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Mayde Creek senior Simone Ballard recently verbally committed to continue her track and field career at Baylor.
In middle school, Simone Ballard would compare her track times to those of older athletes, high school and even some in college, to see how she measured up.
She came away thinking the same thing each time.
"It was then that I knew, if I worked hard, I could one day compete on the collegiate level," Ballard said.
So, the dynamic runner went out and worked.
On Oct. 19, the Mayde Creek senior verbally committed to Baylor, where she will compete in the hurdles and sprints. Ballard is a decorated recruit for the Bears, whom she chose over Dartmouth, South Florida, UCLA, and Mississippi State.
First, I’d like to acknowledge that none of this would be possible without the unfailing glory and grace of GOD. I… https://t.co/9gbW6DN0SD — Simone Ballard (@Simone Ballard)
Ballard is a nationally ranked hurdler, a seven-time Junior Olympian and a four-time All-American. She holds personal records of 13.96 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles, 45.37 seconds in the 300-meter hurdles, and 12.1 seconds in the 100-meter dash. At the USA Track and Field National Youth Outdoor Championships in June in Georgia, she finished second in the 100 hurdles with a time of 14.38.
At five years old, Ballard started competing in track and field with the youth club Track Houston. Since then, she's never let up.
"I liked the fact that no one can discredit your accomplishments," Ballard said. "The clock doesn't lie."
Ballard said she cannot remember learning to hurdle. She grew up watching her older siblings compete in the event.
"One day, my mom took me to see if I could learn to hurdle and it just came naturally," Ballard said. "I ran up and, to everyone's surprise, I was able to take the hurdle, decent form and all. I don't ever remember being afraid of the hurdles."
While her start as a hurdler came rather easily, mastering it has not been so.
Ballard credits much of her success to her personal coach Marlon Odom, praising his ability to break down the sport, and explain things in a way she can understand and he can demonstrate.
"I'm still learning and improving daily," Ballard said. "You must have a certain mentality to be successful at hurdling. You must be resilient. My thought process is to be aggressive, attack, and run through the hurdles as if they are not even there. I constantly rely on drills and believing that I am the best on the line that day."
That innate competitive drive is appropriately accompanied by lofty aspirations.
"This year, I plan to run, run fast and have fun," Ballard said. "One goal is to help my team make it to the state championship and enjoy my senior season. After high school track is over, I would like to compete in the World U20 Champions, representing the USA."
Mayde Creek junior guard Angel Sonnier.
Mayde Creek junior guard Angel Sonnier got a late start in basketball, but he's quickly climbing the ranks of talent in the Class of 2023.
Sonnier was one of eight boys from the south region to advance to the Bay Area championships of Stephen Curry's Underrated tour. Curry, star of the Golden State Warriors and a three-star recruit as a high school senior, started the tour in 2019 to provide a platform for underrated players.
"It's all about the toolkit that you can take from the tour, take it to your school or your AAU teams, your travel teams or your school teams and and hopefully they'll be like, 'Yo, where'd you learn that from?' Be like, 'Yo, I got it from the Underrated Tour," Curry told SLAM magazine in an interview about the tour.
Sonnier, a 6-foot guard who averaged 13.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.8 assists per game for the Rams last year, competed at the regional in Dallas on Aug. 13-14. In a field of 75 boys, he survived cuts the first day and then impressed the second day to move to the Bay Area championships, which will be held in April.
Eight boys and eight girls from the Dallas regional moved on to the tour's April stage. Sonnier played point guard and showed intangibles that coaches appreciate, such as being a leader and communicating, coming off screens, and setting screens.
"Being an on-the-ball player, playing off the ball was one of the most important things you could show at the camp," said Sonnier, who was recommended for the camp by his Houston SuperStars AAU coach. "I feel really blessed to say I'm in the top (8) in the region. I went there, I competed and I accomplished something. That feels good, but I feel like I've still got more work to do."
.@MCRamsHoops junior G @angelongo_ discusses making the top 8 out of the region and advancing to the Bay Area champ… https://t.co/hHFwrLVZ2Y — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Sonnier, 16, only started playing basketball in the eighth grade. He played football until his parents had him quit following an injury.
Sonnier played in eighth grade, and then played varsity his freshman year at Katy Taylor before transferring to Mayde Creek. Boasting raw, natural athleticism and a deft shooting touch (he made 38 percent of his 102 3-point attempts last season), Sonnier has worked tirelessly to catch up to players who've been hooping since their elementary years.
"It's been hard work. Just being dedicated," Sonnier said. "I know I'm starting late, so I've got to work 1,000 times harder than the next guys. There's thousands of guys that have years of this and are in the spotlight. I'm just trying to get one of their spots, coming out of nowhere and being an unknown."
Sonnier is ready for a larger role this season as he's now one of the leaders of what will be a young, but talented, Mayde Creek team.
"I'm going to be 100 times better," he said. "I'm working on breaking down defenses, getting into those small creases and finding ways to get my teammates open. Everyone knows I can score the ball. Now I'm going to show I can pass, make people better and play defense. I want to guard the other team's best player every single night."
It'll be a good test as he awaits learning under Curry and Curry's professional trainer, Brandon Payne, in April, when 64 finalists (16 boys and girls from four regions) compete for two spots in the Curry Camp.
"I just want a better grasp of the game," Sonnier said. "I know I still have a lot to learn. Being able to learn from a Hall of Famer like Steph Curry, I know he'll teach me things. That's what I'm most excited about."