By Steve Keenan
Alexis Payne finally got to the West Virginia state tournament.
Now she will venture outside her home state’s boundaries to continue playing the sport she loves.
During a special ceremony Wednesday at Valley High School, the Greyhound senior signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Rio Grande and play basketball for the Red Storm’s women’s basketball squad.
“It (playing collegiately) was my goal,” said Payne, who concluded a first-team all-state season during which she averaged 24.7 points and 16.4 rebounds a game by leading the Greyhounds to the Class A state tournament earlier this month. “I saw them (Rio Grande) play once.
“They looked pretty good and I like their style. I could fit in and help a lot.”
Rio Grande coach David Smalley said Payne will be a welcome addition to his program, which plays in the competitive Mid-South Conference at the NAIA Division I level.
Calling the step from high school to college a “big transition,” Smalley says he is confident Payne has the tools to make that transition smoothly. So much that the school awarded a full scholarship for Payne to join the Red Storm.
“We’re excited to have Alexis in our program,” said Smalley, whose young team was 8-22 this past season but was making strides as the season wound down. “She’s a great scholar.
“The sky’s the limit on what this young lady is going to do.”
The next few months will be spent on getting Payne in “the best physical condition she’s ever been in,” Smalley said.
In addition to her stellar classroom work, Smalley added with a chuckle, “Not to mention, she’s a pretty good player.”
The coach feels Payne can contribute right off the bat. “You’ll probably see Alexis as a freshman get a lot of playing time. That’s on her shoulders.”
Valley Principal Lee Loy said Payne’s “good family background” has “created an extraordinary athlete and tremendous student here at Valley High School.”
Her coach this past season, Richie Cantrell, said Payne was an obvious centerpiece of his team, which went 13-8 and advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 1991. “She was a key player in the season, no doubt about it,” he said. “If any coach could have a player who would influence the season, she would be the one.
“I wish her all the luck in the world.”
Payne said being able to play on the Charleston Civic Center floor against the state’s other top single-A teams and players was a dream realized, even if it did end in a first-round loss to Wheeling Central.
“I’m extremely satisfied (with her career),” said Payne, who was surrounded by family members, teammates, and former, present and future coaches as she made her college plans official. “My whole goal was to make it to the state tournament, and I didn’t think I was going to make it, truthfully.
“It was a good four years of high school.”
Now, while saying she’s a “decent shooter,” Payne has her sights focused on becoming a “real consistent” shooter and making a contribution at Rio Grande. “I’m ready for the challenge.”
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