierce), Kate Wade (UMass Dartmouth), Ashley Haas (DePauw University)
Beach Volleyball: Kylie Pitzak (Utah)
Women’s Water Polo: Alexandria Higginson (Cal)
Women’s Swimming: Stella Copeland (Arizona)
Women’s Diving: Skylar Ruffner (Florida State)
Women’s Cross Country/Track: Kelsie Yamano (UC San Diego)
Women’s Basketball: Kyra Stewart (Simon Fraser)
Baseball: Nathan Beckley (San Francisco State)
Men’s Lacrosse: Tanner Hall (Concordia, Irvine)
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at email@example.com.