The entire Watersprings High School student body and some middle school students shared in a historic moment for the school Thursday afternoon in the gym.
With athletic director Scott Moe serving as emcee, music playing in the background, students filling the bleachers and sitting beside her parents and Watersprings head volleyball coach Robyn King, Joanna Hayes signed to play volleyball for John Brown University. She is Watersprings’ first female athlete to sign a national letter of intent.
She learned Wednesday about the large audience that she would have for the occasion, and she was met with a table decked out with a banner and balloons with her new school colors.
“I was super excited,” Hayes said. “Especially since we’re a small school, it’s like a family. It was a little nervewracking signing in front of everyone.”
Her big day came four years after older brother Ben, became Watersprings’ first athlete to ever sign to play college sports. Ben signed to play football with Dordt University, a Christian NAIA college like John Brown University.
“He was so excited for me,” the younger Hayes said, adding that he will be in Idaho Falls in a few days. “It’s nice to follow in his footsteps, especially at Watersprings. That’s really cool that we have that bit of history and we’re from the same family.”
She was recruited the same way as her brother by creating a National Collegiate Scouting Association profile. Upon seeing her profile, John Brown University got in touch with her and she visited the campus in Siloam Springs in northwest Arkansas in November.
She said John Brown University had kind of a rebuilding year this past season, but have had success at the national level in the past. Although she has played where needed for Watersprings, her natural position is setter, and that is the position she was recruited to play for the Golden Eagles. She added that she originally wanted to study graphic design, but has decided on journalism.
“I definitely thought they run a really great program,” Hayes said. “I was a little nervous when I watched them because I saw they already had three setters in their program, but I’m super excited to still be playing my position.”
Hayes had 190 kills, 164 aces, 278 digs and 926 assists this fall for the Warriors, who went 32-3 and won their second 1A Division II state title in three seasons. Their lone losses were to one team, Malad, which placed third in 2A this season after winning the 2A state title last year, and among their wins were 2A state champion Firth, 2A state runner-up Nampa Christian, 3A teams Marsh Valley, Buhl, American Falls and Kimberly and 4A District 6 team Skyline. The Warriors also won the 24-team Capital Tournament in Boise, the annual Skyline Classic, the 1A Division II District 5-6 tournament (their first district title since 2015) and placed second at the Malad Tournament.
Hayes expressed gratitude for the four years she has had with the Warriors and what they have accomplished in their short history as a program. Watersprings began as a pilot program in 2012 before receiving full sanctioning from the Idaho High School Activities Association in the 2013-14 school year. The Warriors won their first volleyball district title in 2015 to reach the state tournament for the first time, and have gone to state every season since. The last four years, the Warriors have won two state third place trophies and two championship trophies.
“I’m so proud of this program,” Hayes said. “I’m grateful I got to play for Coach King and with the teammates I have. None of this would be possible if not for the players and coaches we have in the program.”
She added that she recognized the big picture aspect of her signing day for her younger classmates.
“If they want to play at the college level, they can,” Hayes said. “Especially playing for a small private school, if they put in the work, they can make it happen.”
King said Hayes is already showing the younger students what is possible.
“I saw them (in the stands) as I sat,” King said. “Their little faces were watching her. This eighth grade class, they’re super strong.”