Lexi Ellis had another visit scheduled to the University of Kentucky.
But just before, she visited the University of Oregon. And one of the nation’s best jumpers was hooked.
“Everyone knows that’s track town,” said Ellis, the Curtis High School senior who signed her national letter of intent with the Ducks’ track and field program on Wednesday. “The atmosphere was great, the girls were amazing and it’s great to know I’ll be surrounded by people who will be striving for the same goals I have – because they have so many Olympians on their roster.”
“2020 is the goal,” Ellis said. “That would be after my junior year of college and I feel like Oregon can get me there.”
She probably only needed a jump to get to Curtis’ signing ceremony. Maybe three.
Ellis had the seventh-best triple jump in the country when she hit 42 feet, 7¼ inches at the district championships at French Field in Kent last spring. And it was the third-best of any junior. Ellis went on to win her first state triple-jump title at Mount Tahoma back in May.
She chose Oregon over visits at Missouri and Kansas because of its pedigree, coming off a team national championship in the spring. It was the runner-up behind Arkansas in 2016 after winning the 2015 title.
The NCAA championships have been held at Oregon each of the past five years. And Oregon’s coach, Robert Johnson, is revered for his work with jumpers.
“They saw her potential, her growth – there’s other girls in the nation at 43 feet, but Lexi is only going to get stronger and faster,” said Curtis coach Sarah Hannula, who was a team captain and jumper at Washington State University after graduating from Curtis.
“Her potential is unreal. She could be a national-champion, Olympic-champion type of athlete.”
Ellis’ grandfather, Joe Ellis, was selected by the then-San Francisco Warriors 13th overall in the 1966 NBA draft and played eight seasons with the team. He’s also in the University of San Francisco’s hall of fame.
Her father, Kevin Ellis, played basketball professionally in Europe. And older brother, Stephan Ellis, was a two-time conference champion at WSU after winning a triple-jump state title at Curtis.
Speaking of basketball, two of the South Sound’s most offered players maybe ever signed with rival American Athletic Conference programs.
Wednesday marked the first day of the early signing period for national letters of intent, which lasts until Nov. 15 for athletes in every sport except for football, soccer and men’s water polo.
Timberline’s Erik Stevenson signed his letter of intent to play at Wichita State University next year, coming five years after the Shockers reached the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. He picked Wichita State over offers from LSU, Utah, UW, WSU and others.
“We see him like a Ron Baker-type player who can hopefully play right away,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said at a tip-off luncheon on Wednesday. “He’s a really, really good player who was offered by a slew of Pac-12 schools and just loved Wichita State. I think he’s really going to fit in well here.”
Then there was Wilson’s Emmitt Matthews Jr. He has played with and against Stevenson entering his senior year in Tacoma, and he sent his letter of intent to the University of Connecticut, a program that won an NCAA national championship in 2014 and is coached by former Seattle SuperSonics point guard Kevin Ollie.
“Emmitt is a tremendous athlete, who can really run the court,” Ollie said. “We want him to be able to play defense on four different positions. He’s a nice shooter who can make the three and also has outstanding skills as a facilitator – he can really pass the ball. He’s another versatile guy who can play multiple positions to add to our roster.”
Since UConn and Wichita State are both in the AAC, they’ll get to keep playing each other.
“To be able to come here and have a chance to play – I’m through the roof. I can’t even explain it,” Matthews said when he committed on Sept. 23. He chose UConn over offers from West Virginia, Georgetown, Boston College, LSU, Oregon State, Seton Hall, UW, WSU and Wichita State.
And two Tacoma student-athletes are now University of Arizona signees. Bellarmine Prep’s Shalyse Smith signed to play basketball there and Mount Tahoma’s Zyonna Fellows signed for volleyball. Smith is a two-time league MVP who led the Lions to the 4A state semifinals this past year and Fellows was this year’s league volleyball MVP.
Here’s what Arizona volleyball coach Dave Rubio had to say about the 6-foot-4 Fellows:
“The more that we watched her, the more that we really began to like some of the things that she brought to the table,” Rubio said. “Namely her length and her ability to swing her arm at her size. Any time you get an athletic, 6-4 middle blocker with a great arm, you’re thrilled. We’re excited about Z.”
Some other notable signees:
▪ Calley Heilborn, Auburn Riverside: The best volleyball player in the South Sound two years in a row and hoping for back-to-back state titles is signing with Western Washington University over NCAA Division I schools Wichita State and Boise State because she said she was promised a redshirt year. She wanted that because she plans to study behavioral neuroscience.
▪ Brandon Kaylor, Bonney Lake: He’ll try to join the exclusive four-timers club of state wrestlers to win four state titles in four years and Kaylor, who is ranked No. 13 in the nation in the 113-pound weight class by FloWrestling, is signing with Oregon State University.
▪ Alex Cruz, Orting: Speaking of nationally ranked wrestlers trying to enter the four-timers club, Cruz is ranked No. 18 in the country in the 132-pound weight class by FloWrestling and has won three state titles in three years for the Cardinals. He’s signing with the University of Virginia to wrestle.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
SOUTH SOUND SIGNING DAY
Calley Heilborn, volleyball, Western Washington University
Ciera Zimmerman, volleyball, Colorado State University
Jordan Lee, women’s golf, Western Washington University
Morgan Bentley, women’s golf, Weber State
Shalyse Smith, women’s basketball, University of Arizona
Hannah Pukis, volleyball, Washington State University
Rylee Born, volleyball, Western Washington University
Peter Allegro, baseball, University of Portland
Joe Highsmith, men’s golf, Pepperdine University
David Richards, baseball, Fordham University
Emma Johnson, women’s golf, Weber State
Bella Brown, women’s soccer, Central Washington University
Matthew Gretler, baseball, Oregon State University
Brandon Kaylor, wrestling, Oregon State University
Peyton Uznanski, fastpitch, Bethel College (Newton, Kansas)
Alexis Ellis, women's track and field, University of Oregon
Kasey Woodruff, volleyball, Western Washington University
Amber Fickle, women’s basketball, Tacoma Community College
Kava Durr, volleyball, Colorado State University
Jadyn Mullen, volleyball, Corban University
Tayler Templeman, volleyball, California State East Bay
Jeffrey Fahnlander, baseball, Whitworth University
McKenna Bryant, rowing, University of Washington
Kalina Cordero, women’s soccer, University of Puget Sound
Claire Varden, women’s soccer, Seattle University
Jordan Fong, women’s track and field, Stanford
Jordon Wright, baseball, Lower Columbia College
Jennifer Barnes, women’s soccer, Minnesota State University Moorehead
Morgan Gary, women’s basketball, Northern Arizona University
MOUNT RAINIER LUTHERAN
Jack Shannon, men’s soccer, Walla Walla University
Zyonna Fellows, volleyball, University of Arizona
Samantha Johnson, UPS, volleyball
Joe Gerke, cross country and men’s lacrosse, Dominican University
Alex Cruz, wrestling, University of Virginia
Riley Bass, women’s golf, University of North Dakota
Maddy Clark, beach volleyball, Concordia University
Maddy Glasoe, fastpitch, Boise State University
Ellie Hamel, women’s basketball, Simpson University
Nick Waterstraat, men’s basketball, California Lutheran University
Sophia Bjerk, fastpitch, University of San Diego
Joseph Fitzsimmons, men’s swimming, Concordia University
Gavin Grant, baseball, Oregon State University
Brady McLean, baseball, Pacific Lutheran University
Anna Saelens, volleybal, Northwest University
Kaitlin Sugai, volleyball, Eastern Washington University
Kaitlin Clark, Girls Basketball, Olivet University Chicago
Samantha Larberg, Women's Soccer, Northern Arizona University
Jake Gehri, Baseball, Yale University
Erik Stevenson, men's basketball, Wichita State University
Tommy Davis, baseball, Lower Columbia College
Kennedy Croft, volleyball, Gonzaga University
Megan Vandegrift, fastpitch, University of Washington
Emmitt Matthews, men’s basketball, University of Connecticut