(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
EAST PRAIRIE -- Wednesday morning marked an important milestone in both the life of East Prairie senior Jennifer Nicholson and the Lady Eagles' Athletic program.
That's when, on National Signing Day, Nicholson signed her letter of intent with Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., to join their track and field team, becoming the first female athlete in East Prairie's history to receive a full athletic scholarship to a Division I school.
"I'm very honored to be the first one around here to get 'D-1' acknowledgment," Nicholson said. "I couldn't have done it without any of my coaches that I've had.
"It's just taken a lot of hard work, individually, since I haven't had a throwing coach since the seventh grade."
A standout since she was a freshman in the discus and shot put, Nicholson earned her first-ever state championship in the discus this past season as a junior, while also making all-state in the shot put. Following that up this past summer in the AAU Junior Olympic Track and Field Games, she became the national champion discus thrower while also taking fifth in the shot put and seventh in the javelin.
"This is a tremendous day for the community of East Prairie and Jennifer's family as well," East Prairie's track and field coach Jason Aycock said after the signing. "I'm very happy for Jennifer and for her family. She is very deserving of this.
"All of her hard work and effort has paid off. This is also going to be something good for our future athletes, that maybe they will strive to want to become more like Jennifer."
Besides track and field, Nicholson has also been a standout on the Lady Eagles' basketball team, scoring her 1,000th career point on Jan. 25 against New Madrid County Central.
Courted by numerous schools, Nicholson said she had narrowed her choices down to Radford, Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri and Liberty before making her final selection.
"When I went for my visit they were just real friendly," Nicholson said of Liberty. "It's a nice campus and everything is right there. They were just real friendly, real open to people and nobody had a bad thing to say about anybody."
Though she's yet to begin her senior season, Aycock believes Nicholson has all the tools to be a contributor with Liberty early on.
"Her dedication and her heart, right off the bat, their going to love that," said Aycock. "I believe they're probably going to have a hard time red shirting Jennifer just because I believe she's only a couple feet behind some of their veteran stars there at Liberty.
"I know that coach (Clendon) Henderson, which is the throwing coach there, had mentioned about Jennifer coming in and making a direct impact for Liberty."