RIVERSIDE, Mo. — Surrounded by the unique colors of Chicago maroon and burnt orange, Kate Kobayashi let out a sigh of relief.
The Park Hill South senior outfielder had just signed a national letter of intent to play softball at Virginia Tech as part of a signing day ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 6 inside the school’s gymnasium.
After signing her letter, she smiled for her biggest fans, her family and coaches who sat beside and stood behind her, and her friends and schoolmates who clapped and cheered from the bleachers.
“I love it so much,” Kobayashi later said of her support group. “They’ve been with me through every step of the way and I can’t imagine going through all of this, the recruiting without them.”
Kobayashi was one of three Panthers that signed on this day, which was national signing day where seniors across the country made similar commitments.
Payton Murray followed Kobayashi and inked with Missouri Western’s football program, and Michelle Dvorak was the last act, as she signed with Kansas City Kansas Community College to play volleyball.
Kobayashi, a four-time first-team all-conference and all-state performer, chose the Hokies over Minnesota, Utah Valley, Bucknell and George Mason.
“I stepped on campus and it was immediately everything I wanted,” said Kobayashi, who also visited Utah Valley and Bucknell. “I just loved the school and it’s just so beautiful. They have a great program.”
Kobayashi, an outfielder, hopes to make an impression on Virginia Tech head coach and former Missouri assistant Pete D’Amour this fall.
“They can’t guarantee anything,” she said. “It’ll come down to how hard I work and I’ll have a shot to prove myself, and I’ll definitely have opportunities. … I haven’t met anyone. I sat in on their practice and they’re obviously really good. I know I need to work hard.”
Murray is well aware of the expectations of what it takes to be a contributor for Missouri Western.
“You have to stay focused,” the three-year PHS starter. “Throughout life, I’ve been doubted about my abilities and I feel like the main thing is the facilities are great so I can go in there and use those to the best of my abilities. Everyone there wants to get better so I can go out there and compete for a starting spot and there’s a lot of other guys out there grinding to try and win a ring.”
Murray, a two-time first team all-conference honoree, chose the Griffons over MIAA foes Central Missouri and Washburn, the other two places he visited.
“It pretty much came down to what felt like home and seeing myself there and progress as a player and as a man,” said Murray, who had eight total offers. “I could see myself going there; a lot of my family has been there, so I have family ties there. I connected with the players that have committed there and the coaches. It just felt like a good family feel.”
The facilities, which are some of the best in the MIAA due to Missouri Western’s relationship with the Kansas City Chiefs, weren’t a major draw for Murray.
“The facilities are awesome, but everyone I talked to during the process said to go to the place that felt like home,” he said. “Facilities, uniforms or whatever don’t matter; just do whatever feels right. Everything else is a bonus.”
KANAS CITY KANSAS CC
Dvorak will never forget the memories she created while playing volleyball at Park Hill South.
“I loved every second of it. It went so fast,” said Dvorak, a three-year starter for the Panthers. “We had a really good last season and I made a lot of friendships with the girls and their still my best friends to this day.”
Dvorak, a middle hitter, was a first-team all-district honoree for her contributions to the Panthers’ 23-11 season this past fall.
Dvorak selected KCKCC over offers from three different levels of competition — another JUCO in Johnson County Community College, Missouri Western of Division II and Graceland University of the NAIA.
“I looked around and I decided a junior college would be best, just to settle into college life and balance between grades and volleyball,” Dvorak said. “It’s close enough that I can go home if I need to, but far enough that I still have my own life and college.”
Former Park Hill South defensive lineman Etinosa Reuben, ranked as the No. 8 prospect in Missouri by Rivals and 247Sports, headlined a group of five Panthers who signed during the early signing period.
The 6-foot-3, 275-pound defensive lineman committed to the Clemson football program in late July.
“I felt when I walked on campus, I didn’t know many people, but I felt a family atmosphere,” Reuben told The Citizen prior to his senior season. “I was embraced by the commits, the players and the coaches. Everybody just felt like family.”
Reuben chose the Tigers, who throttled Alabama 44-16 in the national championship game on Jan. 7, over the Crimson Tide, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Texas A&M, among others. He said Clemson, Ohio State and Wisconsin were his top-3.
“One day I had zero offers and the next I was getting five a week,” said Reuben, who is currently enrolled at Clemson after finishing his final semester at PHS this fall. “My film got out and everyone took notice.”