Four Cougars sign national letters of intent
Four Shawnee Mission Northwest seniors who compete in four different sports signed their national letters of intent on Wednesday in the school's cafeteria.
Camille Henderson (Baker, cross country/track), Preston Killingsworth (Sterling, football), Ty Ball (Olivet Nazarene, soccer) and Hailey Brull (Nebraska-Omaha, swimming) gathered with their teammates, friends, family members and coaches to celebrate their signings.
Henderson was the first Cougar to be recognized during SM Northwest's signing day ceremony. While junior and two-time Class 6A state champion Molly Born led The SM Northwest cross country team in each meet in 2016, Henderson consistently finished as one of the Cougars' top-five runners, and has a personal-record 5,000-meter time of 19:21.30.
"I've had so much fun running cross country and track over the past few years," Henderson said to begin her signing day speech. "First off, I want to thank my coaches — coach (Van) Rose, coach (Justin) Stigge, coach Mike Rose and coach (Mike) Cooper. You guys are amazing. Thank you for always taking time to talk to me and answer all of my questions. It's because of you guys that my love for the sport has grown since I've been running here."
The colors of Henderson's jersey won't be changing much in college when she heads to Baker in the fall. Henderson joins a Baker squad that finished fifth at the Heart of America Athletic Conference cross country meet. The Baker women's indoor and outdoor track and field teams have won four of the last five conference championships.
"I really liked the small school just in general, and then I went in and met with coach (Tim) Byers," Henderson said. "He just described such a different program from what I'm used to working with, and I was really intrigued by it. I really liked him as a coach. Just everything that she said was exactly what I wanted to hear. I'm really excited about it."
Like Henderson, Killingsworth and Ball will also be competing at the NAIA level. Killingsworth used to be a part of the SM Northwest soccer program with Ball, but opted to join the Cougar football team in 2015 as the kicker.
Killingsworth said it was weird at first when reflecting back on the transition, but he was thankful that SM Northwest football coach Bo Black reached out to him about being the kicker for his team.
"I remember my first football game sitting in there and all of the seniors getting hype," Killingsworth said. "They were all tearing up, and I was like, 'What have I got myself into?' Now it's like I love the sport now. It's crazy how it all worked out. Playing college football … Playing any college sport has been a dream of mine, so I'm glad it worked out."
A close-knit campus is also one of the things that Killingsworth is looking forward to at Sterling. The Warriors went 8-3 last season, and reached the NAIA playoffs for the second time in the last four years in 2016.
"I think Sterling will be a good fit because it's a small community, everybody around there feels at home, I have family close, so it's going to be really fun," Killingsworth said.
Killingsworth was one of two SM Northwest football players to sign a letter of intent on Wednesday. Baqurious Stokes signed with 2016 NJCAA champion Garden City Community College, but did not partake in the ceremony.
While Killingsworth will try to help Sterling back to the NAIA playoffs, Ball will try to do the same at Olivet Nazarene. Ball joins a Tigers team that went 16-4-2 overall, and 11-0-1 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference in 2016.
"I have a lot of family up in Illinois, and it's 45 minutes south of Chicago and I love the city of Chicago," Ball said. "I've always wanted to play (college) soccer, and I didn't know if I wanted to stay close to home or not. I have a lot of family up in Illinois still, so going up there I can see them anytime."
Ball added, "They have a special law enforcement program that I want to go into, and it's just a good fit. My mom went there when she was in college."
The SM Northwest senior experienced a great deal of adversity in his final season with the Cougars that he had never dealt with before. Ball was sidelined for a few games due to a hip impingement and a concussion, but he still made the most of his missed time.
"My first three years of high school, I never missed a game for anything — no injuries, no sickness. When I got injured and I had to watch from the sidelines, it was tough instead of being able to play and help them out," Ball said. "After the first couple of games sitting on the sidelines, it was a good experience to kind of coach my teammates from the sideline and in practice. I could see things watching the game that I couldn't see playing, so I could tell them and help them out."
While Ball and Killingsworth's senior seasons are over, Henderson still has track season and Brull will be back in the pool this spring for the Cougars. Brull and her cousin Brooke have dominated the SM Northwest swimming school record books, and the Nebraska-Omaha is looking to finish her senior season out with a bang.
Brull is the defending state champion in the 200-yard individual medley, but she has been hungry this offseason two stand atop of the podium twice to end her senior season. Brull was also the state runner-up in the 100-yard butterfly.
"I'm definitely super-motivated to get them both," Brull said.
The SM Northwest swimming standout is looking forward to making her mark at Nebraska-Omaha as well. The Mavericks are gearing up for the Summit League Championships in two weeks, and will try to improve on a fifth-place finish from last season.
"It's like a smaller Kansas City. I really like it," Brull said. "The coaching is awesome. I love my new coach Jess (Hessel). I'm just really excited. It seems like the perfect fit for me."