By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Nov. 13 — Ever since her sophomore campaign that ended with a trip to VCU’s Siegel Center and a state runner-up title for Luray, the fans of Bulldog Nation have all been wondering the same thing…where will Emilee Weakley be playing college basketball?
Well that question was answered Friday afternoon when a small crowd of family, friends and Bulldog faithful gathered just outside the Luray High School gymnasium to witness Weakley signing her National Letter of Intent to play for the Rams of Shepherd University next winter.
“This is a proud moment for all of us,” LHS Athletic Director Don Ehlers said. “It doesn’t happen here too often, that’s why it’s so special to be here…It’s a good day to be a Bulldog.”
With Friday’s signing, Weakley became the first LHS girls basketball player to sign a scholarship to play at the collegiate level. Jennifer Tutt (LHS Class of ’84) joined the women’s basketball team at James Madison University as a walk-on 25 years ago — while Don Ehlers’ father, Dean, was athletic director at JMU — but no Bulldog had ever signed a scholarship to play woman’s basketball until now.
“I just thank God for giving me the ability to play a game I love,” Weakley said after the signing. “Thanks to Coach Eckleberry for giving me the opportunity to play at the next level.”
Shepherd’s head coach Jenna Eckleberry is in her eighth season and lead the Rams to a 2-0 record during the shortened 2020-21 season. The Rams went 21-9 overall and 14-8 in conference during the 2019-20 season — Shepherd’s first season in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC). Eckleberry spent seven seasons coaching at her alma mater Fairmont State University, where she played for three years, before arriving at Shepherd.
The Division II Rams recently opened the 2021-22 season with a 90-61 win over Davis and Elkins. When Weakley joins the team next season, she’ll see one familiar face from the region as former Spotswood High School standout MacKenzie Freeze is currently a sophomore on the Rams’ squad.
While several Division I and Division II schools showed interest in Weakley, only Shepherd and Division I Longwood University (Farmville, Va.) actually made scholarship offers. Shepherd was only able to offer a partial scholarship, along with academic scholarships. While the Lancers offered a full, four-year scholarship, Weakley said that the small school of 3,000 students in Shepherdstown, W.Va. was the better fit, although the decision was not easy.
“It took me a really long time because I loved both schools, and both coaching staffs,” Weakley said. “So after a lot of praying and talking with family, I decided that Shepherd felt most like home…where God wanted me to be…and the more I go and talk to Coach Eckleberry, the more I feel like I made the right decision for myself.”
Weakley acknowledged that the ability to play right away, versus spending some time paying dues on the sideline, factored into her decision to go with the Rams.
“I felt like going to Shepherd, I could go in and contribute right away and play a lot sooner,” Weakley said. “That was definitely one of the deciding factors.”
Weakly finished her junior campaign last season as the Bull Run District Player of the Year, the Region 2B Player of the Year, and the VHSL 2A Player of the Year as Luray captured its first-ever state title in girls basketball. The 5’11” shooting guard averaged nearly 30 points per game, scoring more than 90 points in the Region B tournament and 54 points during two games in the state tournament.
“We never have to question how hard she’s going to play; we never have to question how hard she’s going to compete…that means so much to our team and to our program,” LHS head coach Joe Lucas, the VHSL 2A Coach of the Year, said during Friday’s signing ceremony.
“You are such a good example of a real combination of God-given talent and putting the time in,” Coach Lucas added. “She has been so important to our program…with her we’ve been able to knock down a lot of goals.”
As far as the upcoming season and her senior campaign, the first-team, All-State selection that has lead the Bulldogs to a 42-2 record over the last two seasons, including two trips to the state title game, doesn’t think the good times are over for the Bulldog Nation.
“I feel like we have the potential to take another state title,” Weakley said on Friday. “If we play together and don’t let outside influences get in the way, I’m excited to see what the year has in store for us.”