Woshner signs with Duquesne; Simko signs with Loyola

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WINCHESTER — When discussing their reasons for choosing a college, high school athletes will often say that their future city or campus “feels like home.”

Outside of Pennsylvania residents, there might not be anyone in Duquesne University’s class of 2026 who will feel more at home in Pittsburgh than Nathaniel Woshner.

In a ceremony at James Wood High School on Wednesday, the Colonels senior cross country and track athlete signed a National Letter of Letter to compete for NCAA Division I Duquesne. Woshner will receive athletic and academic scholarships totaling about 67 percent of his tuition.

Senior swimmer Paige Simko also signed an NLI during Wednesday’s ceremony that was attended by a few dozen people. Simko will receive academic and athletic scholarships covering 50 percent of her tuition to compete for NCAA Division I Loyola University Maryland located in Baltimore.

Woshner’s father Craig — James Wood’s coordinator of student activities — grew up in Pittsburgh, and Nathaniel’s aunt and grandparents still live there.

Nathaniel — a Class 4 All-State runner as a junior who is looking to repeat that feat at Saturday’s state meet — gave some thought to running for the University of Pittsburgh, where Craig starred in cross country and earned All-Big East honors in track.

But Nathaniel said Pittsburgh doesn’t have the digital media major that he’s interested in. Duquesne not only has that, but the Dukes also have another connection to the Woshner family — assistant coach Jim Lear coached Craig at Pittsburgh.

Nathaniel’s final two choices were Duquesne and George Mason. Nathaniel’s pick wasn’t going to be based on whether he would be receiving scholarships, but he said Duquesne’s offer and everything else about the school was too good for him to pass up.

“It helps that Duquesne is in a city that’s like my second home,” Nathaniel said. “I would always go there for Christmas and holidays and visit my grandparents. And I know a lot about South Side, though not as much as someone who actually lives there.”

Nathaniel will be living there soon enough. The wheels were set in motion when he visited the campus in July. Nathaniel went on an official trip on Sept. 19-20.

“The team is great and the campus is really nice,” said Nathaniel, who will join a cross country program that placed 10th out of 14 teams in the recent Atlantic 10 Championships. “Everyone was really nice. I felt at home there.”

Woshner made his verbal commitment at the end of September. Duquesne’s clearly excited to have him — Lear traveled to Great Meadow in The Plains last week to watch Woshner set a 10-second personal record over 3.1 miles with a time of 15 minutes and 43 seconds at the Region 4C meet.

Nathaniel’s looking forward to studying digital media at Duquesne.

“For high school projects, when I have to make a little movie or a little video, I’d always spend a lot of time on that because I really enjoyed doing it,” Nathaniel said.

For track and field, Woshner said he’ll likely compete in events like the 5,000 meters (the cross country distance), which is not offered by the Virginia High School League. The Dukes placed fourth out of 10 teams at last year’s A-10 Championships.

Nathaniel is looking forward to his collegiate running future. “I’ve just got to race like I mean it, and work hard,” he said.

Craig Woshner would’ve supported Nathaniel with whatever college choice he made, but he thinks Nathaniel will be happy at Duquesne. Craig said his mother worked at Duquesne for 20 years, but he had never spent much time on the Dukes’ campus. He was impressed by how much it’s developed when he accompanied Nathaniel on his campus tour in August.

“It means a lot for him to be going home,” Craig said. “My parents and my sister are excited to have him there, and we’re excited for him.”

James Wood second-year head coach Matthew Lofton said it’s been great to see the development of Nathaniel, who recorded a time of 16:25 in the championship race of the 2020 fall Frederick County Parks & Recreation club running season and 16:07.6 to win the spring 2021 Class 4 Northwestern District meet.

“I think he’s grown a lot,” Lofton said. “I think he’s more into it this year compared to last year. I think he’s always known he’s talented and a great runner, but I don’t know if he enjoyed it as much as he’s enjoying it this year. I think he’s seeing better success, and he’s embracing that a little bit more.

“Especially lately, knowing that he’s signed on to run in college, I think that’s helped him out a little bit with his running. It’s nice to see all his hard work paying off.”

Loyola is clearly excited about the James Wood athlete that is coming to its school.

Simko, who excels with the breaststroke, researched several schools and sent out emails to the ones she thought she’d like to go to at the beginning of October.

Loyola responded immediately. After a phone conversation, she was invited to campus and made a trip on Oct. 22. She made her verbal commitment at the end of October.

“The coaches are very nice,” Simko said. “The swimmers were very welcoming. I had a great experience there. It felt like home.

“I also like how it’s in the city of Baltimore and there’s a lot of things to do. I like the student-teacher ratio, where it’s 20-1. The campus is beautiful.’”

Simko said she made a good connection with Loyola head coach Brian Loeffler, a 30-year head coach who guided the Greyhounds to first in last year’s Patriot League meet.

Simko — who will enter Loyola undecided or will study biology — also received an offer to swim at George Mason and was also in contact with Rochester and Carnegie Mellon.

Simko’s main events are the 100-yard breaststroke and 200-yard breaststroke.

“I started swimming at the age of 10, and it just came natural to me unlike the other strokes,” said Simko about the breaststroke. “I really can get a pattern down and just go. I like the pull-outs. You can really get some distance on there. And I like how you can breathe a lot and you’re on your stomach.”

Since Frederick County did not participate in the Virginia High School League swimming season last year, Simko has not competed in a VHSL state meet since she was a sophomore. Simko placed 13th in the 100-yard freestyle and 14th in the 100 breaststroke. Simko is the school record holder in the 100 breaststroke and ranks in the top three in the 50 free, 100 free, 400 free and 200 IM.

During the ceremony, James Wood coach Jessica Barr expressed pride in everything Simko has accomplished, and raved about Simko’s work ethic and determination. For example, during Simko’s sophomore year, Barr noted that Simko battled through pneumonia. And at the state meet, Barr said Simko cut her toe during the prelims. But that didn’t stop her from swimming faster later that day in the event finals.

“Not one of these things hindered Paige’s strong mindset,” Barr said. “These obstacles drove her to work even harder and set even greater goals for herself.

“When you think about the success Paige has had, she is a true example of what hard work and perseverance can do for you. Within these past few years, Paige has only continued to improve. Any time she had a meet she felt was disappointing, she challenged herself to improve and surpass her last performance.”

Simko, who also stars for the Winchester Swim Team, placed 23rd in the 200 breast and 24th in the 100 breast in March at the International Swim Coaches Association International Senior Cup in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the 17-and-older division.

Simko’s personal record times of 1:06.51 in the 100-yard breast and 2:25.8 in the 200 breast were each set in the past three weeks.

“I couldn’t be more happier [with my progression],” Simko said.

She also couldn’t be happier to know she’ll be swimming in college.

“I’m just super excited,” she said. “This has been a goal, and I’m finally there. I think this is going to be a great next four years for me.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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