Two Rainier senior student athletes sign letters of intent

Haleigh Hanson, John Kenney off to college out of state


Rainier High School seniors Haleigh Hanson and John Kenney signed their national letters of intent (NLI) in front of their friends, family and coaches on Wednesday, May 29 to continue their athletic and academic careers.

Hanson signed with Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, to play college basketball and track and field, while Kenney signed with Panola College in Carthage, Texas, to play baseball.

Hanson finished her athletic career at Rainier qualifying for state in all three of her sports: volleyball, basketball and track. She first came in contact with UCC’s coaching staff through her AAU team, Hoopstars, two or three months ago and visited the campus and explored the program shortly after their conversations. After the visit, she decided UCC, which offered her scholarships in both sports, was the best fit for her. 

“Dave Stricklin, the head basketball coach, works specifically with post players, and that’s what got me. He told me about some of his players that went on to play Division II and Division I,” Hanson said. “I knew he was going to push me to make me better, and I knew that it was the place I wanted to go.”

Hanson envisioned her signing day ceremony as a freshman watching her classmates sign their NLIs. She said it meant a lot to her for the day to finally arrive and to spend it with her family, but especially with her younger teammates.

“I saw Jeremiah Nubbe and Isabella Holmes when they signed, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world when I was a freshman. I knew it was something I really wanted to do,” she said. “It was a very big deal to me because I wanted the whole girls basketball and some of the track team to see it so they can have the same feeling that I had and so they can keep getting better and have that feeling.”

Hanson put in countless hours of hard work for her opportunity to compete at the next level, especially behind the scenes when no one but her coaches and teammates were watching.

“It started off with weight class, and then I started going to almost every open gym in the summer for basketball,” she said. “The weight classes definitely helped me. Even in my free time in the summer, I would get the keys from a coach or get them to open the gym for me so I could shoot.”

Hanson said while she is nervous to live on her own more than four hours away from home, she is motivated to elevate her game to the next level while simultaneously pursuing a degree in biology.

“I’m just glad where I’m at now. I had other offers to go to the NAIA level, but, more or less, I knew if I went to UCC I could go even farther. I still have another opportunity,” she said. “I went down there and met a lot of the girls, and it was really cool to see that they worked even harder than they did in high school and to see them get the opportunity to go play DII or DI. It motivates me a lot. I really want to push myself to get to that ability.”

While Kenney officially signed with Panola College about three months ago, he said the ceremony was still important for him to celebrate with his family and teammates.

“Being able to get to the next level is a big accomplishment in my life,” he said. “I’m really pumped and excited to get to work to get through my rehab and try to make it to the DI level.”

Kenney suffered a knee injury during the basketball season and missed the entirety of his senior year of baseball, but he said he will be ready to practice by the end of the summer. The coaching staff at Panola College checked in on Kenney often as his rehab progressed.

“Ever since my injury, they’ve just been with me the entire time and talking with me about how I’m doing. They didn’t take away my offer because I hurt myself,” said Kenney, who will major in digital marketing. “They knew I would take it as a challenge to better myself. I really appreciate them. They’re getting a guy who is really hungry and ready to play baseball. I’m going to be the most pumped I’ve ever been to play baseball.”

Hanson and Kenney will graduate on June 7 and embark on their collegiate journeys in the summer. Both have dreams of competing at the Division II or I level, which they said is due to the support from their coaches at Rainier and their families.

“Mark Mounts has really pushed me to do my best, and Justin Gurnsey took me under his wing this year, and I helped with coaching. It’s just been a blessing having both of them,” Kenney said. “I couldn’t thank my teachers enough. They’ve developed me as a man and taught me valuable life skills.”

Hanson added that Rainier girls basketball head coach Brandon Eygabroad helped build her confidence on the court.

“When I started, I had no confidence. I did not want to be a post at all. There was a lot of contact, which was not my thing,” she said. “The more I worked at it, I started to really enjoy it. Eygabroad has helped me a lot with my confidence and has helped me so much with my growth between my freshman year and now.”