Anna soccer standout Kaitlyn Long will soon be taking her game to the collegiate level. The senior forward made it official March 2 at Anna High School when she signed her National Letter Intent to play the game she loves for the University of Arkansas Rich Mountain.

Located in Mena, Ark., UA Rich Mountain competes in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), Region II. The Bucks are coached by Brian Byrd, who was present for Long’s big day at AHS.

“It’s exciting, it’s crazy, it’s kind of scary at the same time,” Long said. “Coach Byrd is super-nice and I feel like he’s going to be a good coach and he’s going to push me a long way.”

A four-year varsity player for the Lady Coyotes, Long was the district Newcomer of the Year as a freshman goalkeeper in 2017. Anna head coach Marlon Madrigal arrived before the 2019 season and moved her to forward where she’s continued to shine as an offensive weapon and assist leader.

“Forward is definitely my favorite [position],” Long said. “I was pretty much a goalie just because we didn’t really have one and I happened to be good at it.” She added that she likes the “glory” of scoring goals and being able to better connect with the team.

“From the start, she showed dedication to the craft,” Madrigal said. “She was a goalie for the first two years and I told her, ‘You’re not a goalie anymore. Let’s go play some forward.’ And she has gotten incrementally better, from the start of the first day when I got here to now. That’s what I appreciate about her. She gave it all to the game. Summer, whenever, she was working at her craft, which is amazing and I love it.

“Her getting signed to a college is a testament to her hard work and I’m very happy for her. … She’s an athlete. She’s got all the tools. I can’t ask for more.”

Long said her role models include her parents, her friends and Coach Madrigal. She plans to study criminal justice in college.

Long has played for three different head coaches at Anna - a new one in each of her first three seasons. “It’s kind of hard,” she said. “It’s hard to set a foundation for the team when you have several different coaches. So I think that having ‘Coach Mad’ twice has helped us out tremendously.”

Madrigal and the current Lady Coyotes have clinched a playoff spot and are looking forward to postseason play for a second-straight year. “I think we have a really good chance if just work hard and play together,” Long said. Last year, as the fourth seed from District 9-4A, the Lady Coyotes were topped in the bi-district round.

Besides the large crowd of teammates, coaches and friends on hand for this morning event in the school’s cafeteria commons area, Long was joined by her parents, Ryan and Tabitha Long, and her younger brother, Mason Long.

“I’m super-excited for her and glad that she’s going to have this opportunity to go there,” Tabitha Long said. “It’s a beautiful campus and it’s a new athletic program. This is their second year for soccer, so they’re just establishing everything. We love the coach and we just hit it off really well there.”

Ryan Long was asked what he was thinking as his daughter signed the requisite papers and posed for pictures. “Well, I can tell you,” he laughed, “when all the boys were up there I was very uncomfortable.” He added, “I’m very proud. I’d really like her to be the first one in the family to finish school. … I think the attention she’s going to get [at UA Rich Mountain], based on the group size versus teaching and coaching, it’s exactly what she’s going to need to give her a much better chance of succeeding.”

As for watching his daughter on the soccer pitch these last four years, Ryan Long said, “It’s been ups and downs and, more than anything else, just a whole lot of fun.”