By Brenden West Digital Content Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — One athlete has nothing more to prove as a River Queen; the other hopes to leave it all on the court as his final basketball season looms.
On Thursday, both players — volleyball star Monique Harris and boys basketball standout Jalen Jones — were honored for their efforts on the Clinton High hardwood. And after signing on the dotted line to the ovation of many in the school auditorium, both are now officially committed NCAA Division I athletes in their respective sports.
"It means a lot. We have a lot of supporters and a lot of the school is behind us and what we've done for four years here," said Jones, who signed a letter of intent for the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
"It made me feel really special to know that people care about me and Jalen together," said Harris who is now officially bound for Iowa State University. "I feel really blessed that they care enough to watch us sign a piece of paper."
Harris' commitment came unconventionally since, as of last week, she is no longer a student at Clinton. Having already fulfilled graduation requirements, Harris will actually begin her freshman semester in January two years younger than most of her classmates at 17.
The River Queens bowed out in the first round of the Class 5A state volleyball tournament following a loss to Cedar Rapids Kennedy on Oct. 31. But had they advanced, Harris said she would have had to jump through a few hoops to stall her early graduation and remain eligible for the team.
After Thursday, though, Harris transformed from Queen to Cyclone. She said she was eager to begin training with her new team in Ames as well as start some ground work for a major in chemistry.
"I finished last week. It's cool that I'm not going to school every day anymore, but I do get bored at my house," Harris said. "We've been doing workouts for the last couple of weeks. For now I'm just getting the paperwork done and keeping in contact with them.
"This kind of closes the chapter on that part of my life."
Mark Massey, River Queens volleyball co-coach, announced Harris' commitment. He reiterated his thoughts on Harris throughout the entire fall season — that she is in the conversation for greatest Clinton volleyball player in history. At the very least, she's the all-time school leader in assists and ace serves, having started four years at setter, and made four Mississippi Athletic Conference first teams.
"Speaking from my perspective in terms of Monique, she has played volleyball and represented Clinton like no other," Massey said. "I have tremendous respect for Iowa State volleyball and (coach) Christy (Johnson-Lynch)."
Meanwhile, Jones said that having his college commitment out of the way would take a load of pressure off him on the eve of basketball season. Now that he's officially a Maverick, Jones said he's eager to achieve high goals the Kings still have this winter.
"I'm very excited because it means I can focus solely on the basketball season and nothing else," Jones said. "We're hoping to have a really great season. It's my last year and we want to end on a good note. We've been working hard in the offseason."
According to Jones, UNO has eyed the 6-foot, 6-inch wing/post prospect since "Day 1" — his freshman AAU season with Quad City Elite. Another factor in the decision was that Jones will join a former teammate — freshman Rylan Murry of West Branch — on the squad. Jones' coach, Nick Lawrence, said the Mavericks lucked out with a versatile player who has spent the past two seasons playing point guard for the River Kings despite having range as a big man.
"Jalen's the first (River King), I believe, to go directly from high school basketball to a Division I since the 1960s," Lawrence said. "That accomplishment speaks for itself. ...
"He handled the whole process well. Omaha was absolutely in love with Jalen and his abilities and what he was able to do on the basketball court."
While honoring Jones, Lawrence also said the senior is on the verge of becoming Clinton's all-time leading scorer and first ever to reach 1,000 points. Jones said those goals, as well as a deep run in the state tournament, both come more into focus now that he's figured out where he will go after graduating.
Clinton athletic director Gary Lueders introduced the coaches and players, stating afterward he was impressed so many students were on hand to congratulate the two athletes. Lawrence and Massey echoed that sentiment, both adding the turnout was a true testament for the legacies left by Harris and Jones.
"For kids like Jalen and Monique to go Division-I right from high school is big for our school, and I think that was reflected in the turnout today," Lawrence said.
Family members joined the players on stage for the ceremony. With Harris were parents Marcus and Tiffany. Jones was with his brother, Jared, and mother, Angie.