Like most young players who grew up dribbling a basketball and shooting free throws until dark in the family driveway, Althoff High School senior Kyleigh Vaught no doubt dreamed of playing NCAA Division I college basketball.
But when it came down to making her college decision, Vaught — one of the top players in the South Seven Conference for the past three years — has opted to attend NCAA Division II Univeristy of Nebraska-Kearney and the chance to play earlier in her college career.
“What division it was really didn’t matter at all. I just wanted to go someplace where I have the opportunity to play, someplace where I wouldn’t have to wait until my junior or senior year to play,’’ Vaught said last week. “Honestly, the division didn’t matter because I’m going to college for free.’’
A three-time letter winner and twice a first team all-South Seven Conference player, the 5-foot-8 Vaught also visited the University of Missouri at St. Louis and Maryville University. But after making the trip to Nebraska-Kearney last month, knew she had found a place where she fulfill her dreams of playing college basketball at for the next four years.
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“When I went to Kearney, I went for a three-day official visit. The first night I got there we had dinner and just kind of relaxed. But right away I really felt welcomed,’’ Vaught said. “The coaches, the players... everybody made feel like they really wanted me there.
“The next day I went through a guard workout and a team workout. The guard workout, we just did the workout that they do and then for the team workout, it was actually more of like a scrimmage. But I just noticed that whenever I was working with the team, everything just felt right. And when we started to scrimmage, I was able to get in the flow very easily.’’
A member of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, Nebraska-Kearney is coached by Carrie Eighmey who begins her second year as head coach of the Lopers. Nebraska-Kearney finished 16-14 a year ago and was 11-11 in the MAIA.
The Lopers are getting one of the premier Class 2A guards in Illinois in Vaught. An accurate 3-point shooter and one of the better athletes in the South Seven Conference, Vaught has seen her scoring average rise in each of the past two years. After scoring at an 11.4 clip as a freshman, Vaught averaged 13.8 as a sophomore and went up to 15.1 ppg. a year ago for a Crusaders team which played one of the more challenging schedules in the metro east area.
Vaught also went over the 1,000 point mark for her career a year ago when she shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the 3-point stripe. This season, Vaught will team with several returning players at Althoff including 6-foot senior Maggie Reimer, on what should be one of the premier Class 2A teams in southern Illinois this season.
Basically a shooting guard at Althoff during her career, Vaught said she can and will play the point guard if need be at the college level.
“I’ve played more at the (No. 2) guard spot in high school, but I can play both. I’ll play wherever they need me to play,’’ Vaught said. “They (Nebraska-Kearney) have a very good basketball program and I’m looking forward to being a part of that program.
“I know I’ve got to keep working and get stronger. I’ll do whatever it takes.’’