Kirk Finley called it a “dream,” while Aliyah Lee said that signing with Northwest Missouri State University is the beginning of “the most exciting time of my life.”
The two Blue Springs seniors joined seven classmates as they signed their national letters of intent Wednesday morning at the school’s Performing Arts Center.
Finley will play basketball at Northwest, where Blue Springs graduate and former Examiner Player of the Year Austin Meyer is an assistant coach, and Lee will run the 400 and 800 meters and relay teams for the Bearcats' track and field.
“It’s been my dream to play basketball at Northwest Missouri State,” said Finley, who is also an outfielder on the Wildcats’ baseball team. “My dad (Jim, the superintendent of the Blue Springs School District) played basketball at Missouri Western, so I’ll be going to a rival school.
“And I can’t wait. From day one, I always wanted to go to Northwest. I like the coaches and the university – I like everything about it.”
Finley, who was dressed in color-coordinated Bearcats colors, said he had not selected a major, although he said, “It might be something in finance. I’ll make my decision once I get there.
“Today, I’m just excited about playing basketball. It’s been my dream as long as I can remember.”
Lee, too, dreamed of running track in college, but until a few days ago she thought it was going to be at Emporia State.
“I had committed to Emporia State, but the coaches at Northwest kept calling me,” said Lee, whose older brother Elijah played linebacker at Kansas State last year, “so I finally made a visit.
“Once I met the girls and the coaches I knew that was the place for me. It was tough to de-commit from Emporia State, but this is the biggest decision I will ever make, so I wanted to make the right one.
“This is the most exciting time of my life.”
It’s exciting for their coaches, too.
“When I took over as head coach, I wanted our kids to play hard and be tough, and Kirk personified that,” Blue Springs basketball coach Adam Jones said. “He’s a kid who scored some big baskets, but his lasting legacy will be his toughness. It was infectious to his teammates and we’re going to miss him.”
Girls track coach Jennifer Reeder feels much the same about Lee, who has battled a series of injuries throughout her career.
“She came to Blue Springs as a sophomore and immediately got some glass in her foot – and she didn’t know about it for a while – and missed most of her sophomore track season,” Reeder said.
“Then, last year she was healthy and was all-state in the 4-by-100, 4-by-200 and 4-by-400. This year, she had the (high ankle sprain and severe bruise) in basketball but is healthy now and we’re expecting a great year from her.”
• Catie Josselett is the seventh senior to sign from coach Roger Lower’s softball team. She signed with Mercer College in Mercer, Ga.
“Mercer is getting a player who is always ready to play, always ready to do anything to help the team,” Lower said. “She is a program-first person who does all the little things to make a program successful.”
Josselett said, “My coach told me about Mercer and when I visited I knew that was where I wanted to go. The campus is gorgeous, the coaches and players were great and the Southern hospitality was amazing.”
• Mike Hagerty spent several minutes talking about the impact Joe King had on his wrestling team and how Truman State was getting a standout on and off the mat.
“He personifies everything that is good about high school sports – from his (team-high) 3.95 GPA to the way he handles himself in the school and on the mat,” Hagerty said. “I was not there to watch Joe’s biggest moment of his high school career (Hagerty’s father died right before the state wrestling competition) and that is the biggest disappointment of my coaching career.
“He had worked so hard, but had never medaled at state and he won his quarterfinal match to advance to the top six spots – which earned him a state medal. I am so proud to have been associated with Joe King and his family.”
Ironically, it was that win that helped King choose to wrestle at the next level.
“When I walked out of the tunnel before that match, and saw all the crowd and the excitement I knew then that I wanted to wrestle at the college,” King said. “Truman State has that small-town feeling that I like, and their coaches reminded me of Coach Hag. I can’t wait to get there.”
• Mihaela Evans signed to play tennis at Southwest College.
“I want to thank my brother, who practiced with me and my mom, for being our ball picker-upper,” joked Evans. “I am looking forward to going to Southwest because I really felt at home there when I visited.”
• Sierra Spinler will run track and possibly cross country at West Texas A&M.
“I visited a lot of schools and when I visited A&M it was totally different and amazing,” Spinler said. “I never thought I would be a distance runner, but now I love it. I can thank Coach (Brian) Curp and Coach (Matt) Johnson for convincing me to try cross country this year and to run the distance events in track.”
• Kai Miller will compete in the pole vault at Pittsburg State.
“Kai is a competitor, a three-sport guy who goes from soccer to basketball to track and competing in each of those events just makes him a better athlete,” said Wildcats track coach Joe Cusack. “When it comes to student-athletes, he is as good as it gets.”
Miller is excited about the new challenge he will face at Pitt State.
“The coaches are amazing, I like the school and the campus, it’s just exciting to think about the challenges of competing in college,” Miller said.
• Cobi Bissell will play football at Quincy College in Quincy, Ill.
“Cobi is just one of those special student/athletes with his 4.0-plus GPA and a motor that’s always running,” coach Kelly Donohoe said of the all-state running back. “On our 2013 state championship team, he played more minutes at outside linebacker, defensive back and running back than any other player on our team.
“Guys like Cobi don’t come around too often, and you have to appreciate them while you’re coaching them. He’s going to be a great success in the classroom and playing football at Quincy.”
Bissell said he wants to major in biology and later go to medical school.
“I want to be a physician,” Bissell said, “and Quincy has everything I was looking for. I like the coaches and feel like I can have a lot of success there. I want to win another championship because losing our last game (my senior year) after winning it all as a junior makes me want to enjoy that type of success again.”
• Aiden Martin will play tennis at Graceland University."I selected Graceland because I felt like it would give me the perfect opportunity to play tennis at the next level," Martin said. "I really liked the campus and the team and can't wait to go to Graceland."Coach Jody McClain said she enjoyed watching Martin climb the varsity ladder."He went from No. 6 JV to No. 1 his sophomore year and has continued to improve," McClain said. "He was 12-4 at No. 6 on the varsity team last year as a junior and he's going to a school that is close to my heart as I played softball at Graceland."
• Linebacker Paul Cornish was not a part of the ceremony, but he was recognized by Donohoe as he will commit a year to the Army National Guard and then receive preferred walk-on status for the Missouri State football program.
“He’s going to do something great for our country,” Donohoe said, “and I couldn’t be prouder of him. After that, that big ol’ stud is going to make an impact at Missouri State.”