POWHATAN - Five Powhatan High School student-athletes on May 16 were celebrated for taking their athletic careers to the collegiate level.
Caitlin Grell will run for Lynchburg's Cross Country and Track teams, J.D. McMillin will wrestle for Ferrum, Colby Cheatham will play baseball for Mary Baldwin, Ashley Van Buskirk will play women's lacrosse for the United States Merchant Marine Academy and Jarrett Tronge will wrestle for Virginia Tech.
Long-distance runner Grell wanted to compete in a sport in college.
"And I felt that running was an easier option for me to be able to develop and grow as an athlete."
She held the role of captain on her cross country team her senior season; she was part of the XC program for five years and is in her very first season on the track team, for which she runs the 1600m event and competes in the 4x800m relay. She also used to play soccer - a sport that features a lot of running and rewards players and teams who endure until the end.
She really likes the small, community-like feel that Lynchburg has.
"It reminds me somewhat of Powhatan."
Her Powhatan track and cross country teammates, she noted, have made a really big impact on her.
"Definitely the family environment that we have on both teams is just really, really strong."
The 2019 Class 4 state wrestling champion in the 120 weight division is a big fan of team camaraderie. He had that in Powhatan - "we're a very tight-knit group," he said - and he sees that community-like aspect as being a principal element of Ferrum's wrestling program as well. He also likes that it's a small school; it's nice and rural, and he likes that - he likes the outdoors.
McMillin is looking forward to taking that next step - which will definitely mean improving his conditioning even more, he noted, since college wrestling bumps up the regulation time of a match from 6 minutes in high school to 7 - and he's determined to become an All-American.
"If I get All-American once, I want to do it again," he said. "If I can be a national champ, that's what I want to be."
His biggest goal is being the best version of himself in college.
"I'm looking to just get to the highest part of that podium that I can get to with the best of my abilities."
Especially with being brought up into the Powhatan wrestling community from a young age, had McMillin been in any other county, he doesn't think that he would've wrestled. He had wrestling friends from college who came to watch him sign on May 16. The family-like Powhatan Wrestling program really did play a huge part in McMillin winning states, placing at the state level multiple years, progressing to the collegiate level of the sport and doing as well as he has, he said.
"It really helped me have truly a different bond with wrestling," McMillin said. "I've played other sports, too, but there is a bond with wrestling that is special for me."
The three-sport athlete will be contributing his fielding, hitting and possibly pitching talents to Mary Baldwin University's first-ever NCAA-level baseball team.
"It's really cool to just be part of an inaugural season," he said. "I can't wait for this and it's going to be really fun the next few years."
His future coach at Mary Baldwin left a great first impression on him.
"He got me on campus and made sure he stays in touch," Cheatham said. "I really like the coach and he's really awesome."
He looks to work hard and set the standards high for the people who come after him.
In addition to helping his Powhatan Baseball team go 11-6 in the regular season, Cheatham also placed 4th in the 145 weight division of states with Powhatan Wrestling, and he helped his Powhatan Football team achieve a winning season of 6-4 in 2018.
"All three sports that I play...it teaches me that hard work is just the most important thing out of all of it," he said. "The more you work, the better you'll be and the more successful you become."
Ashley Van Buskirk
Van Buskirk was 7 years old when she attended her cousin's graduation at West Point, and they did "the coolest little ceremony," she recalled, where the graduates threw their hats into the air and the children were allowed to run out and grab a hat.
Since then, she's held on to that hat...
And the call to serve has been strong ever since.
"I've always wanted to go to a service academy - I've always wanted to serve my country," she said. And with the United States Merchant Military Academy (USMMA): "The program is great, Coach [Kyle] Simensky is fantastic and I really look forward to - after my 4 years of schooling - going to any military branch that I choose."
With USMMA Women's Lacrosse, Van Buskirk is joining a standout NCAA Division III Skyline conference program that won the Skyline Championship and went 17-0 prior to taking a narrow 13-11 defeat in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Having played defense for her travel team and midfield for Powhatan High School, Van Buskirk is excited to bring that two-position perspective to the collegiate field.
One of 6 seniors who played all 4 years of Powhatan Girls Lacrosse's first 4 varsity seasons, Van Buskirk has not only gotten to see the sport grow and mature at her school, but she's helped her team achieve a winning season (8-5 thus far) in 2019.
"It's really come to fruition - when I first started, we barely had enough to field a team," she said, "and now, we've just got all of this opportunity and I just see all this growth - it's really cool to see as a senior all of these freshmen and the depth...it's amazing to see."
The multisport athlete and state-placing standout wrestler is looking forward to elevating his athletic career to the collegiate level and walking-on to NCAA Division I Virginia Tech's Wrestling team. He signed his verbal commitment on May 16.
"It's an awesome step, it's an awesome place to be for the next 4 to 5 years and wrestle," Tronge said. "It's a way to get better and progress. It's an awesome college, awesome people. Looking forward to it."
When he first started wrestling his junior year, Tronge didn't realize he'd get to the point he's reached today.
But in that short span of time, he's gone far. A fiery and determined competitor on the mat, Tronge won match after match in the heavyweight division and won his last match as a high school wrestler in Fairfax to place 5th in the Class 4 state wrestling tournament.
"Hard work did it," he said.
Tronge was also part of Powhatan Football's 6-4 season in 2018.
At Virginia Tech, he'll be practicing with 2 to 3 teammates, and he's looking forward to getting better "each and every day."
For Tronge, being a part of the Powhatan Wrestling team was "life-changing."
"The coaches and the teammates and the practice partners - Linwood Hill and Jacob Moss, me and them every day just going at it, making each other better - it was an awesome time."