ANNA – Anna seniors Skyla Mackey and Madison Hemenway, friends since kindergarten, took a big step together on April 23 on the Anna High School cafeteria stage. Surrounded by a large crowd of friends, teammates, family and coaches, the pair signed National Letters of Intent to continue their track careers at the collegiate level — Hemenway with Hardin-Simmons University and Mackey with Southwestern Assemblies of God University.

The girls are accomplished distance runners for Lady Coyotes track, highlighted by the fact that both are headed to the Class 4A Region 2 championships, April 26-27, in Commerce. Mackey qualified for this one step away from state meet in the 800 meters and Hemenway made the grade in the 3,200.

As seniors, they also helped the Anna girls cross country team win their fourth-straight district title last fall and went on to state with the rest of the Lady Coyotes. Hemenway also qualified for state as a freshman.

Besides achieving as distance runners, Mackey was an all-district guard for Lady Coyotes basketball and Hemenway was a cheerleader all four years at Anna.

“They’re incredible athletes but even greater people,” Anna girls track/cross country coach Scott O’Connor said.

“I just feel like Hardin-Simmons is where God told me to go, after I visited,” Hemenway said. “I’m super-excited for this next journey. … I don’t actually know what it was. I just prayed a lot about it and that’s where I felt like I needed to be.”

She plans to study kinesiology and is considering careers goals of athletic trainer, chiropractor or anatomy teacher.

O’Connor noted that he arrived at Anna when Hemenway was a freshman.

“Every time I saw her she was just so happy, the most bubbly person you could ever think of,” he said. “Four years later, she’s still that bubbly person, still an amazing person, and it’s incredible to see her growth these past four years.

“If you look up ‘track junkie’ or ‘track nerd’ in the dictionary, you’re probably going to see Madison. She’s watching YouTube videos of track meets and all those things. … She’s put in literally hundreds and hundreds of miles to be where she’s at today.”

The Hardin-Simmons Cowgirls compete in NCAA Division III as members of the American Southwest Conference. A private Baptist university, HSU is located in Abilene.

Hemenway’s role models include her former Anna cross country coach, the now-retired Hoot Jones; Coach Clint Scribner from Happy Feet running club; as well as her father.

“He taught me how to be strong,” she said.

Hemenway included her brothers here as well. One of them, Tyler, graduated from AHS in 2010 and ran track and cross country for Texas A&M-Commerce.

Hemenway said getting to state twice in cross country leads her top memories from Anna but added that “team-bonding” dinners held each week are up there too.

“Going to state is always the main goal, but just running a PR [personal-record time] and being there my senior year will be awesome,” she said about going to regionals.

Distance running, she said, has taught her “that I can persevere through some really tough things. You’ve got to work hard for eight laps!”

Hemenway is the daughter of Bill and Jan Hemenway.

“She’s worked hard,” Jan said. “I’m very excited to see what God is going to do with her in this next chapter of her life.” Regarding her daughter’s choice of schools, she said, “It’s very comfortable. It’s very warm and inviting. It’s a great place to learn and to grow.” And not far from home? “I don’t know – three hours is still a long way for mom.”

“It’s real now,” Mackey said shortly after putting pen to paper. SAGU, she said, first caught her eye in 2017 when the school was recruiting her brother Elijah, a top runner for Melissa who went on to Rogers State. She visited the private Christian university with her family then and was quite impressed. “I just always felt like I was going to go there,” Mackey said.

She plans to major in Intercultural Studies, with an eye towards becoming a missionary.

Located in Waxahachie, Tex., SAGU competes in Division I of the National Intercollegiate Athletic Association (NAIA). The Lions are members of the Sooner Athletic Conference.

As for her athletic career to date, Mackey said, “I’ve always been blessed with really good coaches.” Her goal for regionals? “I just want to run the best that I can, even if it’s my last meet.”

“Something I’ve learned about Skyla,” Coach O’Connor said, “is that she has a lot of determination, a lot of grit, through the good times and the bad. As runners we all have great races and we all have maybe not great races. Skyla, through every race, has come out with so much positivity. … That’s one of her greatest qualities.”

Mackey named her parents, Theodore III and Heather Mackey, as her role models. “They always taught me how to work hard,” she said. “And also my brothers. They were always in the gym. ‘I want to be like them!’ you know?”

Competing in athletics, Mackey said, has taught her “to not give up and always keep pushing harder.”

“She has worked so hard through injuries in different sports,” Heather said, “and has been steadfast and diligent in her training. We’re thankful for her heart.”

Said Theodore, “It’s a culmination of joy just to see one of my children reach her potential. Skyla is the epitome of ‘hard work pays off.’ She exemplifies what any team coach or individual coach would want on their team. … Here’s the thing that doesn’t get talked about a lot – even with her: She’s ranked third in her class. She doesn’t brag about it, she doesn’t talk about it, but I’ll do it a little bit.” As for SAGU, he added, “It’s a great cultural environment, it’s a good Christian school. We’re really excited about that.”

Mackey played basketball and ran track and cross country at Melissa before transferring to Anna as a junior. Her former Lady Cards basketball coach, Heather Lane, attended the signing event.