In what is a big week for six Denison Yellow Jackets, Tarrence Gaines, Jordin Hunter, Cameron Wright, Hannah Koch, Keanu Hall and Ashlyn Voight started it off with a celebration of what will happen in the fall.
It came when they announced their future endeavors — Gaines for basketball at Mid-America Christian University, Hunter for football at Cisco College, Wright for soccer at McPherson College, Koch for softball at Ottawa University, Hall for cheerleading at Eastern Oklahoma State and Voight for cheerleading at Southeastern Oklahoma State — just days before graduation.
Gaines chose the NAIA program located in Oklahoma City over Jarvis Christian and North Platte Community College. His twin sister, Taryn, signed in November to play for Southeastern Oklahoma State before having an all-state season for the Lady Jackets.
“Me and my sister were hoping for that,” Gaines said about potentially playing at the same school. “It would have been pretty cool but it just didn’t work out.”
He led the Yellow Jackets in scoring for the second straight season and was a repeat pick for the 10-5A all-district team but Denison was unable to return to the playoffs after finishing with 12-21 overall record and 1-12 mark in district play. It was a four-win improvement over 2018-19 but the Jackets took a step back in 10-5A action.
As a junior, Gaines helped Denison end an eight-year playoff drought. He was a first-team all-district selection, led the team in scoring and made big plays down the stretch, including a buzzer-beating three to get a win over Wylie East in the final week of the season that ended up clinching the postseason berth. The Jackets lost in the first round against Frisco Lone Star.
Gaines was a second-team all-district pick as Denison came up just short of the playoffs with a fifth-place finish in the district standings during his sophomore season.
He was an immediate contributor as a freshman and was selected honorable mention all-district.
Mid-America Christian was 30-2, including 19-1 in conference play, was a No. 1 seed for the NAIA National Tournament and was ranked No. 2 in the country when the season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Evangels, who averaged 91.8 points per game, also won the Sooner Athletic Conference regular season title for the second time and first since 2015.
In 2019 Mid-America Christian went 21-13 and reached the Sweet 16 as part of winning at least 21 games in five of the past six seasons.
The program won the NAIA national championship in 2016, finishing 27-9, to go with four National Christian College Athletic Association Division II national championships (2007, 2004, 2003 and 1998).
“I got to take a visit to the school and the head coach was all in on the recruiting and that showed they really wanted me,” Gaines said. “I know when I get up there I’m going to have to work hard for a spot but that’s only going to make me better.”
Hunter chose the junior college program over East Central.
“They just made me feel at home at Cisco. It’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing,” Hunter said. “I remember freshman year like it was yesterday. It’s gone by so quick; in the blink of an eye it was senior year.”
Hunter forced his way into the starting lineup during the middle of his freshman year and kept that spot for the next three-and-a-half seasons.
He has been a first-team all-district selection the last three years. As a senior he totaled 58 tackles, 11 for a loss with five sacks, two forced fumbles and six quarterback pressures.
During his junior year, Hunter finished with 59 tackles, 10 for a loss, three sacks and 11 quarterback pressures.
As a sophomore he totaled 66 tackles, 15 for a loss, eight sacks, nine QB pressures and three forced fumbles.
Yellow Jacket teammate Christian Smallwood, an offensive lineman, signed with Cisco in February.
Cisco went 5-4 this past season and was 3-4 in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference. The Wranglers’ head coach is Ryan Taylor, a first-team all-district offensive lineman for Yellow Jackets who graduated in 2006 and then played at Tyler Junior College and UCLA, and the defensive coordinator is Brian Lilly, a former Denison all-state defensive lineman during his senior season in 2007 and went on to play linebacker at Texas State.
“They know where we come from,” Hunter said. “They’re two great athletes from Denison and they’re going to give great knowledge to people trying to do what they did.”
Wright picked the NAIA school over Southwestern and Centenary.
“There were definitely three or four choices I had in mind,” he said. “I based it off the program I wanted to pursue academically and the athletic program and McPherson came out on top.”
He was a three-year starter for the program but was unable to get a taste of the playoffs in his time at Denison.
This past season Wright was a first-team all-district selection despite the Yellow Jackets struggles in the 10-5A standings. Denison had two matches remaining — Senior Night and then a rivalry match at Sherman to close out the season. He was also academic all-district pick.
McPherson went 9-9 overall and 7-5 in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference after the Bulldogs lost in the conference tournament quarterfinals. The program has three KCAC titles, including both the regular season and tourney crowns in 2014, and has made two NAIA National Tournament appearances, the last also coming in 2014 when the team ended the year ranked No. 22 in the country.
The Bulldogs haven’t had a losing season in 2004 and reached the semifinals of the KCAC tourney 12 times in the past 14 seasons.
“They seem like they have a really good side,” Wright said. “They have me as a center mid but I’ll play anywhere they want me too.”
Koch chose the NAIA program in Kansas over Southeastern, Lamar, Northwestern State and Northern Arizona.
“On a whim, I applied to the school and then reached out to the softball coach. I went up there for a Visit Day and I fell in love with the place,” said Koch, who will be a catcher for the Braves. “It’s a perfect size; not big enough to get lost in and not too small.”
After spending her first two seasons at Davis (Okla.), Koch joined the Lady Jackets and jumped in as an outfielder as Denison had its best season ever, going 21-13 — the program’s first 20-win season — and making the Class 5A Region II quarterfinals for the third time, joining the 2006 and 1997 squads and earning its first postseason victory in 13 years.
The Braves were 12-9 when their season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 15th straight winning season by a program that has totaled four Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season championships, one KCAC Tournament championship, four NAIA National Tournament appearances and three NAIA World Series appearances, the last coming in 2017 with a school-record 40 victories.
In 2019 Ottawa University was 27-20 overall and fourth in the KCAC standings at 16-8 following a 37-16 record in 2018.
Hall, who also played softball for the Lady Jackets, is headed to Eastern Oklahoma State after earning a spot on the cheerleading roster. The program became a college-sponsored athletic team in 2014 with an ability to compete in regional and national competitions.
“I went and toured the campus. It felt great, the vibe they had,” Hall said. “It was something I always wanted to pursue. I put all my energy into it. I’m determined to always work on my skills.”
Voight, who also played soccer for the Lady Jackets, is headed to Southeastern to be a member of the cheerleading squad. She will participate at athletic events and other appearances around campus and town after making the team with an unconventional tryout which had to be done with an online video.
“It was frustrating and a little nerve-wracking,” Voight said. “But I had really good confidence going in. Just the love I have for it in high school, I wanted to keep it going.”