As the school year winds down and college plans begin to become a reality for most seniors, four Midlothian Heritage student-athletes signed National Letters of Intent last Wednesday.
Julia Valdez, Brittiney Gardner, Jenae Sanders and Travis Floyd all inked their letters to continue athletic careers at the collegiate level in front of friends and family inside the gymnasium at Midlothian Heritage High School.
Middle Tennessee State University
After a historic senior season on the volleyball court, Julia Valdez signed an NLI to continue her athletic and academic career at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Valdez was named to the TGCA all-state team, District 8-4A Hitter of the Year, and selected as a TGCA 1-4A Legacy All-Star after she posted a team-high 353 kills on 888 swings and just 107 errors for a .277 hitting percentage. The senior average 2.5 kills per set this season.
"It is very hard to see this one go," said Timmi Blackshear, who is in her first year as the Jaguars' head volleyball coach. "She has been a huge part of the success at Heritage, not only this year but the success that the volleyball team has had over the last few years. Just like the rest of the senior class this year, I think I speak for the whole program when I say that we are extremely grateful for what they were able to help us accomplish this year. They will be greatly missed next year, not just skill-wise but just on the team."
Blackshear added that she enjoyed getting to know Valdez this season, which was the first for the head coach at Heritage, and is excited to watch her career unfold at the next level.
"Anyone who watched us from the beginning to the regional finals can attest to the leader that Julia became," Blackshear continued. "I am going to miss her competitive spirit at practice and at games. That is something that I loved watching Julia grow into, especially during playoffs."
Brittiney Gardner has served as a key contributor to the successes of the Midlothian Heritage girls' soccer program since it began at Heritage. It is the same program that recently advanced to — and won — its first-ever regional tournament.
*Editor's note: Gardner JUST scored the match-winning in a shootout against Liberty Hill in the 4A state semifinals. Literally, right before this article was placed in the newspaper.
Gardner has already accounted for 112 points (37 goals, 38 assists) over her three-year career as a Jaguar.
"Brittiney started out with me over at [Midlothian High] as a freshman on the JV," Heritage head girls' soccer coach Gerald Slovacek said. "She is an unbelievable competitor on the field. I have to tell her all of the time because she works so hard, all of the time, and is all over the field that she gets out of position at times. Her work ethic on the field is unbelievable. My wish for her is to continue that work ethic at Erskine College in South Carolina."
As a sophomore, Gardner was first-team all-district and second-team all-region after she accounted for nine goals and eight assists. During her junior campaign, she was also first-team all-district and voted the Jaguars' most valuable utility player. She scored 14 goals and posted a team-high 20 assists last season.
Through the regional tournament this season, Gardner had 14 goals and 10 assists for the 27-3-1 Jaguars.
"I am very proud of her and she is the third [signee] that we have had," Slovacek added. "She has been a huge part of building this program."
East Texas Baptist University
After a stellar senior season that helped the Jaguar boys' soccer team reach the regional tournament for the first time in program history and a 22-6-1 record, Travis Floyd signed his name to the bottom of an NLI and is headed to East Texas Baptist University.
First-year Heritage head boys' soccer coach Austin Walker said, "It has been more than a pleasure to get to know [Floyd] and coach him this first year. This year he had 30 goals on the year, which has pretty well shattered our school record."
Walker said he is excited to watch Floyd compete at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall next year. It also just so happens to be Walker's alma mater.
"Travis is a greater worker and is a leader on the field," Walker added. "Every other team knows that he is the person that they are going to have to stop and keep up with in the midfield."
Ohio Christian University
The Jaguar who will change scenery the most next fall is Jenae Sanders.
Sanders, a standout track athlete for Heritage, signed her NLI with Ohio Christian University in Circleville, Ohio.
Midlothian Heritage track coach Eric Edwards said, "She has grown about as much as any athlete as I have seen over four years and that is a credit to her. It is exciting."
He added, "It was exciting for her to say that she wanted to run track at the next level because I have seen her improve so much over the last four years."
He also noted Sanders' singing ability in the choir. "If you haven't gotten to hear her sing, I feel sorry for you. She can bring it."
Sanders has been an area and regional qualifier for the Jaguars in multiple relays.