Signing Day: Local stars Henry Sandberg, Gillian Bears, Bode Gardner sign national letters of intent

Feb. 7—Henry Sandberg and Gillian Bears have been impactful players for the Gonzaga Prep boys and girls basketball teams the past few seasons. On Wednesday, both fulfilled a dream by signing to play college basketball.

The pair were joined by classmates Peyton McIntyre (football) and Kya Stanley (volleyball) to sign National Letters of Intent in a ceremony at the school's library in front of family, teammates and friends.

Several other local athletes, including Mt. Spokane three-sport star Bode Gardner, also made their college commitments public.

Bullish on Bears

"I've been waiting for this for so long," Bears said. "It's such a happy moment. Bittersweet."

Bears, a 6-foot-3 post, declared for Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California.

"I went down and visited and I just really had a strong connection with the coaches and the players," Bears said. "I just knew that I would fit well in their program. They were just following me for a while and I knew that they would put the time in for me and help me develop."

Bears has put in a lot of effort to improve as a player since making varsity her sophomore season.

"Over the summers playing club ball, putting in a lot of work, a lot of hours with my club coaches, and just going to every open gym I could, knowing that it's going to pay off and seeing it pay off in the tournaments," she said. "I had coaches that really believed in me and were willing to put in that time and effort for me."

G-Prep girls coach Geoff Arte has watched Bears' development, first as an assistant at Central Valley and the past two seasons with the Bullpups.

"I remember from watching when she was a freshman and sophomore, just the amount of hard work she's put in to get better every year," he said. "It's really what you want kids to do and experience.

"So many of these kids think they're just ready to go to play basketball and don't realize there's a lot of hard work that goes into it — and she's done that. So just super proud of her drive to keep getting better every year."

Returning loyalty

Sandberg committed to Seattle Pacific to continue his athletic and academic pursuits.

"It's awesome," he said. "I finally get to settle down, have a little peace of mind knowing that I've got a place to go next year and be able to keep pursuing my dream of playing college basketball."

"He gets it done in the classroom. He gets it done in the hallways, he commands respect," Gonzaga Prep coach Matty McIntyre said. "I mean, everybody thinks so highly of him."

It meant a lot to Sandberg that the Seattle Pacific coaching staff was on him early.

"We talked about loyalty a lot in the recruiting process and you know, (coach Keffrey Fazio) was super loyal to me from the beginning and I think it's a place that replicates a lot of what Gonzaga Prep is and just building that kind of a family aspect playing hoops."

Sandberg received a lot of guidance through the challenges of the recruiting process.

"It's definitely changed a lot with money now in the recruiting and all of that kind of stuff," he said. "So for me, it was a little bit of just trying to find the right spot because it has changed a lot from when my parents went through it."

Sandberg was a great shooter when he made varsity as a sophomore, but leaves a more well-rounded player.

"Just being pushed every day in practice by coach McIntyre, coach (Brian) Carney, coach (Pat) Kunz, and that's kind of what's led to ultimately this commitment is all their time and effort."

"He came in very mature. He's always been very mature for his age," McIntyre said.

"He's had a lot of wins under his belt, but I couldn't be prouder of what he's done this season with four new starters around him," McIntyre added. "Good players put up a lot of points have really good stats, but the great players can do that and make the people around them better. And he's really added to the growth of the young guys around him and that's been critical to our success this season."

Close to home

Gardner contemplated several offers through a process he described as "frustrating, for sure," but decided to stay local and sign with his father's alma mater at Eastern Washington for football.

"I've grown up going to Eastern games," he said. "My mom really likes that I'm close to home. The whole family can come out and watch games. We're all super excited."

Gardner accepted a preferred walk-on offer with Eastern and relishes the opportunity to prove himself all over again.

"My official visit went really well with them. I got to sit down with the coaches and talk with them," he said. "After the visit, and talking with (coach Aaron) Best I thought it was the right fit for me. It's a place where I can work and improve as a player and honestly, have fun for the next four-five years."

The Greater Spokane League's all-purpose MVP and touchdown leader and multiple-time state champion track star had options for both sports at the next level. He always had his eye on the right football opportunity.

"There were a lot of stressful nights, especially talking with my parents. I know they were stressed," Gardner said. "It was definitely hard, but I'm glad it worked out and I just had to trust God's plan on that."

Gardner knows the work is just beginning for him.

"I'm hoping to get on the field as soon as I get there. I'll have to work super hard — I know there are some older guys ahead of me. I'll just have to work hard in the weight room and at practice."

Other signings

Lewis and Clark: Natalie Wenner (Eastern Washington soccer).

Mead: Mia Speir (Pacific Lutheran soccer), Emerson Fleck (Washington State baseball), Xavier Hattenburg (Pomona baseball).

Mt. Spokane: Mia Bontrager (Southern Oregon golf), Cora Murray (CC Spokane soccer), Cassie Jay (Cal Lutheran softball), Kami Ellis (CC Spokane soccer), TJ Haberman (Whitworth football), Tristan Olson (Montana Western football).

Ridgeline: Deakon Sell (Central Washington football), Preslie Young (Northern Colorado soccer), Caden Thompson (Gonzaga soccer), Ruby Bryntesen (Saint Martin's cross country), Landen Quesnell (Rocky Mountain football), Owen Gringas (Kenyon swimming).

University: Waylon Romero (Eastern Washington football).