Charlotte is filled with incredible high school female athletes. While the class of 2020 lost months of traditional senior year experiences due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. Meet 10 Charlotte area high school female athletes taking their game to the next level.
“You get to watch them grow and mature. There is so much psychology behind helping an athlete come back from an injury. I see a lot of growth in their maturity and their life skills when they have an injury like a torn ACL.”
Meg Thompson, OrthoCarolina Athletic Trainer at Lake Norman High School
Elisa Cox, Butler High School
Elisa Cox set the standard for female wrestlers at Butler. Not only is she the first female to compete in the sport for the Bulldogs, but she leaves the program as the Female Senior Athlete of the Year. She will continue wrestling in college at Adrian College (Michigan). She dreams of competing in the Olympics, something she did not consider possible four years ago when she started wrestling.
“I’ve started giving more thought to the Olympics, but you have to start small with step-by-step goals. My goal is to become a national champion in college, because then I will qualify for the Olympic trials.”
When destiny calls
Like many freshmen, Elisa was anxious about high school. Yet at Butler’s freshmen open house, she saw a sign for the wrestling team. After speaking with coach Van Barkley, she decided to test her eight years of Taekwondo training on a school sport.
“I was walking down the hall at the open house, and I saw this giant wrestling sign. Something just told me to go toward it. You could call it destiny.”
Setting the standard
Cox started wrestling two years before the North Carolina High School Athletic Association created a women’s state tournament. She did not face any female competition as a freshman. During a practice that season, anxiety got the better of her, but she kept fighting. Her coach, Van Barkley, explains
“I told her, ‘we told you before you got into it, we’re not going to treat you any different. We’re not going to treat you any worse.’ After that, she rose to the occasion. She started fighting back hard, and she quickly gained the guy’s respect. They elected her captain her sophomore year.”
Coach Van Barkley
After two more years of Taekwondo, she committed completely to wrestling, enrolling in Levine Middle College High School. Her dual enrollment allowed her to compete with the Bulldogs, while also affording her the opportunity to graduate with her associates degree this summer. Cox, a two-time state champion runner up, intends to pursue a master’s in athletic training at Adrian College. Eventually she would like to coach a college team.
“She is ready for college. She was getting her associate’s degree at the same time she was getting her high school diploma, wrestling, and working. College is going to be nothing for her.”
Coach Van Barkley
Caitlyn Gable, Concord High School
Caitlyn Gable would not let epilepsy keep her from playing softball. She was diagnosed with the neurological disorder at age seven. When she was young, a few neurologists would not clear her to play. Growing up, the disease terrified her, making her feel limited in what she could do. Eventually, she saw a specialist who said she could live a fairly normal life. She has played softball for 10 years.
“I just love playing the game, and I wasn’t going to let something mentally that I can’t control, control me.”
Gable decided her junior year that she was not ready to hang up her cleats after her senior season. She was determined to play at the next level. While she plays every position, her position of choice is third base, which is what she was recruited to play at Bluefield College. After studying biology, she intends to pursue neurology or a biomedical engineering.
“Majoring in biology puts me on the path for neurology and biomedical engineering. I want to help future generations not be as scared of epilepsy.”
Sharla Kirkpatrick, Concord High School
Sharla Kirkpatrick fell in love with softball watching her mom, Tommye Kirkpatrick play in a church league, and began playing at age eight. Softball allowed her to connect with people, fostering a dream of playing Division I softball. She was a four-year varsity player for Concord, and a two-time all-conference player in 2018 and 2019. Like all spring athletes, she did not get to see what her senior season had to hold, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hopefully I would’ve been a contender for the award this year, but I guess we’ll never know.”
Kirkpatrick will attend North Carolina A&T State University. The Aggies recruited her to play pitcher. After she earns a degree in sociology, she plans to attend medical school or physician assistant school.
“Medicine is really interesting to me, and it’s a way I can help a lot of people.”
Kasidi Staley, East Mecklenburg High School
Kasidi Staley knows success on the field and in the classroom, with a 4.5 GPA. The three-sport athlete played point guard in basketball and goalkeeper in soccer, but center field in softball is her true love.
“You have to work as a team. That’s why softball stuck with me.”
Staley accepted a scholarship offer to play softball at Queens University of Charlotte because of their head coach Stacey Schramm. She is the winningest coach in program history. Her passion for the game and her players persuaded Staley to join the program, which has been nationally ranked in recent seasons.
“On my visit it felt like, ‘I’m supposed to be here.'”
While she is undecided about what she will study, Staley is considering pursuing nursing. However, her current focus is remaining present and enjoying the experience.
Nicole Diaz, Harding University High School
Nicole Diaz personifies perseverance. She moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic without knowing a word of English in fourth grade. Transitioning to life here was difficult.
“We stayed in a shelter until my mom could find a job, and a place for us to stay.”
Determined and dedicated
Diaz pushed herself academically, considering schoolwork her top priority. Her competitive nature translates from the classroom onto the track, where she runs the 300-meter and 100-meter hurdles.
“She came here not even speaking English, and she turned everything around. She became a 4.0 GPA student, and now she is going off to college to run.”
Coach LaSonja Collins
Next Diaz will run track at Catawba College, becoming one of two students from Harding to earn a scholarship to run track at the next level for the first time in 11 years . Her goal is to be a veterinarian.
“We had to instill in the team that if we have goals, we’re going to look at those goals, and figure out the steps to get there.”
Coach LaSonja Collins
Tanniya Womack, Harding University High School
Tanniya Womack will run the 400-meter race for Livingstone College, a program that produced Team USA sprinter Quanera Hayes. Their success in the CIAA and against national competition appealed to Womack. Her family ties to the school were also a draw. Her grandmother Eva Womack also attended the HBCU, which is located in Salisbury, North Carolina. She intends to major in biology, and later become a veterinarian.
“I didn’t want to be too far from home, or too close.”
Womack and Diaz are the first two students from Harding to earn a track scholarship for the first time in 11 years.
“It makes me really proud knowing I could do something like that, because a lot of people doubted us, and didn’t expect that from us, but the fact that we did it makes me happy.”
Alex Colven, Hough High School
Alex Colven is a natural leader. She was a Governor’s School District Finalist, Morehead Cain semi-finalist, and recipient of the Order of the Husky, Hough’s the principal’s award. She was also voted Most School Spirit for yearbook superlatives In addition to serving as student body president and a Junior Marshall for finishing in the top 10 percent of her class, she has been a cheerleader for six years. Her teammates voted her the Husky Award recipient her freshman, sophomore and senior year for her leadership and ability to be a team player. She was also cheer captain.
“She is the definition of a student-athlete. Whether we are winning or losing, she is the epitome of spirit.”
Athletic Director Masanori Toguchi
Athletic training support
Colven broke her thumb last fall, resulting in a trip to the emergency room. She worked with an OrthoCarolina athletic trainer at the school, and made it back in time for basketball season.
“They were the ones who were there when I first dislocated my thumb. They were the ones taking me to the ER. I don’t think people realize how many injuries we have in cheer. Athletic trainers are a godsend, and have helped us so much every year.”
Colven will attend UNC Chapel Hill, where she plans to tryout for their all-girl competitive cheer team. After college, she will pursue business marketing or become a teacher.
“My dad went there, so I’m really excited I’m going to be a legacy.”
Jonna Strange, North Iredell High School
Jonna Strange ran her first half marathon at 11 years old. She went from never having run a mile to joining her school’s running club. As a sixth grader, signed up for her first 5K, but ended up running 13.1 miles.
“I kept up with the best runner on the team. He was in eighth grade and I was in sixth grade. He had signed up to train for the half marathon. I kept running with him, and I ended up doing the half marathon instead. That was really, really fun.”
Meant to be
When Strange did not make the volleyball team in seventh grade, she decided to run cross country. It was a life-changing decision. She would go on to win the state cross country and indoor track 3200-meter titles. Due to COVID-19, she did not get to compete in outdoor track this spring.
“That was the best decision ever, because I fell in love with cross country. I ran cross country every year after that, and in high school I started running track as well.”
Strange will run cross country and track at Furman University, where she intends to study health sciences. Her pre-med track at Furman will set up her path to physical therapy school.
“I love sports. I want to work with athletes and help them.”
Tori Paul, Olympic High School
Tori Paul comes from a family of soccer players. Her love for the game began at three years old. She looked up to her older brother Troy Paul, who is heading into his junior season at Newberry College. Their father Romano Paul served as an example of where the game could take them. Her father played for Trinidad & Tobago’s under-17 national team and moved to the United States to play at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“The game has been in my family the whole time. I was born to play.”
Last fall, Paul played for the Trinidad and Tobago senior national team in the Olympic qualifiers. Then in February, she played in the Under-20 Concacaf Championship tournament. While her time with the national team kept her from high school tryouts, coach Matthew Merrill reminded the team why she was not there. She served as encouragement to her teammates about what they could achieve.
Paul left her name in the Olympic High record books, despite a pandemic stealing her senior season. She earned All-Conference and All-Region all three seasons, and Conference Player of the Year and All-State as a sophomore. During her sophomore season, she scored 51 goals that season, the second highest in a single season in school history. She was also team MVP on offense all three seasons.
“It’s such a joy to have an athlete at that level. That smile and passion and joy that she has while she is playing is is fantastic to see in any young athlete.”
Coach Matthew Merrill
Moving to Maryland
Paul will play for the University of Maryland, while studying kinesiology. Her goal is play professionally abroad, and to one day open her own training facility. However, she is also considering attending nursing school.
Jenna Thompson, South Mecklenburg High School
Jenna Thompson never lost a match during her high school tennis career. The four-time North Carolina State Champion finished with a record of 80-0. She will play tennis at Clemson University.
“Jenna Thompson has combined her uniquely gifted talents with her unwavering work ethic to become one of the most memorable athletes in history of high school tennis in N.C.”
Athletic Director Jose Garcia
Thompson has been ranked No. 1 in North Carolina since she was 10 years old, and has held that spot ever since. She has also been ranked in top 20 in the nation for the last eight years. As a junior, she became a High School All America.
“She is truly a student athlete earning very high grades while completing competitive honors and AP courses. Jenna became a mentor and leader on the tennis team as she matured each year at South. As she began to experience the rewards of helping others succeed, she benefited greatly as a team member cheering and encouraging younger players to reach their own potential.”
Athletic Director Jose Garcia
Thompson also played in National Fed Cup representing the South, which her team won. For the past six years, she has represented North Carolina in the Southern Cup Tournament. She also won the biggest Southern tournament of the year with a comeback.
“Jenna has incredible physical, mental, and emotional stamina which enables her to be an amazing athlete and competitor.”
Athletic Director Jose Garcia
This feature sponsored by OrthoCarolina, one of the nation’s leading orthopedic practices and your destination for comprehensive orthopedic care. Expertise in the areas of foot and ankle, hand, hip and knee, shoulder and elbow, spine, sports medicine and pediatrics offer a continuum of care unmatched in our region — and throughout the country.