The Siloam Springs girls soccer program has had several bragging points over the past few years, including winning four straight Class 6A championships.
The Lady Panthers had a different way of showing off on National Signing Day on Wednesday.
Five senior girls soccer players signed letters of intent to continue their careers at the next level during a signing ceremony inside the Panther Den at Siloam Springs High School.
Senior defender Meghan Kennedy signed with John Brown, while senior forward/midfielder Megan Hutto inked with Northeastern State (Okla.). Forward Audrey Maxwell and midfielder Brooklyn Buckminster both said "yes" to Rogers State (Okla.) and midfielder Megan Rush signed with Cowley Community College (Kan.).
"If you just look at both our senior groups, girls and boys, they've been successful since they were freshmen and sophomores," said Siloam Springs head coach Brent Crenshaw. "That's been kind of our core group, and we're happy for them to go on to the next level and play. It's an exciting time for these kids, all going to play at the next level and continue their education."
All of the Lady Panthers were happy to share signing day with each other.
"It's really sad and really great, honestly," said Hutto. "I'm so proud of all of us, but I guess it's the end."
Said Kennedy: "I'm so excited. We're all signing together and we get to have one more season together before college."
Kennedy was the lone Lady Panther to stay in Arkansas, joining coach Kathleen Paulsen and the Golden Eagles, who have finished at the top of the Sooner Athletic Conference the past several seasons.
Kennedy was an All-Conference selection in 2017 while playing mainly at center back in the heart of the Lady Panthers' defense.
"It's always been my dream to play college soccer," Kennedy said. "I started searching for a school really young, when we were freshmen we were emailing different schools. I never really thought about JBU, and then I went on a visit there and I really just loved the atmosphere and the environment. The team was so nice to each other, and the level of play was really high. I just really felt like I fit in there. Kathleen was very nice and did a good job of helping me out."
Paulsen said Kennedy will be a great addition to the Golden Eagles, who went 18-3 and 10-0 in the Sooner Athletic Conference before falling short of a repeat trip to the NAIA National Tournament with a 2-1 loss to Science and Arts (Okla.) in the SAC Tournament Championship.
"She's a great ball-winner," Paulsen said. "She's consistent, hard-nosed. She's got the character piece. She's everything you're looking for. ... I think the thing about her is she's smart. She anticipates well. She's always where she needs to be."
Crenshaw was happy Kennedy will remain in Siloam Springs along with boys soccer player Jack Bos, who also signed with JBU.
"Having Meghan Kennedy coming back staying here at JBU, it's going to be really cool to see her and Jack play next year," Crenshaw said. "So I'll go out and watch JBU play."
Hutto has enjoyed her experiences at Northeastern State in Tahelquah, Okla., for some time now.
"I went there my freshman year for a camp and it was just really great," she said.
Hutto said NSU coach Chase Wooten was a big draw. The RiverHawks went 15-3 in 2017.
"I really liked the coach though, that's what drew me in," Hutto said. "He's really just so funny and sarcastic. ... It's just such a great program and the girls are so nice. You're not freshmen. You're all equal. The coach also is so sarcastic to the players out there. It seems like he's having a blast doing it."
Hutto was second of the Lady Panthers with 25 goals and led the team with 22 assists. She's been All-State the last two seasons and was the Class 6A State Tournament MVP as a freshman in 2015.
"Megan Hutto is going to NSU where I actually graduated from," Crenshaw added. "So that's kind of cool."
Maxwell and Buckminster weren't a package deal to Rogers State in Claremore, Okla., but the two are excited to be headed to the same place anyway.
"We didn't plan it together, but I'm super excited we're going to get to play together," Maxwell said. "It's going to make it two times more fun."
Buckminster said she's excited to join Maxwell at Rogers State.
"She had (committed) a little bit before me," Buckminster said of Maxwell. "I wasn't really sure I wanted to go yet. I know I was interested in going there, and her being there was just a bonus."
For Maxwell, Wednesday's signing was a breath of fresh air from what has been a tough last few weeks.
On Jan. 20, Maxwell tore her ACL in her right knee while playing for her club team, the Arkansas Comets, at a showcase tournament in Little Rock.
On Thursday, Feb. 8, the day after her signing with Rogers State, Maxwell had reconstructive surgery on her knee. She's expected to miss her entire senior season. However, she should be on track to get back on the field for Rogers State in the fall.
Maxwell, a two-time state tournament MVP in 2016 and 2017, had a special season in 2017, setting the Lady Panthers' single season scoring record with 42 goals. She also had 18 assists and was named All-State for the second straight year. She was named the Girls Soccer Player of the Year for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
"Soccer has been really slow the last couple of weeks since I haven't gotten to play, but it's really awesome that I get to celebrate soccer, even though I can't play it right now," Maxwell said. "I'm super glad that I get to do it with Meghan Kennedy, Megan Rush, Hutto and Buck. I've played with them forever, and it's special to get to share the day with them."
Buckminster, an All-State midfielder in 2017, finished the year with 13 goals and nine assists after joining the team a bit later because she was playing basketball. She'll join the team after basketball ends again this year as well.
"It's really exciting," Buckminster said. "Just everything that you worked for for so long is finally paying off. It doesn't really stop here. Now, we have to go over there and work even harder."
Crenshaw also has a strong connection with Rogers State, a Division II school that plays in the Heartland Conference. The Hillcats went 13-4-3 in 2017.
"The RSU kids, Audrey and Buck, being from Claremore, that's where I grew up," Crenshaw said. "I know those coaches. I know that area. I'm looking forward to watching them play."
Rush, a 5-foot-10 midfielder, was unable to play with the Lady Panthers last year, but is hoping to make a contribution this season.
Rush has been struggling with an Achilles tendon issue during the preseason.
"She's been fighting an Achilles injury since cross country," Crenshaw said. "It's really been irritating her the last couple of weeks. She actually sat out of practice for a week trying to get that healed up. We're anxious to get her healthy."
Cowley Community College is in Arkansas City, Kan. The Tigers went 3-13 in 2017.
"I'm excited for her to continue playing soccer," Crenshaw said. "She's a big strong kid. She's coachable. She gives you everything that she's got. She's a good kid, and we're trying to get her healthy."
Rush said Cowley is looking at her as a midfielder.
"Position wise, they have some holes in their midfielding positions," she said. "That's what I typically play because I do have that endurance because I'm a cross country runner. And so I'm looking at playing in their midfield."Sports on 02/11/2018
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