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Modesto-area athletes sign national letters of intent

Sam Smith's aunt and uncle traveled from the Bay Area. Reeves Nelson was more low-key, signing early Wednesday morning and planning a ceremony for friends and family tonight. David LaFlamme is signing Saturday at his club, Ripon Aquatics.

Several high school athletes from across the Stanislaus District signed national letters of intent Wednesday, committing to the colleges of their choice in exchange for a scholarship.

Here's a rundown of many of the area's signees:

Smith is a two-time Modesto Bee Boys Golfer of the Year. He chose USC over UCLA, Stanford and Alabama.

"The difference was the guys on the team and the coach (Chris Zambri)," said Smith, who signed in the classroom of his coach at Turlock High, Ben Culala. "(Zambri) was a great guy, kind of laid back, like me. And the players were really welcoming."

Smith will be part of a team that competes for a national title every year. The Trojans currently are ranked No. 2 in the nation by Golfweek. Zambri was named national coach of the year last year, and Smith's future teammate, Jamie Lovemark, is the No. 6-ranked amateur in the world. Smith, who carries a +4.7 handicap, will join the fray next year.

"It will be a lot of work," he said. "I have a good feeling that I'll be able to jump right in and compete."

Nelson, a Modesto Christian basketball standout, inked his letter to play for UCLA. Like Smith, Nelson joins a team that is in the national title mix every season.

The 6-foot-9-inch forward averaged 26 points and 17 rebounds for the Crusaders last season. He's the 79th-ranked college prospect in the country, according to Rivals.com. He joins a class ranked No. 14 in the country by Rivals.com.

"Reeves Nelson is very physical and a very strong and athletic young man," UCLA coach Ben Howland said in a news release. "He's going to be an outstanding player."

Nelson suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee while playing for the football team this season and isn't expected to play basketball until late December.

Ripon Christian volleyball player Andrea Terpstra signed with University of the Pacific. The 6-foot middle blocker chose the Tigers over UC Davis.

"I visited, and I could see myself playing for (UOP coach) Charlie Wade," Terpstra said. "For me, it wasn't geographics; it was the program and the coach."

Terpstra grew up playing basketball, then switched to volleyball.

"The summer I switched and played club volleyball instead of AAU basketball was it," she said. "Volleyball was new and exciting. I just fell in love with it."

Downey swimmer Kassy Bispo signed with BYU. She's the third Bispo sibling to receive a scholarship for athletics -- brother Brad is playing football at UC Davis, and sister Karlee swims for Texas. Kassy chose BYU over UOP and UC Davis.

"I felt really comfortable with the girls and the coaches there," Kassy Bispo said. "We bonded really well."

Kassy Bispo is a two-time All-District swimmer who has two Sac-Joaquin Section medals in her specialty, the breaststroke.

"I was on my official trip to BYU, and I thought, 'I can see myself here.' I felt like I belonged," she said.

Beyer swimmer David LaFlamme will sign with Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo at Ripon Aquatics -- his club and home pool -- after practice Saturday morning. The Bee's 2008 Boys Swimmer of the Year was a section champ in the 100 butterfly and 200 freestyle. He chose Cal Poly over Cal.

"I felt I fit in a little more with the Cal Poly campus and the coaches," LaFlamme said. "Overall, I just felt it was a better fit.

"I wouldn't be where I'm at without Ripon Aquatics. I owe them a big thank you. Plus, I wanted to show the kids on the team that even though we're a small club, you can still get a scholarship out of here."

Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at wdeboard@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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