Tonganoxie HIgh teammates sign to play volleyball on collegiate level

March 15, 2016

Tonganoxie High teammates Kassi Gratton and Lauren Jackson have accepted opportunities to continue their volleyball careers at the collegiate level, but they have selected considerably different options.

Gratton is heading to Great Bend, about 220 miles from Tonganoxie, to play at Barton County Community College. A more than 3-hour drive is a bit of a jaunt, but Jackson will be playing some 600 miles away in Richmond, Ind.

Jackson signed with Earlham College and Gratton with BCCC during a ceremony March 2 at the Chieftain Room on the THS campus.

A setter for the Chieftains, Jackson said the Earlham coaching staff noticed her abilities through video on a recruiting website.

Jackson, who plans to major in biochemistry, wants to then head on to medical school. She said Earlham has a good acceptance rate for med school.

“I loved the people there,” Jackson said. “It’s a small-town setting.”

And, Indianapolis and Cincinnati are just down the road.

Jackson also had Aurora College in Illinois and Pratt Community College on her short list before selecting Earlham.

Gratton had the long-distance option on her radar also. She was looking at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., and, like Jackson, Pratt.

But for Gratton, an outside hitter and back row player for THS, BCCC offered just the right combination.

She liked assistant coach Josha Schmitt, who used to assist coach Ray Bechard at Kansas University. Bechard also coached at Barton County before heading to KU.

And, with an eye on pharmacy school down the road, Barton provided the option to take care of general classes early.

“I wanted to start out at a two-year and see how I liked the volleyball and then eventually transfer to a four-year school and decide if I would want to continue playing volleyball or just worry about school,” she said.

The teammates helped the THS volleyball team reach the state tournament for the first time since 2007 this past fall. THS finished fourth at state in a run that included a furious comeback and a raucous student section at the Salina Bicentennial Center.

Gratton will play for a Barton County team that went 9-24 in 2015. Jackson looks to help the Quakers improve on a 5-22 mark this past season. Earlham is an NCAA Division III program.

Jackson earned all-Kaw Valley League, all-state, all-area and all-Tonganoxie Invitational honors this past year for the Chieftains as a setter.

Both players helped THS to a 29-14 record and fourth-place finish in Class 4A Division I. THS defeated Andale and Wellington before losing to McPherson, Bishop Miege and Louisburg. Bishop Miege won the tourney, while McPherson placed second and Louisburg third. In the match against Andale, after winning the first set, 25-17, THS was down 16-1 in the second set. but stormed back with a 24-6 advantage and won, 25-22.

For Jackson, signing day was a great opportunity to celebrate with family and friends who have helped her get to this point in her career.

Gratton agreed.

“I'm really happy I got to spend that special day with everyone that supported me throughout the years.”

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