NORTH AUGUSTA — An extra celebration came with the end of the school day Friday at North Augusta High School, as six seniors put pens to paper to confirm their commitments to play sports at the collegiate level.
Dozens of teens, parents, coaches and other well-wishers gathered in the main office's lobby to mark the occasion. In the spotlight and signing for scholarships were J'Mani Ingram (basketball, Winthrop University), Tyliah Burns (basketball, Winston-Salem State University), Carson Kelly (soccer, Anderson University), Samantha Benner (soccer, Southern Wesleyan University), Thayer Loose (swimming, Gardner-Webb University) and Trent Northrup (baseball, USC Union).
Ingram and Burns may be the most familiar with life in the athletic fast lane, as they have been a part of three consecutive state championship basketball teams and are now heading into a campaign that may result in their fourth – one of the most successful stretches in the school's sports history.
"I think both of them are going to be great players," said Al Young, who once coached North Augusta's basketball boys and is now at the helm for the girls. "They've got great athletic ability. They both are strong."
He added, "Ty shoots the ball extremely well. J'Mani can shoot and she plays well around the board. They all can handle the basketball. I just think they're total players, and somebody's going to be very, very happy with both of them."
Burns and Ingram were both in the news earlier this week, having been named by the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association as among the state's top five seniors. Their team is ranked No. 1 to begin the 2019-2020 campaign.
Edward Owens, the soccer coach for North Augusta's girls, commented on his dynamic duo, who helped lead the squad to the Lower State championship game. He described Benner as "a really strong goalkeeper who's also a really good field player as well."
He added, "A lot of times, that's rare. You have a keeper who's a really good keeper, or a really good field player. To find that combination is something really special."
Kelly, who scored 29 goals and had 28 assists in the 2018 season, "is just straight-up speed and creativity," the coach said. "She's just a force on the field and creates opportunities where nobody else would see any."
Owens said he has appreciated occasionally having the chance to watch the two standouts connect on the field, when Benner has been off from her goalkeeper duties and has ventured much farther into the opposition's territory.
Matt Branon, who was Northrup's coach over the past three seasons, gave an upbeat assessment of the right-handed pitcher's prospects for the years ahead. Northrup, he said, "has hard work and determination."
"Trent has worked his tail off in this program, and he's going to have a great year ... and he's going to be very successful and he's going to be a specialist at the next level, and I can't wait to see what happens with his future. It's definitely bright."
Referring to USC Union's coaches, he added, "I'm not sure if they're going to use him in a starting spot or out of the bullpen, but he's definitely going to help them."
Lee Wright, coach of the Aiken Pacers Aquatic Club, said he coached Loose for almost five years. He described the standout swimmer as "very coachable."
"He's ... motivated to try to excel and meet the expectations that we try to place upon him, and ... Thayer's only tapped into his potential, and he will excel in college and be as good as he wants to be. He's going to have a good college career," Wright said.
Loose, most recently, was a part of two state-title relay teams, taking top honors in the 200-yard medley and the 200-yard freestyle. He was also second, by a tenth of a second, in the 200-yard individual medley.