Each year, thousands of talented high school athletes fulfill their dream of playing at the collegiate level by signing with their prospective universities. This morning, several bulldogs took those fateful next steps by participating in signing day! Among them were seniors Kenzie Cleveland (Edward Waters University), Ryan Dugas (Murray State College), Jade Harris (Xavier University), Kemi Ikemefuna (University of Maryland Eastern Shore), Job Ogunleye (Chabot College), and Victor Philip (Mary Hardin Baylor-University). The immense turnout of players’ friends, family and coaches who packed the auditorium’s seat, and the pride in each players' smile as they signed made clear how rewarding each players’ high school sports career and college offers have been. Earlier this week, we spoke with some of the players, as well as those who have helped them to earn this honor, to see what they had to say about the road ahead as college athletes.
Girls' Volleyball: Coach Goodman
What has it been like coaching the girl’s (Cleveland and Ikemefuna) these past four years?
“Both of them have been such great leaders and intense volleyball players on the court. They definitely made me grow as a coach by adapting to each of their learning styles. Kemi is very intense, and Kenzie is intense in a different way, but she’s so positive that she brings such energy every time that she’s on the court. Kemi is kind of like our warrior princess, we know that whenever something needs to get done, Kemi can execute.”
How did you feel when you heard that the girls would be signing to play at the college level?
“This year was really crazy because I left on maternity leave two weeks before the season was over, so it was a weird senior year for them. But even from home, I was always talking to college coaches and sending their info out, because I knew that they wanted to play. When I found out that Kenzie signed with Edward Waters, I was very excited because she has that can-do attitude that no matter where she went or what it was going to take, she knew that she was going to play somewhere. And with Kemi, knowing that she is such an elite volleyball player, I didn’t want her to settle, and I’m so glad that she waited because she ended up getting a full ride to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. She kept fighting and not settling. I’m proud of them, I’m proud of all of my athletes who sign to play in school. It started with Gabby (Gabrielle Johnson), who signed earlier this year, so having three of our seniors sign to play makes me happy because I want them to be happy.”
What advice would you give the girls as they start their academic and athletic careers in college?
“For all three of our athletes who are going to school, I tell them to put their academics first, and not take anything for granted. Whether it's an injury that could sideline them or another pandemic or COVID year, never take anything for granted and put one hundred percent effort into everything you do. Whether they’re on the bench or on the court, I hope they remember what we do at Austin volleyball. We play for the name across our chest, and I hope they pursue excellence in everything that they do.”
Cleveland and Ikemefuna on playing at the collegiate level
How long have you been playing volleyball?
Cleveland: “I have been playing volleyball since I was seven, so about 10 years!”
Ikemefuna: “I have been playing volleyball since I was seven!”
What will you take away from playing at Austin?
Cleveland: “I grew up in Austin, so being part of the volleyball program here was huge for me. I will take away overcoming a lot of adversity. Even when things didn’t go my way or it I was having a bad time, being apart of Austin volleyball helped me get right back up and push myself to work harder.”
Ikemefuna: “I think what I appreciate the most about having played at Austin is the character that I’ve built.”
How did you feel upon receiving an offer from your university?
Cleveland: “I honestly screamed when the coach offered me. It meant so much to me that I was able to play the sport I love at a school I love. I am extremely excited to play at the next level because I have always dreamed of doing that.”
Ikemefuna: “When I got my offer, I felt great, and confident as well!”
What strengths will you bring to your new team?
Cleveland: I will bring leadership skills and a competitive drive to my team. I always love to be a sister to everyone, and I love to win. I am after a championship ring just like my team is!”
Ikemefuna: “For my team, I will bring lots of athleticism, and my long arms too.”
What about your university are you most looking forward to?
Cleveland: “The HBCU side is what I’m looking forward to the most! Learning about the culture and the history behind my school, being a part of an HBCU in itself, is something I can’t wait to experience.”
Ikemefuna: “I am looking forward to meeting new people and being around a majority of people who look like me!”
Congratulations to all of our student athletes who signed today. We are thrilled to watch you start your college journeys by playing the sports that you love! And remember there’ll always be a place for you at the DAWGHOUSE!