Winter Park High School senior Rafaella Gibbons will be making her way up to Raleigh to run track/cross country for the Wolfpack.
Finding the right collegiate sports program is a huge moment for high school athletes hoping to continue their careers at the next level.
It is months — sometimes even years — of emails, phone calls and campus visits, and any athlete who has ever has gone through the process will tell you how stressful it is.
Luckily for Winter Park senior track/cross country athlete Rafaella Gibbons that stress has been lifted as she put pen to paper last Wednesday on early National Signing Day.
“It’s honestly a big relief that I know where I’m going now, and I can just focus on school and running,” Gibbons said. “I took a lot of visits, so it’s nice to be able to relax now.”
Starting next fall, Gibbons will don the red and white of NC State as she looks to make noise on the Wolfpack’s track/cross country team.
It was a stressful process for Gibbons, who took time to figure out where she wanted to continue — narrowing it down toward the end of summer.
Although she made visits to Northern Arizona University, Furman and the University of Missouri, it wasn’t until making a trip to Raleigh that she realized it was the right place to be.
“I decided to go to NC State, because it’s a good program,” she said. “Coach (Laurie) Henes has a great reputation, and if you look at the program, she develops her runners really well. I also like how I’m not too far away from home, compared to other schools I was looking at — it was one of the closer ones, so that was a factor.
“And I just really like the girls on the visit and I liked the campus, so it just felt like a really good fit to me,” she said.
A few days after her visit, Gibbons made the announcement she would compete for NC State, while she works on a degree in psychology.
Although early National Signing Day was a big moment for the senior, that wasn’t the only thing on her radar.
Last Saturday, Gibbons and the Wildcats cross-country team competed in the FHSAA 4A Cross Country Finals in Tallahassee.
It was another solid year for Gibbons individually. She finished fourth overall, while the Wildcats took home another team title — the third in Gibbons’ high school career.
Although she was hoping to do a little better by adding another individual state title to her résumé — which she won as a freshman — Gibbons was ecstatic to cap off her senior year on a strong note with her friends and teammates.
“I’m so excited for the girls,” she said. “This is something that we’ve been wanting — especially since we lost last year when we were expected to win. We just went in really wanting it. … And while individually I was a little disappointed, winning it as a team definitely made it a lot better.”
That drive toward progress is part of what has led to the kind of success Gibbons has had during her four years at Winter Park. Now, with her future waiting in the friendly confines of the NC State campus, the drive doesn’t seem like it is going to slow down any time soon.
“I am really looking forward to racing against all of the amazing teams,” Gibbons said. “I’m looking forward to the competition and being pushed by all the amazing girls on the teams, too.”