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Sophie Gratchner, Elizabeth Hillier, Andrew Payton make their choices official

PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Tualatin High School seniors (from left) Andrew Payton, Sophie Gratchner and Elizabeth Hillier signed their college national letters of intent during a ceremony at the school.TUALATIN — Three Tualatin High School students.

Three different sports. Three different parts of the country.

But the same excitement.

Sophie Gratchner, Elizabeth Hillier and Andrew Payton all made their college choices official, as each signed their national letters of intent in front of friends and family during a ceremony held Nov. 13 at Tualatin High School.

"This means a lot," said Payton, who will run for both the men's cross country and track and field teams at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. "It means that I'm moving on with life. It's kind of crazy how fast this is gone, but I'm ready for it."

"It's been a dream of mine for a long time, so it means a lot to finally have this day come," said Gratchner, who signed to be part of the equestrian team at Fresno State University.

"This means so much," said Hillier, who will play softball at Clackamas Community College. "Ever since my sister (2018 Tualatin grad Ella Hillier) signed (with Bentley University for softball), I've been waiting and waiting and waiting for this."

Hillier, who pitched for a pair of Tualatin City Little League teams that reached the Little League Softball World Series, including one team with her older sister, had plenty of options before deciding on Clackamas Community College.

"Making the decision process was brutal," she said. "I had four colleges interested in me. Picking between those four colleges was pretty hard."

But, for Hillier, who played club softball with the Breeze ages 18A squad, based out of Hillsboro, Clackamas Community College, with its proximity, turned out to be the right choice.

"Being able to stay close to my family, and having my family be able to come watch my games was important," Hillier said. "And, with all my medical problems, staying close to (Oregon Health & Science University) was really important."

Hillier added that she knows she needs to work on her approach in the pitching circle to be ready for college softball.

"It is going to be such a different experience," she said. "In college ball, you can't throw as many fastballs. I'm going to have to learn to throw not as many fastballs."

For Gratchner, good weather isn't the only reason she picked Fresno State University

"I just love the coaches, coach Mary (Brown) and coach Eric (Hubbard) and the whole team, everyone is so nice," said Gratchner, who plans on studying Business and Marketing. "And it's an up-and-coming team, and I'm excited to be a part of it."

Gratchner will be joining a Fresno State equestrian team that finished its fall season on Friday as the No. 6-ranked team in the country.

"I'm just going to keep riding, keep practicing and go to some bigger shows and just have fun," Gratchner said in regard to getting ready for college equestrian competition.

Payton, who ran to sixth place at the Class 6A state cross country championships, held at Lane Community College in Eugene earlier this month, says he's looking forward to moving on to the college level at Arkansas at Little Rock.

"I took a tour down there. Loved what I saw, and just heard great things about it," Payton said. "Great weather, I'll have to get used to that, and it's very humid. It's going to be a change."

It was a local connection that helped lead Payton to Arkansas at Little Rock.

"It all started with (Arkansas at Little Rock associate head cross country coach and assistant track coach) Alan Webb, who was originally up here, with Portland State, and we stayed in touch," Payton said. "I did more research about the school, and they had the major I was interested in (construction management)."

And, while Payton is anxious about competing at the college level, he still has his senior track and field season ahead of him.

"I'm very excited for track season. I still have some lofty goals that I think I can reach," said Payton, who helped the Tualatin boys track and field team win the Class 6A track and field state championship last year. "This winter, I'm going to do a lot of work in my weight room. I want to strengthen my whole body to get ready for the track season, and that will carry over to getting ready for college."

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