JOLIET – Girls basketball standout Nicole Ekhomu will play at Florida State.
From boys volleyball, Blake Reardon is headed to Ball State.
And, baseball pitcher Drake Fellows signed with Vanderbilt.
Three of the biggest names on the Joliet Catholic athletic roster were among the nine who were honored Thursday morning in a national letter-of-intent signing ceremony at the school.
The others casting their lot for the next four or five years were softball player Alyssa Callans with Maryville in St. Louis, tennis player Jack Geissler with Grand Valley State, cross country runner Kristen Johnson with Purdue Calumet, baseball pitcher Jared Jones with Saint Xavier and girls volleyball player Jessica Simon with Augustana University in South Dakota.
Simon and her teammates, of course, will be at Redbird Arena on the Illinois State University campus in Normal this weekend as JCA pursues the Class 3A state championship.
The Angels’ basketball program has lost the services of forwards Jnaya Walker and Ty Battle, who transferred after last season. In addition, Kenny Battle resigned as JCA’s coach.
Ekhomu, however, remains the leader and sees herself in a similar role as the new season gets under way next week under coach Nick Leonard, who cited the strides Ekhomu has made in the classroom and as a leader.
“I’m still the leader,” she said. “I have to bring the energy for us. I want to get everyone involved. The girls who have come out to join us, I need to let them know we need them.”
Ekhomu considered South Carolina, Ohio State and DePaul but settled on Florida State because “they made me feel like I was part of their family.”
Reardon, an outside hitter whose sister Morgan, a former JCA standout, is a junior playing at Loyola, said he was “super excited” about signing with Ball State.
“I already know a bunch of the guys who will be going there with me,” he said. “I like the way they play the game.”
Hilltoppers coach Rhyen Staley puts Reardon in a class by himself.
“In the 10 years of our program, we had not had a legacy player until Blake Reardon,” he said. “Last year he led us to our first 30-win season and first East Suburban Catholic title. He holds our school kills record and will add to that this season.
“It’s great to see him going to the school (Ball State) that had the founding men’s volleyball program in the country.”
Of course, when Fellows’ name is mentioned, the question always is asked, “What happens when he gets drafted?”
“The draft is a special thing, no doubt,” Fellows said. “If it’s the right fit for me and my family, I would be interested. But Vanderbilt is still a great second.”
Fellows committed to Vanderbilt early because it offered three positives – good baseball program, warm climate and academics.
Baseball coach Jared Voss said all Fellows has done in 128 innings in two varsity seasons is allow 12 earned runs, strike out 175 and walk 18.
Voss said Jones, who did not pitch much last season, could slide into the rotation behind Fellows in the spring.
“Saint Xavier was an outstanding choice for Jared,” Voss said. “He is a real historian of the game. I think he is going to hit his stride this year.”
Callans, meanwhile, pitches for softball coach Dave Douglas and has been the No. 1 for three years. “You hear it said somebody throws like a girl,” Douglas said.
“If you throw like Alyssa, you’re a pretty good ballplayer. And what really stands out about her is she is a terrific teammates.”
Boys tennis coach Scott Allgood noted Geissler is a superb student, was the ESC player of the year last season and led the team to a sectional championship.
Johnson battled through a hip injury in track season last spring and came back to run well in the fall for the cross country team.
Girls volleyball coach Christine Scheibe said Simon did not play full-time as a junior, when she filled an important reserve role.
“But this year I had no doubt Jessica would be a leader,” Scheibe said. “She has been on the floor 100 percent of the time. We knew she would be a setter, but one or two games into the season, we knew we needed her to be a hitter as well. I am proud of how she has handled herself.”