TIOGA CENTER. N.Y. - The first time Kari Walkley took up the game of field hockey she was in sixth grade.

In her first tournament, former Tioga coach Margo Martin saw her play and knew right then that one day she would be a Division I athlete.

By the time Walkley was a freshman, she had researched all the top schools in the country, and her mind was set.

Four years ago, Walkley told everyone that one day she would suit up and play for one of the top college programs in the country - Wake Forest.

It may have seemed like a big dream by a young athlete, but on Monday that dream became a reality as the Tioga senior signed her letter of intent to accept a full-athletic scholarship to play for the Demon Deacans.

"This is the dream I have had forever," Walkley said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The atmosphere there is amazing, and their athletic programs are great."

Walkley has made the trip down to visit Wake Forest and she attended their camp during the summer. While other schools offered, her heart was always with Wake Forest.

"I had a few other offers," she said. "UConn offered and I liked them, but I wanted to go to Wake Forest."

Each of the past three years Wake Forest has reached at least the NCAA quarterfinals, and Walkley can recite the history of who the Demon Deacans faced in the tournament over the years.

The Tioga senior, an all-state pick this year who had 17 goals and 10 assists, and holds the school record for single-season goals, 25 as a junior, and career goals, 74, knew all along it's worth moving away from her friends and family to play at Wake Forest.

"It's kind of scary to go there, but you have to take the pros with the cons," Walkley said. "You are not ever going to get everything you want, but I'm really happy with the decision to go there."

And there are some big positives to playing down South for Walkley.

"You get to play outdoors all season long," she said. "Honestly, I had my heart set on going there all along. I told people forever that I was going to go there."

A year ago is when Walkley started to realize that her lifelong dream may come true.

"Last February I played in a tournament and performed well," Walkley said. "I started getting a bunch of offers after that."

Next year Walkley will go from being the top player on her team, to being the newcomer, but she welcomes the challenge.

"I would love to stay as a top player there and pursue some type of academic program that really interests me," she said.

While being the newcomer on a team is going to be a change, playing in tournaments and on travel teams has prepared Walkley for being around great players.

"It's going to be an adjustment, but I've played on other teams where I was not the best player," she said. "You are never the best, there is always someone better than you. There is always room to get better."

The coaches at Wake Forest have some things they like in Walkley's game, but there are also things the Tioga senior knows she needs to improve on.

"They like my speed and the way I talk and handle myself on the field," Walkley said. "My stick work is great, but I know it needs to be awesome in college. Whatever I do now needs to be five times better."

Playing at Wake Forest for Jennifer Averill is something that Walkley knows will make her better.

"Wake Forest does a great job, they give an opportunity to good players and turn them into great players," Walkey said. "The coach is renowned; she was just inducted into the Hall of Fame. She does a great job with helping players out."

And Wake Forest has sent players on to the national team in the past, and that's something that Walkley would relish if the opportunity were to ever present itself.

"If the opportunity comes, I would take it in a heartbeat," she said.

In high school Walkley helped the Tigers find success year after year with Martin as coach. This year Heather Peck took over as head coach and she quickly learned how nice it was to have a player like Walkley on the field.

"It was very exciting for me in my first year as a coach," Peck said. "I have watched her from when I played all the way through. It made it so easy for me having her on the team.

"Some girls said it would be hard because she is so outspoken when she plays, but she was great. She is a very vocal player, but she never stepped on my toes. She is a great player and leader."

Peck believes Walkley may help get more young athletes in the area involved in the sport.

"With field hockey we are always struggling to get players to fill the teams," Peck said. "For us to point out Kari and say this is what you can do, it is very helpful.

"And she's so good with the younger kids too."

For Walkley, one of the biggest positives is just knowing her field hockey career will continue on after high school.

"I'm very excited. I know that it's not done yet," she said.