BOONE — It is always a proud day for a school when they see an athlete commit to play at the next level.
It was an especially proud day for Watauga High School on Wednesday, April 27, when four track athletes set their sights on the college level.
Seniors Sophie Beach, Hailey Bilski, Sarah Goode and Sidra Miller held their signing ceremony, announcing they would head to four different schools.
Assistant coach Thomas McDonough noted that his time as a runner in college was what pushed him into coaching alongside his father, head coach Randy McDonough.
“There’s really nothing like a high school team and I hope you don’t go to the next level expecting the same thing, because it’s truly unique,” Thomas McDonough said. “But, there’s also nothing like a college team. Those are some of my lifelong friends that I care quite a lot about … It’s a very special experience and I hope you all will enjoy it.”
Bilski would be the only Pioneer to stay in the state, committing to Meredith College. Bilski, who moved to Watauga for her senior year, grew up in the Raleigh area and said she was excited to return home.
“It’s been my home forever, so I really wanted to go back to Raleigh,” Bilski said. “I wanted a small, division three school that wouldn’t just be all athletics, it would be athletics and academics.”
A specialist in long-distance runs, Bilski has been a key runner for Watauga in the 1,600, 3,200-meter and one-mile runs. While her time at Watauga has been brief, head coach Randy McDonough said Bilski has had a big impact as a Pioneer.
“I know (Bilski’s previous school) missed her because we were hoping to get her and she has been a welcome addition to the team,” Randy McDonough said. “Leaving her friends, that was tough, but she made new friends here and was very well-liked on the team. She is a very responsible young lady and very hard working.”
Beach said she visited multiple campuses in search of her future school, but it was East Tennessee State that caught her eye.
“I liked the environment and then I talked to the coach a couple of times and I really enjoyed it,” Beach said.
Another competitor in the 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs, Beach also competes in the 800-meter event. The senior earned all-conference nods in all four years while running cross country and her last two years of track.
While Beach and Bilski are only heading a few hours away, Goode and Miller are heading a bit further out.
Goode is heading to Lehigh in Pennsylvania, picking the Mountain Hawks over other options like the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins.
“I really liked the coach at Lehigh and there was so many aspects of the team — it was just such a family and I fit right in. I knew it was the right place for me,” Goode said.
She added that a big part of her decision was the chance to sit in on a class during her campus visit, along with the general atmosphere and vibe.
“When (Goode) came out her first year, we had to get her to move one way or the other — hurdles or vault,” Randy McDonough said.
Goode opted for the pole vault and made the most of it, becoming the top vaulter of all the Pioneers girls and having multiple top-10 finishes at state and national meets.
Miller was the other long-distance runner to sign, and will leave Watauga with multiple top-10 times in school history. A captain and conference champion, Miller said she looked forward to her running career continuing when she gets to Western Washington.
“I’ve been running since I was five, so it’s nice to go on and not stop. I don’t think I could stop,” Miller said. “It’s good to know going to college that I’ll still have that community of running. It’s always something special to all of us.”
While Miller had offers from schools closer to home like UNC-Charlotte and Western Carolina, she knew she wanted to out west and found Western Washington.
“I went and visited the team and the coach and it seemed like such a perfect fit,” Miller said.
While the quartet have figured out their post-high school futures, there’s still some unfinished business after the signing. The ceremony was one week out from the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference championship meet, where the girls will try to clinch a 13th straight conference title.
“It’s just keeping that Watauga legacy alive, especially for coach (Randy McDonough),” Miller said. “A lot of us have known him our whole life and it’s definitely a point of pride for the school.”