Ten Vandegrift athletes to continue athletic careers in college


Noah Dennis spends his mornings concentrating on his running and works on school work at night. All the while, he keeps a group he formed as a sixth grader and has continued to help flourish ever since as a priority. 

Dennis joined nine other Vandegrift students in signing on to continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level on Friday morning. 

The Vandegrift senior will run cross country and track at Southwestern University. But just as important to him is the A.D. Team, a group he founded as a sixth grader that aimed to create a space for students, no matter their differences, to come and be part of a club.

“I love everything I do, and I just try to keep all my priorities straight,” he said. “It’s hard to rank them. To me, it’s all the same. I have a lot of really amazing people around me. My whole A.D. Team and cross-country team came out.

“This is all because of them.”

Started it and kept it going during his time at Canyon Ridge Middle School and brought it up to high school when he came to Vandegrift. It’s since grown to more than 70 active members in middle school and two Leander ISD high school campuses. 

On the cross country track, Dennis broke 17 minutes at the district meet in Round Rock and the team went on to advance to the regional meet. 

He said before the current senior group got there, the Vipers full boys team hadn’t gotten that far, and he’s proud of the way the culture has changed and how Vandegrift cross country is even more on the map. 

At Southwestern, he’s just looking forward to meeting his new teammates and keep getting better every day. 

“If you asked me even one year ago if this would be a possibility, I would’ve laughed,” Dennis said. “This is what I love to do, and to be able to do that at the next level is awesome and I’m so excited.

Joining Dennis in signing were nine other athletes. 

Kyla Peeples will compete in track and field at Abilene Christian, Imy Nixon will play golf at Bethany Colley, Sarah Lucido will play golf at Southwestern University, Shay Schaffner will run track at Colorado State University, Brenden Bennett will play football at UTSA, Tim Barny will play soccer at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Julianna Birlin will swim at Pepperdine Ryan Merrifield will play football at Trinity and Gabby Cusano will play tennis at Texas. 

On the golf course, Lucido has seven top 10 finishes and one individual win while Nixon improved his scoring average by two shots. 

On the track, Peeples holds the school record in the high jump and has competed at the state meet, while Schaffner competes on nearly ever relay team and is a part of three different school records. 

In the pool, Berlin is a three-time team MVP, holds court team record and has been named all-district, region and state. 

On the soccer field, Barney has scored more than 20 goals in the last two seasons and was a two-time all-district selection. He was also a first-team kicker for the Vandegrift football team and has his 94 percent of his extra points. 

On the football field, Bennett was a second-team running back and always had a propensity to break off a big play, while Merrifield was named to the first team in a league with three Division I receivers. 

And Cusano is looking to go to the state tournament in tennis this year for the court time. In the team competition this spring, she and her partner are undefeated and have lost just four games all year, according to the head coach.  

I’m excited to stay in Austin since I’ve always been surrounded by a bunch of Longhorns,” Cusano said. “At first, I didn’t know I wanted to go to a team made up of all foreign players, but then I met the team. I think it is going to be pretty cool to bring some hometown love.”

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