Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — She can shoot. She can beat defenders with the dribble. She can sit down and play defense. She can carry a team when asked to do so.
To make a long story short, Kaylee Darnell is the complete package on the basketball court.
Darnell has been one of the area’s best players for quite some time now. She’ll continue that trend this winter as a senior, and do so knowing that her college decision is out of the way.
On Friday, via Twitter, Darnell announced her commitment to the University of Rio Grande.
“During my first visit to Rio, it truly felt like home,” Darnell said. “Everyone on campus, including the teammates and coaches, made me feel more than welcome and that’s what stayed with me the most. It’s close to home which was a big part of my recruitment process.”
As a sophomore, Darnell helped the Pirates reach a Division III regional final. She was an honorable mention All-Ohio selection after averaging 16.5 points per game.
She followed that up by leading Wheelersburg to a 21-3 mark in 2019-20 and the program’s sixth consecutive sectional title. She was also the SOC II’s Player of the Year and scored her 1,000th career point.
“Ever since the beginning of my recruitment process, I’ve had the best support system by far,” Darnell said. “My teammates and coaches have always pushed me day in and day out, and my family has always been there since day one. If it weren’t for my teammates, coaches, and family, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Last winter, Rio Grande finished 19-13 overall alongside a 13-5 mark in the River States Conference.
The group that made up that season will welcome Darnell with open arms, considering they also have Southeastern Ohio ties.
Some familiar name on the RedStorm’ roster include Paint Valley graduate Lexi Woods, North Adams graduate Avery Harper and Fayetteville graduate Cecilia Murphy.
Darnell will also be joined by Ripley senior Azyiah Williams, who committed to Rio earlier this year, and follow in the footsteps of Wheelersburg graduate Sydney Holden, who played her senior year at Rio this past winter and was named the RSC Player of the Year and an honorable mention All-American.
“Getting to the next level has been a dream of mine since I first picked up a basketball,” Darnell said. “I’m super excited for the opportunities that are to come with going to Rio. I’m more than excited to get to work with my new teammates.”
But first, Darnell has another focus in sight. She’ll lead an offensive attack at Wheelersburg this coming season that features teammates Ellie Kallner, Alaina Keeney, Lauren Jolly, Makenna Walker, Macee Eaton and others.
Together, the Pirates will try and win their third straight conference title with the goal of getting back into the regional semifinals. Last season ended with a loss to North Adams in a district semifinal.
For Darnell and company, that finish isn’t good enough. But they’ll use it as a motivator going forward.
“Unfinished business is an understatement. While last year didn’t end how we wanted it to at all, we’re going to use that as our motivation to grind day in and day out to reach the goals that we all want to meet,” Darnell said. “I couldn’t be more excited for opportunities to come with my team, and I can’t to back on the court with my girls.”