Alaysia Oakes stood behind a podium at Heritage High on Thursday evening and talked about her career.
"This has been a journey full of ups, downs and in-betweens," the senior track star said. "When I began running track seven years ago, I never thought it could take me to this point."
Then the 13-time state champion unzipped her jacket to reveal a red Stanford University shirt. The decorated athlete followed that moment by signing her National Letter of Intent, choosing the prestigious California university over UNC, Oklahoma and Kentucky. In all, she received nine Division I offers.
Oakes made up her mind about 2½ weeks ago. As HHS jumps and sprints coach Shawn Webb pointed out Thursday, track already has taken Oakes "from coast to coast and to the deep South." Now it's taking her 2,800 miles to the West Coast for the next four years.
The distance was a concern when Oakes was making her decision. But MileSplit.com, a news and results site for track & field, ranked Stanford as having the No. 1 recruiting class for 2022, so Oakes jumped at the chance.
People are also reading…
"They're building something special and changing the culture there," she said after Thursday's ceremony. "I think they're gonna be a top-10, top-five program [nationally] very, very soon."
Oakes, a three-time All-American, specializes in the triple jump, long jump and sprints. At the Class 3 state championships in June, she captured three titles (triple, long and 100 dash) to bring her career individual total to 10 and accounted for 46 points to lead the Heritage girls to their third state team title since 2019. Oakes followed that performance by competing in July at the Junior Olympics in Humble, Texas, before traveling to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to attend an elite, invite-only triple jump clinic.
The high school indoor track season is underway, and Oakes began her senior campaign with a leap of 19 feet, 7 inches in the long jump, just a shade off her personal best of 19-8. That sort of start, she said, is a sign "good things are gonna happen this season."
Her goal is to capture up to nine individual state titles this school year (for indoor: 55 and 300 dashes, long jump, triple jump; for outdoor: 100, 200 and 400 dashes and long and triple jumps).
"I intend to go for it all," she said. "I definitely want to be a national champion. That's something that's very high on my bucket list. More importantly, I want to hit marks that I've dreamt of: 21 [feet, in the long jump] and 43 [feet, in the triple jump]. Those are my magic numbers for the year, and everything's looking so ripe to do that."
Numerous people spoke Thursday before Oakes revealed her decision. Heritage principal Tim Beatty, noting Oakes is the school's valedictorian for the Class of 2022, recalled a moment four years ago when Oakes told him she wanted to go to Duke. Beatty looked at her GPA. It was a 4.0. He knew Oakes was on her way to accomplishing her goals.
"She is driven and motivated and determined to do anything that she wants to do," Beatty said. "When you see what she's accomplished academically and you couple that with what she'd done athletically, in my opinion she is one of the, if not the, greatest student-athletes that this school has ever seen."
Track coach Don Alexander was in high school when Heritage opened in 1976.
"I've seen all the athletes come through," he said, "and I'm just gonna go ahead and dub her as the top athlete to come through here."