It was a special day for Athens seniors Karlie Cook and Mimi McCollister.
The duo signed with Trinity Valley Community College Thursday during a ceremony at Athens High School.
Cook is signing with the Lady Cardinal softball team, while McCollister is heading to the national runner-up Lady Cardinals basketball team.
“These girls are why I do this and I am not the best coach in the world,” Athens head girls basketball coach and Assistant Athletic Director said. “It is these girls that make me look good when they are out there performing. That is the reason I do this because they make me look like I know what I am doing.”
The reigning All-Henderson County Girls Player of the Year in McCollister heads to the Lady Cardinals after scoring 22 points per game, 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 5.4 steals per game in her senior year as a Lady Hornet.
McCollister led the Lady Hornets to a 20-9 record and a trip to the area round of the playoffs.
She said heading to the Valley will be a learning experience, but one she is ready for under head coach Precious Ivy and assistant coach Princess Davis.
“Earlier this season, I went to watch a couple of their games and this is home so I feel like I will have a lot of support,” she said. “I also wanted to get my feet wet before I went any higher and this is the perfect place for it. It was one of the top ones. I had others from the conference trying to come for me, but I just liked TVCC.”
With only two guards in Alexis Brown and Mailyn Wilkerson on the TVCC roster for the fall, McCollister has already been told she will have to work hard to help get the team back to the national tournament.
“She (Ivy) has told me to try hard and it will be different from high school to their team,” McCollister said. “She will get on to me so I am ready. I really hope that it will help with my skill and it will help with my conditioning and getting me ready for the next level.
“It means I will have to work really hard because there are a lot of great players who have come through Trinity Valley. I will have to work hard to get everything done.”
McCollister will see a familiar face in LaPoynor standout Staci Whitehead during conference play. Whitehead signed with Jacksonville College earlier this year.
“Usually when we played them all we had to focus on was her (Staci Whitehead),” McCollister said. “She will be with a different team so we will have to see if we focus on her.
“At times, I can believe it and then other times I can’t believe it. I guess I will have to get used to it so we will see. I am ready to be there and see what the difference is in high school and college ball.”
For Cook, the road to Trinity Valley was one that Teague hoped she would follow to play basketball, but knew her heart was in softball.
Cook said seeing how Mama and Papa coach, who are Kathleen and James Rodriguez, treat their players was a selling point in heading to play at Cain Park and the Valley.
“The family culture most of all. I have known Mama Coach (Rodriguez) for a while,” Cook said. “I love her and the way that she coaches the girls. I have been to a few softball games and I love the way and the style that they play as a family. Ultimately, I get to stay close to home and my family gets to watch my games.”
Being such a versatile player with her club ball team in the Sneaky Cleats and a standout at Athens at catcher and shortstop, Cook has proven that she can bat anywhere in the lineup. When it comes to where Rodriguez might use her on the diamond, Cook said that is yet to be decided.
“She hasn’t told me where she wants me, but she likes that I am a utility player,” Cook said. “I would like to play shortstop and catcher, but I will play anywhere for the team. It will be tough and I will have to adapt to the college level, but my travel ball team gets me pretty prepared for that so I think I am ready. My defense is my strongest aspect and my speed on the bases with base running.”
She said being able to watch a lot of games at Cain Park made the decision to be a Lady Cardinal that much easier for the next two years.
The Lady Cardinals are 29-13 overall and are preparing for the regional tournament May 14-17.
“We have watched a lot of games this year, but missed some last year due to COVID and being busy with travel ball,” Cook said.
When it comes to her final weeks of high school and preparing for Region XIV conference action, Cook smiled when she thought about this next chapter.
“It has felt real the past week and I am ready to be a Cardinal,” Cook said.