GORHAM — Emily Esposito knew she would be signing her national letter of intent Wednesday afternoon, committing to play basketball for Villanova, but for most of the day she was unfazed.

“When I woke up I knew it was the day but I really didn’t think much about it,” said Esposito, a senior at Gorham High. “The only difference was I put on my ‘Nova hat.”

But when the 5-foot-10 guard began to sign the paperwork in front of more than 100 friends and family gathered at the school gymnasium, she noticed her mother Karen “getting teary.” That’s when the moment hit home.

For Esposito and several other high school athletes in southern Maine, the goal of earning an athletic scholarship was realized Wednesday – in many cases ending extensive recruiting processes. Esposito, who verbally committed to Villanova in May, had been courted by Division I coaches since her freshman year.

“I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about all the hours I’ve put into it,” said Esposito, who enters her senior season with the defending Class AA champion Rams with 1,034 career points. “Every day I’m like, ‘This is my goal for today.’ It’s in increments. The result is a huge goal that I’ve always wanted to do, which is to play Division I basketball. I think about that now and I kind of get chills.”

Esposito, York field hockey player Lily Posternak, Brunswick swimmer Caitlin Tycz and Scarborough track standout Sam Rusak headline a large list of southern Maine athletes expected to sign letters of intent during the early signing period that runs through next Wednesday. Football, soccer and men’s water polo are the only NCAA sports not active during this signing period.

Posternak, the state’s best field hockey player on its most dominant team the last three years, signed her letter of intent to attend Duke, the top-ranked Division I team this year.

Posternak finished the season with 33 goals and 16 assists, scoring both goals in York’s 2-1 win over Belfast in the Class B state championship game – York’s third consecutive state title and 54th consecutive win. The Wildcats went 71-1 in Posternak’s four years, with Posternak setting school records in goals (84) and assists (55).

She chose Duke, which advanced to the NCAA semifinals last year, over Harvard and Princeton.

“I’m sure there will be new pressures,” said Posternak, “but I’m excited to learn new things, just be pushed outside my comfort zone. I’m excited to just expand my game.”

Posternak, who hopes to major in design and architecture, said her high school career was “incredible, really. It was a great four years.”

She said Duke offered a better overall balance between academics and athletics. “I think it’s a great spot for her,” said Barb Marois, her coach at York.

Tycz will swim at the University of Southern California. She is a three-time All-American who led Brunswick High to consecutive Class A swimming state titles and holds the YMCA national record for the 100-yard butterfly (52.43 seconds).

Over the summer she qualified for the Olympic trials in the 100-meter fly, and placed second in the 100 and seventh in the 200 at the YMCA long course nationals.

Tycz trains with the Long Reach Swim Club out of the Bath YMCA. She plans to sign her letter of intent as part of a ceremony Tuesday at the Brunswick High library.

Her Long Reach teammate, Ann Tolan of Morse, plans to sign a letter of intent Monday to swim for Penn State. Tolan was Performer of the Meet in Class B, winning both freestyle events, and setting a state record of 23.39 seconds in the 50-yard free that was also a record for Bowdoin College’s Greason Pool.

Rusak committed to accept a full scholarship to compete for Connecticut, where he’s expected to focus on the decathlon. The Maine Sunday Telegram’s outdoor track athlete of the year, Rusak won the 200 meters, 110 hurdles, high jump and the pole vault (15 feet, 6 inches) at the Class A championships.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to go D-I so I’m very excited to have the opportunity to compete at that level,” said Rusak, noting that UConn aligned with his educational and athletic goals.

Letters of intent are used by Division I and II institutions. They are a binding agreement between the student-athlete and the school stating the student will attend an institution for one full-time academic year and the institution will provide athletic financial aid for the same time frame.

Division III institutions do not offer direct athletic financial aid.

Esposito, a three-time All-Telegram choice, burst on the high school scene as a freshman, showing a combination of athleticism, flair and hard-nosed tenacity that immediately made her one of the top threats in the SMAA (17.6 points, 9.1 rebounds).

Her aptitude for the game was grounded in hard work and passion. After having too many driveway shots swatted away by her older brothers Matt and Chris, she asked her dad Tony how she could improve her shot. He suggested watching a video of former NBA great Ray Allen’s shooting technique. Soon she was taking 100 baseline shots a day

Open gym workouts at the University of Southern Maine would start with 20 minutes of dribbling skills from old Pete Maravich instructional videos.

Starting in sixth grade she began playing for the Maine Firecrackers, which led to significant exposure and competition opportunities in tournaments in New England and beyond.

“That’s when everything started changing,” Esposito said. “I just became a different person. A better person, I would say, because they teach you more than basketball. They teach you leadership and I think that’s what I brought to my high school team.”

Esposito received her first Division I scholarship offer from the University of Maine during her freshman high school season.

As a sophomore she averaged 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 2.9 assists. In her junior season, playing through a wrist injury that required postseason surgery, she averaged 18.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 2.8 assists.

“She wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her work ethic and her passion for the game, so that inspires me to have aspirations like that,” said Gorham sophomore center Mackenzie Holmes, Esposito’s high school and club teammate.

“She’s dreaming big and she worked so hard to get there. To have someone like that to influence me is amazing.”

Seven southern Maine baseball players who honed their skills with the Maine Lightning club team committed to college scholarship level programs, five in Division I.

The Division I signees are Ryan Twitchell of Greely, who will go to Rhode Island; brothers Reece and Robby Armitage of Falmouth, both going to Marist; Jake Knop, Portland (Manhattan); and Evan Balzano, Thornton (UMaine).

Cam Guarino of Falmouth (New Haven) and Jared Brooks of Cheverus (Stonehill) accepted Division II baseball offers.

Others signing letters of intent include:
Adelaide Cooke of Falmouth, who will run track at Division I Albany.
Brandon Hall of Thornton Academy, who will play baseball for Division I Wagner.
Abbie Murrell of Scarborough, who will join the Division II softball program at Saint Anselm.
Marran Oakman of Kennebunk, who will play lacrosse at Division II Assumption College.
Alexis Rozsahegyi of Camden Hills, who will play beach and indoor volleyball at Division I Stetson.
Garrett Lillee, a senior at York, signed to play soccer at Coastal Carolina, a Division I school in Conway, South Carolina. Lillee, a defender, played soccer year-round for Seacoast United, a club team in Epping, New Hampshire.


CORRECTION: This story was updated at 9:25 a.m. on Nov. 10 to correctly identify Cheverus High baseball player Jared Brooks, and at 5:40 p.m. on Nov. 10 to correctly identify Falmouth baseball player Cam Guarino.