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Three Harpeth Hall athletes sign with DI schools on National Signing Day 2022

Elizabeth Aylward hits the volleyball in a match on Sept. 6, 2022.

Elizabeth Aylward is the type of athlete who frustrates opposing coaches — in all the best ways.

“Dang,” they would say to Harpeth Hall volleyball coach Hannah Asafo-Adjei when they saw Elizabeth warming up on the court, “I thought she graduated.”

Or, rather, they hoped she had graduated. That’s the type of dominating presence Elizabeth has on the court. With her back row saves, powerful hits, and infectious competitive energy, she’s been catching the attention not only of opposing high school coaches but also of college volleyball coaches across the country for most of her playing career. 

In her time at Harpeth Hall, Elizabeth led her team to the state tournament every season and received every accolade possible, including being named a three-time DII-AA all-middle region team and tournament team member, earning DII-AA middle region MVP twice, and being named a finalist for the Tennessean’s Girls Volleyball Player of the Year.

On Wednesday, Elizabeth added another milestone to the list when she — along with fellow seniors Bella Guillamondegui and Sophia Williams — signed a National Letter of Intent to continue her competitive career in college. Elizabeth will play volleyball at Virginia Tech. Bella, who in early November defended her title as Division II-AA state cross country champions, will run cross country and track for Notre Dame. Sophia will compete on the rowing team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In all, 39 Harpeth Hall athletes, including Elizabeth, Bella, and Sophia, have committed to playing college athletics in 10 different sports over the last five years. Twenty-three of those students committed to Division I schools.

Harpeth Hall senior Bella Guillamondegui, a two-time cross country state champion, surrounded by her teammates after signing

“What I have loved most about being a Harpeth Hall athlete is the unbelievable relationships I have been able to build throughout my years in the program,” said Elizabeth, who will be the second Harpeth Hall graduate to play volleyball at Virginia Tech following Taylor Parrish, Class of 2006. “Today was a dream come true, and I cannot believe I finally got to make it official.”

That team spirit and camaraderie distinguish Harpeth Hall athletes at all levels. When the girls compete, they celebrate their teammates' achievements as much as their own. As Harpeth Hall cross country coach Jenny Jervis put it, “If I had a dollar for how many times Bella would cry out, ‘I love this team!’ I would be a rich woman.”

Bella holds 12 state titles in cross country and track and field. She also holds school records in the 3200 and the 5K, where she has recorded the three fastest times in school history. She competes regionally and nationally in every distance from the 800 to the 5K and, Coach Jervis said, “is the most accomplished Harpeth Hall runner since Olympic marathoner Margaret Groos in the 1970s.

“Bella has indeed achieved much in her time at Harpeth Hall, and it was well earned,” Coach Jervis said. “She never shies from challenging workouts – always showing up and finishing each assignment to her fullest ability. And while these achievements are important to her, she also values her team deeply. She supports her teammates and her fellow runners, offering them hugs at the end of races and bellowing out encouraging words when they are racing. Bella celebrates their successes as much as her own and takes great delight in cheering them on.”

Harpeth Hall senior Sophia Williams signs a National Letter of Intent to continue her rowing career for the University of Wis

The opportunity to celebrate comes alongside the hard work and dedication needed to succeed. And all three Harpeth Hall signees embody that passion.

“It has to be a conscious choice to show up every day and engage in something that challenges you,” said Cory Sanderson, Sophia’s coach at Nashville Rowing. “Being a good teammate, pushing yourself mentally and physically, and trusting that your teammates are doing the same takes a maturity that not many high school athletes possess.”

Already, Sophia is among the elite rowers in the country. In addition to multiple top 15 and top 30 finishes, respectively, in the Head of the Hooch and the Head of the Charles — two of the largest regattas in the country — Sophia also earned an invite to the U.S. Rowing Olympic Development Program (ODP) for the summer of 2021 to represent the Southeast Region. This program serves as an important piece of the U.S. National Team system, Coach Sanderson said, by providing the top under-18 (U18) athletes from each region the opportunity to train for one month with top coaches and athletes from around the country. The program culminates with a race between all six regions at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida, which has been home to youth championships, NCAA championships, Olympic Trials, and world championships. Sophia earned spots in the top boats for the Southeast Region, winning medals in the ODP Cup race against the other regions.

“I know she will continue to strive for excellence,” Coach Sanderson said, “as she continues her rowing career at the University of Wisconsin.”