By Chris McCarthy
Several Southside High seniors will continue their academic and athletic careers in college this fall.
At a signing ceremony in the SHS auditorium on April 13, three players signed with Southern Union Community College in Wadley – Hunter Ashcraft and Morgan Hollaway for softball and Walt Austin for baseball.
Ashcraft is a four-year starter at second base for the Lady Panthers who came within one run of winning the state championship last season and have been ranked as the No. 1 team in Class 6A every week this season.
“I never knew that I would make it this far,” said Ashcraft, who plans on studying physical education with the goal of becoming a teacher and coach. “Southern Union has a great campus and some great coaches, and I’m rea-dy to go down there and show them what I got.”
“We pulled Hunter up for a JV tournament her freshman year, and that was a turning point in our program as far as our success,” said SHS head softball coach Angie Sanders. “Hunter is a very gritty player who hates to lose. She’s been playing softball for 13 years and has had a lot of support from a lot of coaches.”
A catcher and outfielder, Hollaway currently is sidelined with a fractured foot but is expected back in the lineup at some point this season.
“I can’t wait to go down [to Southern Union],” said Hollaway, who plans on majoring in radiology. “I have a bunch of friends who already go there, so I’m really ex-cited. I didn’t know that today would be this big, and it feels wonderful.”
“Morgan and Hunter have been playing with and against one another since they were eight years old,” said Sanders. “They are both very competitive, and anytime they are not on the field for us, they are missed tremendously. They’ve really put in the work to get where they are today. They’re also great team leaders. These are two very well-rounded kids, both on and off the field.”
A pitcher, Austin has played with the Panther varsity since his freshman year.
“This shows that if you work hard and stick with something, you’ll get wherever you want to go,” said Austin. “The [Southern Union] field is great, the campus is ama-zing and I love the coaches.”
“It takes a village for a kid to get to this level, so I want to congratulate not only Walt but his parents and family as well,” said SHS head baseball coach Blake Bone. “Less than 10 percent of all high school athletes get the opportunity to play at the next level, so this should be looked at as a big deal. This shows what working hard and putting the time in will get you. Walt’s been around here a long time, and I want to thank him for his commitment and helping make this program into what it is today. He’s a big part of our success.”
Signing soccer scholarships were Carter West with the University of Montevallo and Alec Rihimaa with Shorter College in Rome, Ga.
A varsity starter since the eighth grade, West had 72 ca-reer goals as of April 13. He plans on majoring in business at Montevallo, where his sister Abbey is a member of the school’s women’s soccer team.
“I met Carter early in the year, and I was really impressed with his dedication to soccer,” said SHS boys soccer coach Keith Earls. “Learning more about him as the season went along, I was also impressed with what he’s achieved in his career.
“What stands out for me was when Carter pulled aside one of our junior varsity players during a practice earlier this season and patiently explained how to approach a particular situation. That speaks to a high level of maturity in that not only is Carter interested in his personal success but he really strived to make our team as good as it can possibly be.”
“Carter’s been driving down to Liberty Park for the past four or five years for three days a week, and that’s some serious commitment,” said Rocky Harmon, West’s coach for the Vestavia Hills Soccer Club. “In my experience, he’s been one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached. Carter’s a good soccer player now, and if he stays healthy for a decent length of time, he’s got a really bright future.”
Also a member of the varsity since the eighth grade, Rihimaa had 25 career goals and 65 career assists. He has 10 goals this season as of April 13. He plans on majoring in exercise science.
“I met Alec about three years ago, and he was the first player I met from Southside High School,” said Earls. “I played some pick-up indoor soccer against him, and he probably burned me a dozen times a game. The one thing that stood out for me about Alec was that rain or shine or whatever else was going on, if I showed up to play, Alec was going to be there.
“Fast forward to this year, when I was coaching cross country, we were running laps around Vivian Maddox Park (in Rainbow City) in the hot summer heat. I could see Alec in the parking lot dribbling the ball. That speaks to a level of dedication that’s rare to see in any sport. I look forward to what he accomplishes in college and be-yond.”
Also recognized was Kaleb Yancey, who was named a district winner for the 2016 Bryant-Jordan Student Achievement award. He is a member of the SHS golf team.
“I want to thank Kaleb’s family for raising a kid with a ‘no-excuses’ attitude,” said SHS golf coach Skylar Nelson. “He’s a direct reflection of their hard work. For someone who has had every opportunity to say that he can’t do something, Kaleb has never quit or complained and tries to do his very best every day, regardless of the circumstances.”
Nelson noted that Yancey has improved from a nine-hole average score of mid-50’s to consistently in the low 30s or high 40s and in three years has progressed from the 10th man on the SHS roster to rotating in the top five. Yancey also is also a member of the national honor society who was voted as 2014-15 Male Student of the Year by the school faculty.
“He’s an inspiration to me as well as to his teammates,” said Nelson.