By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
A trio of Southside High seniors will put their athletic talents on display in college this coming fall and spring.
On Nov. 28, Grace McClellan signed with Louisiana State for soccer, Lauren Hunt (pictured above) with Jacksonville State for softball and Taylor Nails with Wallace State-Hanceville for cross country.
McClellan, originally committed to Louisiana-Lafayette earlier this year but switched to LSU after the Ragin’ Cajuns’ women’s soccer coach resigned in October.
“I actually had a gut feeling before that that maybe it wasn’t the right decision,” said McClellan. “I prayed about it a lot and talked a lot with my family. So I decided to de-commit and see what was open, and within the next day, I got contacts from LSU, Tennessee and Alabama. I’ve always wanted to play in the SEC, so it all came full circle. It was definitely God’s timing.”
McClellan will join the defending SEC champions and said that she is ready for the step up in competition. She decided on LSU after she “fell in love” with school’s Baton Rouge campus and winning culture.
“When I walked onto that campus, I just knew it was home. Also, LSU made their offer earlier than the other two schools, so that counted for something. The facilities are amazing and they are putting in a brand-new locker room. Plus, all of their sports programs are successful, and it’s exciting to have the opportunity to be a part of that.”
McClellan is especially looking forward to working with the team’s goalkeeper coach, Megan Kinneman.
“I’ve known her since I was in the eighth grade, and she played at LSU and professionally, so I’m excited to learn all that I can from her.”
McClellan, who currently plays for the Darlington Soccer Academy in Rome, Ga., competed for an Olympic Development Soccer Program in London, England for the past two years.
She was the first goalkeeper from Alabama to be selected for that prestigious international program and picked twice out of a group of 600 female soccer players across the USA. Those 600 players were narrowed down to 50 goalkeepers and then to five.
“It was amazing,” said McClellan. “We played six games against teams in England. They knew more textbook knowledge about soccer, whereas in the states, we were more athletic in our playing.”
McClellan got her start in soccer at the age of 4 and was a member of several state championship teams for the local Fusion soccer program.
McClellan, who will graduate early and enroll at LSU in January, plans on studying broadcast communication.
Although a three-sport athlete during her six-year varsity career, Hunt always dreamed of playing softball in college, especially after starting travel softball at age 7.
“I’ve worked the hardest in softball, and it was something that I loved,” she said. “Softball is something that I’ve grown up with and I couldn’t imagine not playing it.”
Many of her teammates and competitors play year-round softball, but Hunt enjoys and appreciates the change in sports. The only time she considered cutting out one or possibly two sports was after she suffered a torn ACL during her sophomore year in basketball.
“I didn’t want to re-injure myself before college because I knew that I was going to play college softball, but I couldn’t imagine not playing all three sports. I know that I would have regretted it.”
Hunt has won several Etowah County Tournament championships in all three sports, including the most recent basketball, softball and volleyball seasons. She was the MVP of all three county tournaments and was The Messenger’s Player of the Year for the 2017-18 basketball season.
“If you want to compete on the college level, prac-tice is not where it’s going to happen,” said SHS head softball coach Brett Yancey. “It’s going to happen in in what you do and how hard you work after practice, and Lauren is one of those athletes.”
Hunt has been on Jacksonville State’s softball radar for some time, and she said the feeling was and still is mutual. The 2018 Lady Gamecocks went 35-25 overall and 16-6 in conference action, won their third straight Ohio Valley Conference title and advanced to the championship game of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional Tournament. It was JSU’s eighth regional appearance in the last 11 years and the fourth appearance in the regional title game.
“Their coaching staff is who I want to play for,” said Hunt, a shortstop who plans on majoring in either physical therapy or education. “[Head coach] Jana McGinnis and [assistant coaches] Julie Boland and Mark Wisener are awesome. I also felt that I would get along with the players on the team and the kind of players they recruit.”
“Lauren’s done great things for Southside High School, and we wish her all the best at JSU,” said SHS athletic director Angie Sanders, who was the school’s head softball coach for Hunt’s 8th grade, freshman and sophomore seasons. “Lauren comes to see me every day, and she always has a smile on her face and enjoys life. We’re very proud of her, and we’re looking for her to do great things this season and in her future.”
In 46 cross country meets dating back to 2013, Nails won seven races, including two Etowah County championships. He made the Class 6A All-State team in 2017 and the Class 5A All-State team this past season after a fifth-place finish in the state cross country meet on Nov. 10, where he recorded a personal record 5K time of 16:13. Nails helped the Panthers finish third overall a week after Southside won the sectional title. He is s five-time qualifier for the state cross country meet and participated in the AHSAA North-South All Star cross country meet this past July in Montgomery. Nails has also won multiple events in the 800, 1600 and 3200-meter runs in outdoor track.
“I’ve been training for the past five years for this opportunity, so it’s a long time coming,” said Nails. “I’ve just taking the opportunity God’s given me and using it for His glory. I’m looking forward to competing on the next level, but I’ve still got one more track season to finish out at Southside.”
Nails noted that Wallace State “just felt like the place to be” when he visited the Hanceville campus. The 2018 Lion cross country team recently won the Alabama Community College Conference title and competed in the NJCAA meet in Colorado.
“[Wallace-Hanceville] is a smaller school, and I wanted to go to a place where I meant something to somebody,” he said. “Plus, they just re-started the cross country team two years ago, and it will be neat to be a part of bringing it back.”
“Taylor has taken what the Lord has blessed him with and worked very hard,” said Kim Nails, Taylor’s mother and SHS cross country coach. “As both a coach and a parent, I’m extremely proud of him, most of all for his discipline and devotion he displayed that has led to this opportunity to run at the next level. Taylor not only logged fast times and exhibited good work ethic, he brought others along beside him.”
Staff writer Kaitlin Fleming contributed to this article.