MATTOON — Bella Coffey and Bri Poehler continued what has become a yearly tradition for the Mattoon softball team. Mattoon's Justus Donaldson hopes to be the start of something new. All three athletes signed to play at the next level on Monday at Mattoon High School.
Coffey and Poehler joined what is a growing Mattoon pipeline to Parkland College as both players signed with Chuck Clutts' softball program. Parkland softball currently has three Mattoon players - Shelby Youngblood, Kyliegh Basham and Ivy Nichols - on the Cobras roster.
For Coffey, the decision came down to whether she wanted to play softball or basketball at the next level.
"I am very excited and ready to start this new chapter and ready to meet the girls and play for Parkland," Coffey said. "I had the opportunity to play (basketball) at Lake Land, but I went with softball. Softball has always been the biggest part of my life. I've been playing for 10 years now and I just knew I didn't want to give it up quite yet."
Coffey plays first base for the Green Wave. This past season, she batted .396 with two home runs, nine doubles, 28 RBIs and 25 runs scored.
"I've gotten a lot of great players out of this school. It just keeps going and going," Clutts said. "First thing I noticed about Bella, she is an awesome defensive first baseman. I kept watching it and last year during high school and summer ball, she started to hit the ball really hard. She's a great kid and a great players and a great teammate."
Coffey thinks she can have an impact at first base next season for the Cobras.
"For what coach has said, they need a first baseman, so I am hoping to fill that position," Coffey said. "I hope I can be a big part at Parkland. I was very stressed out, so this is a big weight off my shoulders."
Parkland was the only softball program Poehler considered playing at.
"I am extremely excited. When I went on the campus tour, it felt like home," Poehler said. "I've went and watched games Parkland has played and I liked how coach Clutts coached the girls throughout the game. I played with the (Mattoon) Pride and after a game, I talked to coach Clutts and he was the first college coach I talked to and I really liked him."
Poehler has played multiple positions at Mattoon. Poehler batted .357 with 16 RBIs and 15 runs scored to go along with five doubles.
"I just hope I succeed there," Poehler said. "It's nice to have the decision made because now I don't have to worry about anything else. I need to work on making improvements so I can get ready for college."
Clutts likes Poehler's versatility and thinks her bat can get her in the lineup.
"Bri is taking some hitting lessons, changed her swing a little bit and is doing wonderful," Clutts said. "Bri can play outfield, third and can catch. I was introduced to her two years ago at a showcase at Lake Land. I started paying attention to her every since then. Bri is a teammate type person. She will work hard and we look forward to having her."
Mattoon coach Hannah Dow said it was fun to see two players sign to play at the next level.
"I know there's been a lot of signings in the past with coach Clutts and it's awesome to see some of the Mattoon players stay close and go to a great program," Dow said. "I played at Heartland and played against coach Clutts, so I know how tough their program can be. It's a good fit for these girls to go up there."
Dow feels both players can have an impact at Parkland.
"They are both leaders on and off the field and I think that will roll right over," Dow said. "I think with their academics and all of the above, I think they will be a great asset to the program. I am excited to have them for this last season of high school ball still. I am not getting rid of them yet."
Donaldson hopes to be a key piece for the University of Evansville men's track and field program. The Mattoon hurdler signed with Evansville on Monday. In October of 2016, Evansville announced it was bringing back the program starting in the 2017-18 season. Evansville last had a track and field program during the 1980-81 school year.
It's always been a dream for Donaldson to run at the NCAA Division I level.
"I am pretty excited," Donaldson said. "This has been a dream since I knew what Division I athletics was. I told my dad, one day I am going to be a Division I athletes. When this opportunity came up, I knew I had to take it."
Donaldson qualified for the Class 2A state track and field meet in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles.
Donaldson has a few offers out there from Illinois-Chicago, Hillsdale College and Tiffin University. Evansville's campus appealed to Donaldson over the others and he gets to work with coach Evansville coach Don Walters, who has worked with the USA track and field team in the past.
"It's a new program with a phenomenal coach," Donaldson said. "He's been offered Olympic positions before, so I know running under him gives me a chance to pioneer a Division I program. This was my chance to go out there and prove something because I will be running against the best athletes in the world. It's a huge step up and I am always looking for a challenge."