MELISSA — Three Melissa seniors signed national Letters of Intent on Friday, Nov. 10, at Melissa High School, signifying their commitment to continue their athletic and academic careers at the collegiate level.

Taylor Thomas, District 11-4A’s 2017 Offensive Player of the Year as a guard for the Lady Cards’ district-champion basketball team, signed with Texas Woman’s University in Denton; Ty Graham, a key member of Melissa’s two-time state-qualifying cross country team, signed with Rogers State University in Claremore, Oklahoma.; and Brittany Melcher, the district’s 2017 Defensive Player of the Year as libero for the Lady Cards’ district-champion volleyball team, signed with Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Arkansas.

TWU Calls

Thomas averaged 11 points, 4 assists and 3.4 steals per game last season and is off to a great start in the current campaign. The team’s MVP each of the last two years, Thomas was also a First-Team All-District pick in 2016.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” Thomas said, “because I worked really hard for this. I’m excited to advance my career in basketball.”

“She’s represented our community and our school very well,” Melissa head coach Heather Lane said. “Taylor has a lot of natural talent but she also works her tail off. She spends a lot of time in the gym by herself, working on her shot, working on her handles. … Her biggest attribute, I think, is her ability to handle the ball and distribute and create opportunities for her teammates. It’s been a rewarding journey to watch her develop, not only as a great basketball player but also as a great teammate and a leader.”

Now starting her fourth varsity season with the Lady Cards, Thomas said she has high hopes for this season. “I hope that we can make (school) history and go past the second round (of the playoffs).”

Thomas’ parents, Cari and David Thomas, were on hand to share in the big signing moment. “I’m happy for Taylor,” David said. “She’s excited to make her next step and travel that journey.”

“I’m so, so proud of her,” Cari added. “It’s not something that we really anticipated happening. It’s a first for us. We’re just very blessed. She had looked at other schools that were out of state so I was very excited that she’s going to be close to home.”

The NCAA Division II TWU Pioneers are members of the Lone Star Conference and are coming off a 16-11 season. “The girls seem like a family off the court,” Thomas said, “and they play like a team on the court. They also seem to really get along with the coaching staff, which is not something everyone can find. I’ll be excited to be a Pioneer next year.” She is currently undecided on a specific field of study.

Soon To Be A Hillcat

At Rogers State, Graham will join the 2017 Heartland Conference-champion Hillcats, a team now headed to the NCAA Division II national championships. And he’s looking forward to being reunited at RSU with 2017 Melissa graduate and former teammate Elijah Mackey.

“I took an official visit to Rogers State and loved it,” Graham said. “I just feel like this is where God is leading me and where I’m happy to be. (RSU head coach) Chris McCormick is a great man. They have great facilities and I just felt at home.”

Graham and the Cards have claimed the last two Class 4A Region 2 cross country championships, earning trips to the state meet in Round Rock, Texas. Not only did Graham’s state time improve this time around but the squad moved up from a seventh-place finish in 2016 to being the No. 4 Class 4A team in Texas.

“It was a good experience,” Graham said, “because the more big meets I have under my belt the more confident I am in both my abilities and what I can do from here. Running collegiately, all the meets will be important and, of course, faster.”

Graham plans to major in English, become a high school teacher and perhaps coach.

“As a young man, he’s been a blessing,” Melissa boys cross country assistant coach Kelley Pitzer said. “I can talk about how far he’s excelled, how much faster he’s gotten and how hard he works … but Ty stepped up as a man. I have great aspirations for him and I feel like he’s going to do wonderful things when he goes to Rogers State.”

Graham’s father, Pastor Trey Graham of First Melissa Baptist church, called his son’s accomplishment “a reward for hard work.” “This was his goal and he really worked hard in the summers and during the school year. We’re proud of him, that he achieved the goal. Coach McCormick is a man of God and a great coach. They’re a very strong program. It’s a good time to be a Hillcat.”

Also joining Graham at the signing were his mother Bretta, sisters Madeline and Allie, and brothers Ross, John Collin and Andy.

Arkansas Bound

Melcher will join an Arkansas Tech team coming off a 32-0 conference-championship season.

The Golden Suns, who compete in the Great American Conference, finished their undefeated run as the No. 9-ranked NCAA Division II team in the country.

Melcher said she’s known since her freshman year that she wanted to play college volleyball.

“For me, the most important thing was getting somewhere that had a good engineering program. And I just loved the campus and I loved the coach.” Melcher said she plans to double-major in mechanical and electrical engineering at Arkansas Tech.

Melcher and the Lady Cards just concluded a 28-10 district-championship season. “Senior year is definitely going to stay with me for a long time,” she said, “because we went through a lot as a team and we all were really close to each other.”

Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo noted that Melcher has compiled 700-plus digs over the last two seasons and has also excelled as a server and a setter. “Brittany is a really special lady,” DePaolo said. “She waited patiently — or not so patiently — to become the libero for the Lady Cardinal volleyball program. She’s been a leader for us every single day. We’ve had some adversity this year — on the court and in the locker room — and if not for Brittany, we would not have been as successful as we were.” He added that Melcher is the “epitome of a student-athlete,” noting her current 4.2 GPA and 15th-ranking out of 119 MHS seniors.

Melcher’s parents, Keith and Helen Melcher, were in attendance Friday. “I think what went through my mind is the number of years we’ve spent on the volleyball court watching her play,” Keith said, “and how proud we are of the work that really goes into it. I encourage parents of athletes to always be there,” he added. “Kids want it, kids enjoy it.”

“It’s been a long process,” Helen said, “and it’s good to see it end where she wants it to end. I’m excited for her to take the next step.”