Kelly Merz wanted a chance to stay close to home and be part of something that could turn out to be pretty special.
Michael Toppi always knew where he wanted to go … and now he’ll get that chance.
Both Viera High School seniors couldn’t have been happier Wednesday afternoon as they signed their National Letters of Intent to further their athletic careers at schools that seem like perfect fits for them both.
“It was pretty scary, but really relieving now,” said Toppi, Viera’s fastest cross-country runner of all time after signing with Florida State.
“It’s set in stone now.”
Merz, who has played multiple roles for the Viera volleyball team throughout her four-year varsity career, signed to be a setter at Florida Tech.
“They recently got a new coach (Ashlee Crowder) and after talking to her and hearing her plans for the future, I just thought that I could really help turn their program around, since that is her main goal,” Merz said.
“And my dad also went to Florida Tech and he loved it. He played baseball there. It’s close to home. I wanted to stay home. My sister (Mallory) is still going to be playing for Viera next year. I want to come watch her sometimes and I want my teammates to be able to come watch me.”
Growing up in a house full of University of Florida fans, Toppi always leaned toward Florida State. But it really became his dream school the first time he went to Tallahassee.
“My freshman year, we went to their track meet – the FSU relays – and ever since I first stepped on the camps and went to the course, it felt like home up there,” he said. “I’ve always been a Seminoles fan at heart.”
It certainly has been a season to remember for Toppi and the Viera High boys cross-country team. Not only are the Hawks ranked No. 1 overall in the state, but they have a chance to win the first state championship in school history on Friday at the Class 4A race at Apalachee Regional Park.
“I feel like there were some of the things we could have done better, but some of the things were out of our control, even for us,” Toppi said. “Everything, really, so far, has been going according to plan. Hopefully, on Friday we can cap it off and be done with the whole team thing, just have some fun postseason individually.”
Toppi set a new school and personal record earlier this season, running a 14:55. That will put him in contention for an individual state championship – or at least a top two finish – on Friday when he takes on Rheinhardt Harrison of Nease, who has run 14:45.
“I’m trying to get under 15 (minutes) because the course is pretty difficult,” Toppi said. “I think only one person’s ever broken 15 (minutes) on it, but I think we can make two.”
While he has a number of interests, Toppi hasn’t decided on what he will major in at Florida State just yet.
Merz, meanwhile, plans to major in business administration at Florida Tech and take part in an accelerated program that will help her get her MBA in four years.
She is glad the whole recruiting process is over.
“It means so much to me (to sign today),” she said. “It’s just so nice that I’m finally able to settle down. The recruiting process is really stressful, especially with COVID. You never are really comfortable. You’re always scrambling, trying to email schools. It was just so stressful. It’s nice knowing where I’m going.”
Merz, who leads her team with 66 aces this season, isn’t done playing for Viera, either.
After winning the school’s first district title in 10 years earlier this season, the Hawks won the program’s first regional championship last week at New Smyrna Beach to advance to the final four.
Viera is scheduled to play at Ponte Vedra Saturday at 2 p.m. in the state semifinal.
“We’re really clicking right now,” Merz said. “I’m just so excited for us. I’ve been waiting four years for something like this and this is the group of girls I wanted to do it with.
“I’ve played with a lot of these girls for four years. I’ve played club with them. Obviously, my sister is on the team. It’s an amazing feeling to see that our hard work’s finally paying off.”