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story.lead_photo.caption Jefferson City's Hannah Nilges and Sarah Linthacum laugh together after posing for photos to symbolize the signing of their letters of intent to play basketball at Drake and Missouri, respectively, on Wednesday afternoon at Fleming Fieldhouse. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

Hannah Nilges and Sarah Linthacum have known for a while where they would play basketball at the next level.

They made it official Wednesday as the Jefferson City Lady Jays teammates signed NCAA Division I letters of intent in a ceremony at Fleming Fieldhouse.

Nilges, a 5-foot-7 guard, signed to play at Drake University. She gave her oral commitment to the school as a sophomore.

"I'm really spiritual and I prayed and God opened up that door to me," Nilges said. "The coaches and the players, it felt like home the minute I stepped on campus."

Nilges averaged 11.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a junior. She is a three-year letterwinner.

"Hannah is a tough guard that plays with so much passion," Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk said in a release from the university. "She can shoot the basketball and has the ability to put her teammates in incredible positions. Hannah just embodies the culture of this program in all she does."

Nilges is one of five players, including three guards, to sign with Drake.

Jefferson City's Hannah Nilges (seated center) signs a letter of intent to play basketball at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Also seated are her mother, Deanna Nilges; Kylee Sprick; Benton Kiesling; and her father, Bob Nilges. Standing (from left) are Missouri Phenom assistant coach Shann Sievers, Lady Jays basketball assistant coaches Andrew Stone and Andrea' Salmons, Missouri Phenom head coach Greg Logsdon, Missouri Phenom assistant coach Dennis Baggett, Lady Jays basketball head coach Kay Foster, Missouri Phenom assistant coaches Brittany Carter and Dev Griffin, and Lady Jays basketball assistant coach Bobby Showers.
Photo by Liv Paggiarino/News Tribune.

"We are looking to be an impact class next season," Nilges said. "I just want to impact the game on offense, defense, anything."

Baranczyk, who led Drake to a 22-8 record last season, is excited for the group to get to the school in Des Moines, Iowa.

"They have already connected so well as a class and it is obvious they will continue to enhance the chemistry in our program," she said. "They bring such a variety of skill sets and are all difference makers. They also do an incredible job in the classroom. We are so lucky to have them join the entire Drake family."

Linthacum, a 6-0 forward, signed to play at the University of Missouri.

Jefferson City's Sarah Linthacum (seated center) signs a letter of intent to play basketball at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Also seated are her mother, Angie Linthacum; her sister, Hannah Linthacum; her brother, Will Linthacum; and her father, Larry Linthacum. Standing (from left) are Missouri Phenom assistant coach Shann Sievers, Lady Jays basketball assistant coaches Andrea' Salmons and Andrew Stone, Missouri Phenom assistant coach Brittany Carter, Missouri Phenom head coach Greg Logsdon, Lady Jays basketball head coach Kay Foster, Missouri Phenom assistant coaches Dennis Baggett and Dev Griffin, and Lady Jays basketball assistant coach Bobby Showers.
Photo by Liv Paggiarino/News Tribune.

"I have always felt right at home there, it's always had a special place in my heart," Linthacum said. "It's my dream school."

Linthacum was a Class 5 all-state selection last season after averaging 11 points and eight rebounds. She joins her sister, Micah, on the basketball team. Micah Linthacum redshirted as a freshman last season.

"One Linthacum wasn't quite enough for us, so we wanted to make sure we got a second," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said in a release. "Sarah is a well-rounded, multi-sport athlete and a high-quality young lady who we are so excited to have the opportunity to coach for the next four years.

"We love her versatility on the court and ability to play multiple positions. She is a vocal leader, a high-energy player, and a great teammate, and we fully expect her presence in our locker room to have an immediate positive impact on and off the court."

Linthacum is ready to do whatever is needed as a member of the Tigers.

"I try to be pretty versatile, I will try to fill any position," she said. "I just want to be a big communicator and encouraging everyone."

Linthacum is one of four signees for the Tigers, who finished 9-22 last season.

"Our 2021 class is a group of ladies we are extremely excited about and fully expect will make an instant impact on our program," Pingeton said.

But before the duo head off to college, there's a senior season to play under new head coach Kay Foster.

"We are looking to go far," Linthacum said. "I think we have a good program set up, things are going really well with our new coach.

"We just have to work together as a team and I think we are ready to do that."

Jefferson City returns four starters, including three who played for the Class 5 state title in 2019 and fell in the district championship game in 2020.

"Hopefully we are playing for a state title at the end, but we need to just take it game-by-game," Nilges said.

Jefferson City is scheduled to open the season Friday, Nov. 20, at Rolla.

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