STUARTS DRAFT — Eight Stuarts Draft High School student athletes agreed to their college choices in ceremonies held at the high school last week. They all intend to continue their sports careers at their respective colleges.
Emily Link will continue her studies and volleyball career at Mary Baldwin University in nearby Staunton. Link will join head coach Ruth Thompson and former Cougar players Deborah Black and Madison Varner and Staunton’s Rachel Christian for the Fighting Squirrels.
While at the Draft, Link also participated in softball and track.
“We’re going to miss her,” said SDHS volleyball coach Kamryn Johnson. “As setter, she made a huge impact every game and was part of the glue.”
Link hopes to pursue a health and exercise science degree and wants to be a physician’s assistant in the future.
“I will always remember getting ready for matches in the locker room with teammates and when we had things like team lock-ins and team sleep-ins,” Link said.
Also going to Mary Baldwin is Cali Morris, who intends to play soccer and run track.
“I think I can bring positive energy,” Morris said, who also played basketball and ran cross country for the Cougars
Her best memory at Draft was a regional game against Central-Woodstock where Morris scored both goals. That win sent the Cougars to the state semifinals last year.
“I’m looking forward to meeting new people,” Morris said. “I made so many memories here.”
Morris plans to major in liberal arts and interdisciplinary studies with a minor in elementary education.
Lyndsey Harris will also play soccer and will join former Cougars Rachel Sauder and Maddie Renner at Eastern Mennonite University.
“I’m excited to be able to play in college,” Harris said. “I loved the campus and environment at EMU. Academically, they have so many cross-cultural opportunities and getting to play soccer is an added plus.”
Harris was also the point guard on the basketball team for the Cougars. She fondly remembers the camaraderie of the Stuarts Draft teams as they prepared before the games.
Brady Ward is another Cougar student athlete who will be attending Mary Baldwin University. Ward, according to MBU baseball coach Scott Hearn, has an opportunity to play right away as a freshman for the Squirrels, who were supposed to begin playing this spring.
One of Ward’s biggest assets in baseball is his strong and accurate throwing arm from center field, according to SDHS baseball coach Josh Podgorski.
“Brady was the heart and soul of our team,” Podgorski said. “He was gritty, getting his jersey dirty, tough and brought a passion to the game with a will to win.”
Ward’s best Draft memory came sophomore year, when he and the Cougars made a huge rally in the seventh inning to defeat Clarke County in a regional semifinal game.
Ward plans to major in exercise science.
Another member of the Draft baseball team, Boogie Saunders, will attend Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville.
He also remembers fondly the regional win over Clarke County.
“It was the funniest thing when coach (Podgorski) got so excited that he kicked over a whole bucket of balls,” Saunders said.
He also remembers a key win over Page County to win the regional championship for Stuarts Draft.
Saunders, a shortstop for the Cougars, said that he is open to playing anywhere. A multi-sport athlete at Stuarts Draft, Saunders finished third in the state this winter in wrestling.
“The moment was never too big for Boogie,” Podgorski said. “He just enjoyed playing and never got rattled.”
Saunders is studying to become a veterinarian.
The Cougars are sending a third member of the baseball team into the college ranks.
Aaron Bradley, a lefthanded pitcher, will be attending West Virginia Wesleyan.
The Bobcats, a Division II program, extended a scholarship to Bradley.
“Aaron was going to have a really good year for us (before the pandemic hit),” Podgorski said. “He’s a student of the game, who understands it and is fundamentally sound. He would make a good coach some day.”
Bradley feels that his curve ball is his best pitch. He also played on the golf team for the Cougars.
“Going to states in back-to-back years and being with the guys in the locker room are my best memories,” Bradley said.
He plans on majoring in athletic training with a minor in business.
Jace Parson was a member of the Cougars’ state runner-up football team last fall and will attend Emory and Henry College.
“I liked how the town supports the team and I like how they play football,” Parson said.
Parson will join former Cougar Justin Brown at E&H.
“I’m pretty excited to keep playing football,” Parson said.
A mainstay on both lines for the Cougars, Parson is slated to play on the defensive line for the Wasps.
Parson’s best memories at the Draft were beating Thomas Jefferson at home in the state semifinals and beating Riverheads in his freshman season.
Parson plans to major in biology and pursue a career in physical therapy and orthopedics.
“Jace had a great senior year and came into his own,” said SDHS football coach Nathan Floyd. “He’s a good athlete and he realized his potential.”
Freddie Watkins is another multi-sport athlete at Stuarts Draft. Watkins will attend Bridgewater College to play football and run track for the Eagles.
While at the Draft, Watkins was also a member of the state-runner up football team. A three-sport standout, Watkins finished second in the state in the high jump and later that same night, played in a regional basketball win over Buckingham for the Cougars’ hoops team.
“He’s a well-rounded athlete,” coach Floyd said. “His leadership was outstanding; he held himself and his teammates accountable.”