Viera High honors largest signing class in school history

Viera High School honored 14 students who have signed to continue their athletic playing careers at the next level. Pictured ()from l-r) are Robbie Behrens; Jaydin Gentile; Hailey Mix; Anna Brait; Sylvia Burroughs; Olivia Peters; Jace Jackson; Jacquelin Castro; Antonio Rios; Andy Bennett; Morgan Brubaker; Victoria Wehner; Edian Espinal and Danielle Contreras.

Viera High School celebrated its spring signing day Wednesday with a record-number 14 student-athletes announcing their plans to play at the next level.

Here’s a list of students in alphabetical order:

Robbie Behrens (Baseball, Lehigh Carbon Community College): Astandout on numerous Viera Suntree Little League All-Star teams before he became a Hawk, Behrens is heading to Schnecksville, Pennsylvania to continue his playing career with the idea that he will eventually move on to a four-year school.

“I talked to the coach online through Zoom and we just clicked really well,” Behrens said of his connection with LCCC. “We’re both (New York) Yankee fans. We talked about that a lot. We just got along good.”

Behrens said he started thinking about playing in college when he made Viera’s varsity team as a sophomore. He has a passion for the game.

“I love it and I want to keep doing it,” he said.

Andy Bennett (Soccer, Florida Tech): Bennett only spent one year with the Hawks, it was certainly a memorable one as Viera reached the state championship game.

Throughout the season, Bennett mentioned how much he enjoyed playing with his teammates in Viera. Now, he won’t have to go too far to come back and pay them a visit.

“I really like the coaching staff there and it’s close to home,” he said of Florida Tech. “It’s a good program. I didn’t really have any complaints. I really liked it.”

Bennett, who said he wasn’t really looking anywhere other than Florida Tech, is leaning toward majoring in computer information systems.

Anna Brait (Softball, College of Holy Cross): Brait’s defense at short and her clutch hitting were a big reason the Hawks went to the state semifinals last season and now she is one of six softball players from Viera who will be moving on to play in college.

Brait said being able to play at Holy Cross just feels right.

“Honestly, I saw the campus, I met the coaches and some of my (future) teammates and something about it just felt right,” Brait said. “I had other offers and other opportunities and Holy Cross just felt like the one. It kind of felt like I knew this place was going to be home.”

She plans to major in accounting.

Morgan Brubaker (Soccer, UNC Greensboro): One of the top scorers on a Viera team that reached the state semifinals this past season, Brubaker is excited about playing Division I soccer for the Spartans in the Southern Conference.

“The environment, the campus, the girls were very welcoming, the coaches … everything about the school is amazing,” Brubaker said.

She plans to major in business marketing with the idea of eventually selling medical devices.

“I have a whole future ahead of me,” Brubaker said when asked what signing day meant to her. “It’s locked in for the next four years and I couldn’t be more excited.”

Sylvia Burroughs (Softball, Furman University): Burroughs moved to Viera from North Carolina for her sophomore year and quickly became one of the Hawks’ most-reliable players.

“It was like a re-set, especially with COVID,” Burroughs said about coming to Viera. “I moved here and the COVID season started. It was kind of like … a new chapter of my life, I like to think.”

It won’t be long until another new chapter begins.

“I’m really excited about the future and the prospect of being able to play at a school that I know I’m going to get a great education, and I know I’m going to fit in right with the program,” she said. “I get to go in and feel like I can make an impact.”

Burroughs plans to major in business administration and get into real estate after college.

Jacquelin Castro (Basketball, Maine Maritime Academy): Castro was a four-year starter for the Hawks. She said she knew she had found her new home the minute she stepped on campus.

“The visit sold me,” she said. “All that they could offer me, how they train … everything they do is top tier. That’s what I was looking for.

“I know up there it’s a lot different than Florida. It’s cold and everything. That’s something I’m going to have to get used to, but I’m excited. I’m excited for something different, something a little bit far from home.”

Castro plans to major in marine biology.

Danielle Contreras (Cross Country/Track, Jacksonville University): The ability to stay close to home – and near the beach – all played a role in making Jacksonville the ideal fit for Contreras to continue her running career.

“I honestly didn’t start thinking about running in college until my sophomore year,” she said. “It was actually the middle of my cross-country season. Originally, I was playing softball. My coach said I had a really good opportunity to run in college if I kept working at it and continued to work hard.

“I kind of changed my mindset and put my foot down and said, ‘OK, that’s what I’m going to do, especially if I have the opportunity to (run in college).’”

Contreras plans to major in Kinesiology and minor in psychology.

Edian Espinal (Baseball, Chipola College): Viera’s standout shortstop credited his advisor for helping him find the right fit at Chipola, a junior college powerhouse that he hopes will help him continue his path in baseball.

“People from D-I (schools) come to Chipola to sign (players), so that was the right fit for me,” he said.

Espinal, who was born in Puerto Rico and came to the Hawks as a 13-year-old freshman, was asked what his time at Viera has meant to him.

“Everything,” he said. “When I got here, I felt so welcomed. I had a lot of challenges because I couldn’t really speak English when I got here. The teachers – Spanish teachers, English teachers – they helped me. My friends, they helped me.”

The 17-year-old has a very bright future. Not only has he been one of Viera’s best players since he first set foot on the field for the Hawks, he’s also a senior team captain on a Viera team that will play for the district championship tonight against Melbourne.

Jaydin Gentile (Softball, Converse University): A strongperformance at a showcase tournament in November caught the attention of the Converse coaching staff and Gentile was asked to come for a visit in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

“I went up for the visit and looked at the campus and it was just gorgeous,” Gentile said. “We went up in November. The weather was so nice. It was a low of 28 (degrees). It was really cold, but the environment was really beautiful. They’re athletic facilities were good.

“Everything about the campus was just gorgeous.”

She plans to major in English.

Jace Jackson (Softball, Jackson State): One of the mostfeared hitters in the Hawks lineup, Jackson punctuated the team’s district semifinal win over Harmony with a game-ending two-run home run that not only cleared the fence, but went into the street.

She chose Jackson State after talking to the coaches and going on a visit.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” she said of playing at Jackson State. “It was a lot of hard work and dedication. My family played a big part in it and so did my teammates, driving all around to different tournaments, especially over the summer for travel ball. I know it’s expensive.

“But I’m grateful for the opportunity and I can’t wait to see what Jackson State has in store for me.”

Jackson plans to major in biology and get into pre-med.

Hailey Mix (Softball, Florida Tech): A mainstay at first base throughout her career, Mix said she wanted to stay close to home to be around her family and friends and the Panthers offered the chance to do just that. It was her top choice all along.

“It’s a great educational school, which was really important for me,” she said. “The environment there was really positive and I just wanted to go there a lot.”

Mix plans to major in biological engineering, which would put her on a pre-med track.

Although the signing day ceremony at Viera was held on Wednesday, Mix said she actually signed with Florida Tech in December.

“It was kind of emotional,” she said. “That one we did with my family.”

Olivia Peters (Softball, Carleton College): Peters made a name for herself playing travel ball with the Jacksonville Storm and attending camps for higher academic schools. Now, she’s set to continue her career playing shortstop at the small, private school in Northfield, Minnesota.

“I think it’s the right school for me socially, academically and with softball,” she said. “It’s a D-III school, so I think the level and all that social stuff and everything, along with the academics, makes it the perfect fit.”

A visit to the campus quickly sold Peters on the school. She hasn’t decided on a major yet, but said he’s interested in Carleton’s physics and sociology/anthropology programs.

Antonio Rios (Basketball, Utica University): After moving from New York to Florida two years ago, Rios is heading home.

“I’m used to the state of New York and I thought it would be the best fit for me because they seem like they really love the game of basketball up there,” Rios said.

He plans to major in either business or sports management.

“My time here has been good,” he said. “The weather’s obviously been different. It’s definitely a culture change a little bit, coming from New York. But I definitely liked it.”

Victoria Wehner (Soccer, Florida Tech): Signing day was a dream come true in a number of ways for one of Viera’s top defenders, who plans to major in mechanical engineering.

“It meant a lot to me. I’ve always wanted to go there,” Wehner said. “I didn’t think I would actually be able to play soccer, so it’s kind of like a dream come true.”

It was during her freshman year, while visiting the orthodontist to get her braces removed, that Wehner discovered she had a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which could have been life threatening had it not been discovered so early.

“It’s like an entanglement of nerves in your brain that causes you to have seizures,” Wehner said. “It was detected before any of that could happen, so I had to have (brain) surgery and then months of rehab and then finally be able to go back to playing soccer.”

Wehner was originally told she would not be able to play again, but then one day a neurologist told her, “Hey, you’re safer now than you were before,” and said she could go back to the sport she loved.

“Having to go through brain surgery made me re-think how much the sport meant to me and how much I missed it,” she said. “It definitely pushed me to do better.”