Hours before opening up the defense of their first ever district title, the Neosho Lady Wildcats’ girls soccer team saw one of their own sign on the dotted line Tuesday with NAIA Stephens College.

Neosho senior Ashley Weems, a four-year starter for the Lady Wildcats and one of the top defensive players in the area, got her signing out of the way and now her focus can be entirely on her final high school season.

Neosho assistant coach Matt Hixson and Stephens coach Kurtis Boardsen said a few words about Weems before she inked on the dotted line.

“She’s an outside back for us,” Hixson said. “As many of you know, some of you may not, she came in four years ago as a freshman in a pretty talented senior group and took over a starting varsity spot, and has played starting varsity for us for the last four years. She never comes off the field for us. She’s very versatile. She’s been our team captain for the last two years and it’s almost like having another coach on the field. It’s awesome. Any time Coach Schnack (head coach Steve Schnackenberg) and I have a question, we can go to her and she’ll tell us what she thinks.

“Most of you who know Weems, she’s not afraid to tell you what she thinks. She helped us win our first ever district championship last year and also getting the defensive player of the year award, which is awesome. She’s not afraid to come forward and help us in the attack on offense and at the same time stay back and help our defense stay together.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Ashley. Over the years, I have grown to think of her as a daughter. I love her to death and I trust her with everything, including my 14-year-old daughter when they go hanging out together. She’s a great student, in addition to being a great player. She has a 4.095 GPA. She’s currently 17th in her class. She’s a great person.”

Boardsen coached the Lady Stars to a 5-11-2 mark last fall and he touched on how Weems will fit in with the Stephens program.

“I can’t express how grateful I am to Coach Schnack and Coach Hixson for cluing me in on Ashley,” Boardsen said. “Southwest Missouri is a place that doesn’t get recruited near enough in my opinion and there’s a lot of great talent in this area. I was very happy when Coach Hixson said there’s a couple players I need to check out, Ashley being one of them.

“On behalf of Stephens College, we’re obviously excited to sign her. We’re looking forward to her being a wonderful student for our college. I can’t express how grateful I am to have somebody as talented as Ashley on the outside playing at the back. The next for years, it’s going to be exciting to see how she develops as a player. I’m going to echo Coach Hixson on this one: Continue to tell me what you think. You’re joining a team of girls who have no problem expressing their opinion.”

Weems spoke with members of the media after her signing.

“I feel lucky to get to play in college and extend my career further,” she said, “and my knowledge about soccer and hopefully pass that on someday. … It’s good to get it out of the way, especially since our first game is tonight (against Hillcrest). Just think about the rest of the season and not have to worry about choosing somewhere to go.”

Stephens College is located in Columbia, Missouri.