JOSHUA — After three-plus years as teammates and key contributors for Lady Owl soccer, Joshua seniors Baleigh Payne and Alyssa Stanley signed with Hardin-Simmons University on Friday to continue their athletic careers at the next level following their seniors seasons with Joshua in 2020.
After their final high school season with a perennially strong Joshua program, Payne and Stanley will transition into a perennially strong collegiate program with the Cowgirls.
Hardin-Simmons women’s soccer has won 17 American Southwest Conference championships in a row, and the Cowgirls have gone 79-6-5 over the past four seasons alone.
Joshua head coach Jeff Brooks said he’s always thrilled to see his student-athletes get this opportunity to continue their education and playing careers.
“First, they’re both just incredible people,” Brooks said. “Obviously they’re good soccer players. You don’t get to play in college if you’re not good. Hardin-Simmons is such a great place, and soccer is just a piece of the puzzle. I’m really excited for both of them to have the opportunity to keep playing but also getting to do so at such a quality place. For Hardin-Simmons, too, it’s their gain because they’re getting incredible people.”
Payne and Stanley are the first two Lady Owls to sign with Hardin-Simmons in Brooks’ long tenure in Joshua. Being a former HSU soccer player and HSU graduate himself, Brooks said he expects Payne and Stanley to flourish in an environment like Hardin-Simmons.
“I just know what a formative place that was for [my wife] Kimberly and I in every piece of the puzzle; academically, athletically, and socially,” he said. “It’s a place where excellence matters and is promoted and demanded. I’m excited for them. Coach [Marcus] Wood is an incredible man. He is as good as it gets, both as a man and a coach. He’s getting two great kids and two great players. Knowing they’re going to get to play for such a great dude, that’s pretty awesome.”
Entering her senior campaign with the Lady Owls, Payne is a two-time all-district selection, and she’s excited for her future.
“It’s a really important day,” Payne said. “I’m really looking forward to the next four years. All glory goes to God. Coach Wood is really awesome. All of the people there are so nice. I love that it’s a Christian community. I just love it all. I’m excited to study occupational therapy and get to continue playing soccer. It’s just so fun to do what I love doing.”
Brooks said Payne is a unique offensive player with her abilities and vision.
“Baleigh, which we call her Beetle, is such a creative attacking player,” he said. “She can play just about anywhere on the attacking half of the field. She sees angles that most people don’t see. She’s very gifted on the ball. She’s very tidy in the way she takes touches. She’s an excellent striker of the ball. We’ll see what happens in college with how she fits. But for us, she’s so valuable because she can unlock things a lot of people can’t.”
Stanley is a three-time all-district selection, garnering first-team honors the past two years and second-team honors as a freshman. She’s also a two-time All-Johnson County first-team selection in 2018 and 2019. She said Wood made her feel like joining HSU was her best option for her future after high school.
“This day means a lot,” Stanley said. “It was kind of hard for me to decide between colleges. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to play college soccer or just do the normal college student thing. But something at HSU really came to me, especially with coach Wood. He is so inspiring. You can tell he’s for his girls, and that’s something I need and something I look forward to.”
Stanley said she’s excited to see what the future holds for her at HSU, not only on the field but in the classroom.
“I know that Hardin-Simmons has a really good soccer program but they also have a really good education,” Stanley said. “So I’m curious to see what I can accomplish in both aspects. They won conference for a 17th time in a row and they go far in the playoffs, so I’m anxious to see what we do the next four years.”
Brooks noted that two of Stanley’s biggest strengths are in her versatility and work ethic.
“Alyssa has been wonderful as a midfielder the last couple of years,” he said. “She’s played some outside-back, some center-back. She’s super versatile and every phase of her game is solid. You look at her and it’s hard to find a glaring weakness. A lot of that’s just because of how hard she works. She stays after every day working on stuff, and depending on who else stays that dictates what areas she works on. I don’t know where she’s going to slot in at college, but she’s been so valuable for us.”
For both Payne and Stanley, getting to sign together and continue their careers together was an added bonus.
“That is so cool,” Stanley said. “She moved here from Granbury our freshman year, and we got so close. Now we’re like best friends and sisters. We went to a summer camp together [at HSU] and she committed earlier than I did. I was still kind of weighing my options. She knew what she wanted to do early but I had to pray a little bit more.”
“Alyssa is a really good friend and I know she’ll always be there,” Payne said. “I’m really thankful for her. She makes me want to be a better person, so I’m glad I get to spend the next four years with her.”
But before they begin their college journeys, both Payne and Stanley have high expectations for the Lady Owls in 2020.
“I want to go to state and win state,” Payne said. “We’re going to work really hard for it.”
“Every senior hopes for a ring at the end,” Stanley said. “That’s definitely my goal. So hopefully me and Beetle and the captains can get everybody together and have the same goal and just work as hard as we can to get it done.”
And Brooks said he’s excited to have one more year with Payne and Stanley before they head off to Abilene.
“They’ve both been so valuable for us the last three years,” Brooks said. “Both of those two players have played such big parts in what we’ve been able to accomplish the last three years. I’m glad we’ve got one more year with them.”