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Area signing notebook: Simms one of five Division I signees for Liberty

ARGYLE — The first college volleyball team Sabrina Simms went to watch play was Oklahoma, and she was immediately hooked. So it stands to reason why all these years later the Sooners were her top choice to continue her own athletic career.

The Liberty Christian senior made that dream a reality Wednesday when she signed her national letter of intent to play volleyball for Oklahoma during a joint signing ceremony at the high school. 

Simms was one of five Liberty athletes representing four sports to sign with Division I programs.

"I'm excited and relieved," Simms said. "If you want to play at this level, there's a lot of noes that are involved [before you get a yes]. So once you find your new home, you can finally breathe."

Simms said Oklahoma didn't show interest in her at first but her versatility eventually made her a solid addition to the Sooners' recruiting class. A four-year varsity player, Simms can play anywhere on the floor. She was mostly used as an outside hitter and middle blocker, but she also played back row and as a right-side hitter.

Despite being slowed by a shoulder injury, Simms finished her senior year with 188 kills, 34 aces, 56 blocks and 171 digs. 

"Her last step is so powerful that you think when she goes up she's going to crush the ball ... but then she just floats it over the net," Liberty coach Kim Grizzle said. "I've been here three years, and Sabrina outranks me. Where she goes, this team goes. Everyone wants to be like Sabrina."

Simms said she'll miss her time at Liberty but she's prepared to take on any challenge.

"It's definitely important that you be prepared to play any position," Simms said. "It's just humbling to see that with hard work you can go from this skinny little girl to now [playing college volleyball]. I'm ready for college."

Howell, Barr to continue baseball careers 

Kason Howell has spent his high school career playing football and baseball, but his skills on the diamond are what make him a coveted recruit. On Wednesday, the Warriors' star center fielder inked a deal to continue his career at Auburn.

"I've enjoyed playing football too, but it's going to be nice to be able to focus all my time and the offseason on getting better at my craft," Howell said. "Auburn is my dream school."

Howell batted .466 with six home runs and 36 RBIs as a junior. He had a slugging percentage of .786 and stole 27 bases. 

He was one of two baseball players from Liberty to sign on the first day of the early signing period, as teammate Dawson Barr signed with TCU. 

Both were heavily recruited. Howell said his decision came down to Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas and TCU. Barr, a right-handed pitcher, had interest from Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina. 

Barr's signing was one of the bigger feel-good stories of the day, as he is not far removed from having Tommy John surgery on his right arm. He only pitched 11 innings in 2016. As a freshman, he carried a 0.47 earned run average with 28 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings.

"[The injury] was a big punch in the stomach," Barr said. "It was a freak thing that we initially thought was just a nerve impingement. But I feel as good as I've ever felt, and I've been throwing in the bullpen. I definitely feel like I can contribute and be apart of the rotation [at TCU]."

From left to right, Elizabeth Reneau, Sabrina Simms, Connor Holzkamper, Kason Howell and Dawson Barr pose for a photo. Student athletes at Liberty Christian School signed their letters of intent to go to various universities to play their sport., Wednesday, November, 8, 2017, Liberty Christian School in Argyle, Texas. Jake King/DRC ORG XMIT: txderDRC
From left to right, Elizabeth Reneau, Sabrina Simms, Connor Holzkamper, Kason Howell and Dawson Barr pose for a photo. Student athletes at Liberty Christian School signed their letters of intent to go to various universities to play their sport., Wednesday, November, 8, 2017, Liberty Christian School in Argyle, Texas. Jake King/DRC ORG XMIT: txder
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Reneau signs with Duke, Holzkamper to Arkansas

Two weeks ago, Elizabeth Reneau was announcing her verbal commitment to Duke. She didn't have to wait long to make that official, as she signed her letter of intent Wednesday.

"This was a lot of hard work in the making, and it's nice to see the fruits of all that labor paying off with this signing," said Reneau, who will run both track and cross country at the next level. "My family, coaches and teammates helped me along the way. I wouldn't be here without any of them."

Between committing to Duke and winning her fourth TAPPS cross country state title last week, Reneau is no stranger to the spotlight. The senior has 11 individual state titles and one team title going into her final track and field season. 

She won track state titles in the 800 meters, 1,600 and 3,200 last season, and entered that meet as the two-time defending champion in the one- and two-mile runs.

Meanwhile, decathlete Connor Holzkamper has dreams of competing in the Olympics. That dream prompted him to switch his verbal commitment Monday from Oklahoma State to sign with Arkansas. A relative newcomer to the track scene, Holzkamper turned heads at a Razorbacks camp at the end of last school year and has been making steady progress ever since.

"I think with the progress Arkansas has made with its program, it was an opportunity I really couldn't pass up," Holzkamper said. "I'm very excited about the opportunity."

Argyle's Standifer signs with Fresno State

Argyle senior guard Gabby Standifer made a dream come true when she signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Fresno State. Standifer chose the Bulldogs because of their coaching style, how the team likes to play and their winning atmosphere. 

"Making it official today by signing with my friends, family and teammates around was really exciting," said Standifer, who has been a part of two of Argyle's three Class 4A state championships. "I'm glad I get the opportunity to play college basketball at such a great university. They just win. They compete for a conference championship every year, and that's what I want to be a part of. I can't wait to be there." 

As a junior last season, the sharpshooter averaged 10.7 points and 3.9 rebounds to go with 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals. The all-state guard shot 38 percent from beyond the arc, converting 51 3-pointers. 

Argyle senior Gabby Standifer (seated in middle) smiles during her signing ceremony as she takes a picture with her family. Standifer is going into her third year at Argyle and just signed with Division I Fresno State.Courtesy Photo
Argyle senior Gabby Standifer (seated in middle) smiles during her signing ceremony as she takes a picture with her family. Standifer is going into her third year at Argyle and just signed with Division I Fresno State.
Courtesy Photo

As a sophomore in 2016, Standifer was named MVP of the 4A title game.

Standifer has been one of many key cogs for the Lady Eagles the last three years, and heading into her senior season she's narrowed her focus to bringing home a fourth consecutive state championship.

"This year being my last at Argyle, we want to have another opportunity to win a state championship," Standifer said. "As a team we've discussed how tough that's going to be this year, but I know with the young players we do have who stepped up last season and others, we'll have another opportunity." 

Contributing writers Jimmy Isbell and Brady Keane contributed to this report.

STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.

Signing day list (non-Denton schools)

Volleyball
Sabrina Simms, Liberty Christian, Oklahoma
Danielle Davis, Argyle, Concordia Irvine

Baseball
Kason Howell, Liberty Christian, Auburn
Dawson Barr, Liberty Christian, TCU
Bryson Hudgens, Argyle, Angelo State
Parker Abrego, Argyle, Southern Arkansas 
Jakob Machuca, Lake Dallas, Fort Scott Community College
Mason Meeks, Lake Dallas, Drury
Logan Cowart, Lake Dallas, Henderson State

Softball
Tristan Bridges, Krum, Tarleton State
Morgan Sebastian, Krum, Tarleton State
Maddie Goin, Krum, Tarleton State
Regan Smith, Krum, North Central Texas College
Kathryn Wells, Sanger, Northwestern Oklahoma State

Cross country/track and field
Elizabeth Reneau, Liberty Christian, Duke
Connor Holzkamper, Liberty Christian, Arkansas
Bryson Bassinger, Sanger, West Texas A&M

Girls Basketball
Gabby Standifer, Argyle, Fresno State

Golf
Luke Griggs, Argyle, McLennan Community College