St. James recognizes 11 student-athletes at spring signing day ceremony
Lenexa St. James Academy held its spring signing day ceremony on Wednesday in the school's media center for 11 student-athletes who will be continuing their sports careers at the collegiate level.
The 11 St. James seniors recognized at the ceremony were Mackenzie Blatcher (UMKC, volleyball), Tanner Bramlage (Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, baseball), Sammy Cokeley (Cornell, wrestling), Molly Hackett (Kansas State, rowing), Chris Herron (Fort Hays State, volleyball), Matt Kipper (Emporia State, cross country and track), Haley Luna (Kansas City Kansas, softball), Andy Maginn (St. Louis, swimming), Makayla Michalski (Park, volleyball), Monica Spencer (Benedictine, cross country and track) and Bryce Steffens (Missouri Western, football).
While each of the St. James athletes had already inked their national letters of intent, Thunder athletic director Mark Huppe formally introduced each signee in a short ceremony that was attended by several of their teammates, coaches, friends and family members.
Blatcher was the first signee who was introduced by Huppe. The St. James libero hadn't seriously considered the possibility of playing college volleyball until the very end of her senior season with the Thunder.
"It all just kind of all came together really last minute," Blatcher said. "It's a good place for me, and I'm really excited about it."
Blatcher, who was a starter with Herron on the Thunder's Class 5A state runner-up team in October, believes that the transition to playing for the Kangaroos and UMKC coach Christi Posey will be a smooth one.
"(St. James) coach (Nancy) Dorsey actually played under Posey, who is the head coach at UMKC," Blatcher said. "So it's kind of the same mentality."
The proximity of UMKC was another plus that Blatcher noted, and Steffens had some of the same reasoning for signing with Missouri Western. Along with being intrigued by everything Missouri Western had to offer, the senior linebacker is glad that he'll be able to watch his younger brother, freshman Brady Steffens, play under the Friday nights lights for the Thunder.
"I really liked the facilities," Steffens said. "The biggest thing is that the Chiefs train up there, so they have all of the stuff that the D1s would have and that was really appealing to me. It's only 50 minutes from home, so that's really nice, too."
Ten of the 11 signees will be going a school that is located in Kansas or a state that borders it. Kipper, who placed 32nd at the 5A state cross country meet last fall, is excited about the academic opportunities at Emporia State, as well as being a short drive from home.
"I really liked Emporia because when I went to visit the campus, it was pretty close to home and I also I feel the majors that they have there for me will be a pretty good opportunities," Kipper, who is looking to pursue a degree in business, accounting or graphic design, said.
Staying close to home was on Luna's mind from the out-set of her college search. The Kansas City Kansas program played a big role in launching Luna's softball career, and she's excited to join the Blue Devils after wrapping up her senior season with the Thunder.
"I've actually been going to their pitching clinic that they have in the winter since I was 8," Luna said. "That's where I learned and everything, so it was already really familiar. I was thinking about going to JCCC (Johnson County Community College) first, but then that just came up as an opportunity."
While Luna is the only one on the Thunder's senior-laden team who will be playing college softball, she won't be the only continuing her athletic career at the next level. Hackett does not have any previous rowing experience, but she believes that the her softball skills and the weight-lifting that she does every day will bode well for her as she starts a new sport.
"I went in and am like, 'I really don't know what I'm doing,' but they're like, 'That's fine. We'll train you. That's what we look for — kids who are strong, athletic. That's what we want,'" Hackett said. "They're like, 'As long as you're up for the challenge, we'll take you.' I'm like, 'I'm in.'"
Hackett has been keeping close tabs on K-State's recent success, and is looking forward to becoming a part of it next fall.
"Probably just like the newness of it and how competitive it is," Hackett said. "K-State went to the SIRAs (Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association) in Tennessee this weekend, and they swept the whole competition. There is a huge possibility that I could do really well there, so I'm super excited about that."