ALLEN SIGNING

Allen’s 2018 National Signing Class featured 43 student-athletes who will collectively play college sports in 17 different states.

Photo Courtesy of Neil Fonville / TexasSportsPhotos.com

Forty-three student-athletes, 11 sports and colleges spread across 17 states.

Rest assured, following the 2017-18 school year, Allen student-athletes will be plying their crafts at the college level all across the country.

The Eagles recognized another massive class of signees on Feb. 7 during National Signing Day, as student-athletes put pen to paper and inked letters of intent for the opportunity to fulfill the lifelong goal of playing college sports.

“To be honest, I signed back in December, but it just hit me this morning,” said Trey Stratford, Allen senior offensive lineman. “I couldn’t be prouder and can’t thank my family and friends enough.”

Stratford, who will continue his football career at Stanford, was one of 11 members from Allen’s Class 6A Division I state championship team recognized on Signing Day, joined by seniors Brady Ellsworth (Northeastern State), Mason Grosser (Oklahoma Baptist), CJ Johnson (Texas State), Jevon Jones (Arknsas State), TKai Lloyd (Texas A&M Commerce), Colton Manning (Houston Baptist), Austin Price (Texas-Permian Basin), Brock Sturges (Arizona State), Jack Topping (Army) and Jace Waters (Air Force).

“This is a dream to me. The week that we won state, I signed with my dream school, had my 18th birthday and won a state championship. It’s been an awesome ride,” Stratford said.

While Allen generally produces a strong signing class on the football field, the volleyball program wasn’t far behind with eight student-athletes finalizing college commitments during Signing Day. That included seniors Kelsey Bennett (Louisiana-Lafayette), Avery Haydu (Navy), Grace Klepetka (Princeton), Alina Lam (Lehigh), Alexandra Springate (Duke), Emily Walsh (Ohio), Amari Wilson (South Carolina) and Tyra Wilson (Binghamton).

“It feels so great because we’re all friends both on and off the court,” Amari Wilson said. “We hang out all the time and these are the girls I grew up with. It’s just great seeing how far we’ve all come and to celebrate it together.”

All eight Lady Eagles volleyball signees will head out of state for the next chapter of their careers, a common thread with Allen’s signing class spanning 17 total states. That includes senior track standout Esther Ekeanyanwu, who will run for UCLA following the conclusion of her senior season.

“It really came down to praying and asking my dad and friends, because they know me best and what type of person I am,” Ekeanyanwu said. “They were like, ‘Honestly, I could see you going to UCLA.’ All I heard was, ‘UCLA, UCLA, UCLA.’”

Meanwhile, the seniors on the Lady Eagles’ soccer team are still working through their final year together on the pitch, entering the week undefeated in district and in first place in 6-6A. Several will play on through college, including seniors Emily Russell (Arkansas), Ally Jackson (Oklahoma State), Natalie Wodka (Abilene Christian) and Kennedi Anders (Virginia Wesleyan).

“It honestly hasn’t hit me yet that I’ll be playing college soccer in a few months,” Russell said. “I’ve been playing ever since I was 4 years old, so it’s taken a lot of hard work to get here and I’m so happy.”

Another athlete soon to conclude their senior season will be swimmer Jason Park, who will return at the Class 6A state meet in hopes of building off last year’s third-place finish in the 100-yard backstroke. Among the top swimmers in the state, Park will next swim in Austin at The University of Texas.

“At Texas, I can have everything. I have the opportunity to train with some of the best swimmers in the world and train for Eddie Reese, who’s one of the best coaches in the world,” Park said. “Plus, the academics are great and I’ll be going to a business school, so that helps.”

Aspirations are plenty high for senior wrestler Alex Liles as well, who hopes to add another state championship to her decorated high school resume in short order. She’ll be aiming even higher soon enough, opting to forgo the college route and instead pursue the goal of becoming an Olympian at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado.

“It’s pretty much where I’ve wanted to go since I started wrestling,” Liles said. “Once I started talking to the head coach of the Olympic team, it was more of a feeling like ‘Yes, sign me up.’”

Initially speaking with Team USA during the Cadet World Championships in September 2017, Liles will spend her first year living on the dorm campus and training with the senior team in Colorado Springs. From there, she hopes to realize a childhood dream of competing in the Olympics.

“It’s unexplainable, just to say I’ve taken such a big step towards my goal and to have my family here for that,” Liles said.

In addition to Liles, other members of Allen’s latest Signing Day class included fellow wrestlers Logan Brown (Army), Braeden Redlin (Ohio State) and Juwan Robinson (Old Dominion); baseball players Mason LaPlante (Yale), Seth McLaughlin (Trinidad State Junior College) and Kyle Williams (Trinidad State Junior College); basketball players Jordan Neely (Bethel), Jaylen Walker (Navy) and Jada Peacock (Wichita State); golfers Mathew Chairuangdej (Houston Baptist), Christian Massei (Sacred Heart), Lauryn Pritchard (Oklahoma City) and Phoebe Yuan (William and Mary); lacrosse player Devin Miller (Oklahoma Baptist); softball player Daylan Inkman (Midwestern State); track athlete Glenn Bender (TCU) and boys soccer standout Cade Von Heimberg (Lubbock Christian).

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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