A Lady Lion senior will be reunited with a pair of former Brownwood coaches as Aleyia Cotton on Thursday signed a national letter of intent to run track and play soccer for NCAA Division II Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas.

“It means a lot,” Cotton said of playing two sports in college. “It's a good opportunity to have knowing that I've worked hard for it. At first I was surprised. I thought I had a good chance at both, but if I didn't I wouldn't have gone in just soccer. I was surprised I was able to make it in track, too.”

Former Brownwood track and field and cross country head coach Don Hood is in charge of the Harding track program, assisted by former Brownwood volleyball and track coach Jessica Withrow.

“Coach Hood has coached me all my life and Coach Withrow is a really good coach,” Cotton said. “I trust both of them.”

While her relationships with the coaches played a role in her decision, it was not the only factor.

“On the sports side they mean a lot, but the school meant more to me than just being in track and soccer,” Cotton said. “The education side means a lot, too.”

Cotton — who chose Harding over Angelo State, Hardin-Simmons and LeTourneau — plans to pursue a degree in International Business.

A year ago in track, Cotton qualified for state in the 400 meters, where she placed sixth in Class 4A with a time of 58.59, and as a member of the 4x400 relay team, which was also sixth in a time of 3:56:54. Cotton also advanced to regionals in the long jump and 200 meters.

On the soccer field, Cotton helped the Lady Lions to a 9-10 record and an area round playoff appearance where they were eventually upended by No. 7 Fort Worth Castleberry.

Looking ahead to her senior campaigns in both sports, Cotton said, “I'm just going to work harder than I usually do so I can make it state in track again and have better times. In soccer, I'm going to play the best I can no matter what happens and hopefully have a good outcome the whole year.”

Reflecting on her time at Brownwood, Cotton believes the coaching staff played a vital role in preparing her for the next level.

“All the coaches have been very helpful in all my years,” Cotton said. “It's made me realize that this is what it's like to play at a higher level. You're going to be pushed, you're going to have criticism, you're going to have competition coming from everywhere. You have to play through it, stay true to yourself and do what you have to do.”