Just hours before opening their season with a scrimmage against Cairo Friday night, four Lowndes girls soccer players signed their way onto college rosters.
Seniors Ashley Miller and Maggie-Laine Powell signed national letters of intent to join the hometown Valdosta State Blazers, while fellow seniors Katie Willis and Hannah-Jo Isaacson signed with Georgia Southwestern.
“I think it is a great culmination of hard work,” Lowndes girls head soccer coach Chris Willis said. “They have been playing together since they were eight years old. So it is just a great reward for them. For these four girls, their hearts are into soccer and they want to play it. They have a great chance to do so and it really sets a goal for these younger girls on the team.”
Miller and Powell became the third and fourth members of the Lowndes girls’ soccer program to sign with the Valdosta State program. Nikki Falcon signed with the inaugural class in 2011 and Reanne Harris signed last year, competing with the Blazers in 2012.
“We have a nice thing going with Valdosta State,” Willis said. “Hopefully we can get one in next year. But girls are working hard for that and it is great.”
All four players that signed Friday were members of club teams at South Georgia United Soccer. There, the girls played on the same teams throughout their youth and club careers, eventually becoming teammates at Lowndes High School.
At Lowndes, the girls have won the Region 1-5A the past two seasons.
Miller and Powell, both defenders for Lowndes, said they chose Valdosta State for various reasons, including their connection with head coach Mel Heinz and the ability to live in Valdosta.
“When I played club soccer, (Coach Heinz) coached us on Monday’s and so I knew her ahead of time,” said Powell, Lowndes’ Most Valuable Defensive Player in 2012. “I just really liked the way she coached and she really taught me a lot.”
“(Coach Heinz) just had a great team around her and she is a great coach,” said Miller, a First Team All-Region selection the past two seasons. “She took me in, she let me see the whole facility. She said great words about the program....It is amazing. Close to home, and I can see my mom. It means a lot.”
For Powell, she said she knows Heinz will push her to be better than what she is, something that stands out from the program’s success in its first two years.
“I’m my biggest critic and I know she will push me to reach my full-potential,” said Powell.
The decisions to attend Georgia Southwestern for Isaacson and Willis came down to comfort and the school’s ability to feel like home for the two outside fielders.
“I played with the same team for 10 years, or something like that, so when I got there it had like a home aspect to it,” Willis said. “I felt like I was part of the team. That is really important to me.”
“I liked the school and the girls were really nice,” said Isaacson, who scored 17 goals and recorded 18 assists the past two seasons. “They welcomed me, they talked to me a lot and the coach is really amazing. The small aspect of it, and the small class size, that is what brought me there.”
Although the four players are teammates this spring at Lowndes, they will be rivals this fall at the college level. Valdosta State and Georgia Southwestern have played the past two seasons.
VSU beat Georgia Southwestern 6-0 in its inagural game in 2011.
When asked if there might be some smack talk between the friends the week of any future games against one another, the answer was pretty simple.
“That might be possible,” laughed Powell.
Added Miller: “Yes, there will be.”
For Willis, Friday’s signings were especially special for him. Katie Willis is his not only his player, but she is also his daughter.
“You try to be, as a coach, ombiguous and not show favoritism, but on the other side, your heart is just jumping out of your chest,” Willis said. “
Lowndes opens its regular season Friday at Collins Hill. The Vikings and Vikettes will also play at Dacula on Saturday in Gwinnett County.