Owen standout signs with Lipscomb University

Tom Flynn
Special To The Black Mountain News

Owen Warlassies’ senior soccer goalie C.J. Graham will attend Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee next fall. The keeper signed a nation letter of intent (NLI) on Nov. 9 at Nesbitt Discovery Academy in Asheville after verbally committing to the school in May.

“I chose Lipscomb because I felt that God was calling me there. It just felt like home,” said the senior. Lipscomb plays in the NCAA Division I Atlantic Sun Conference.

Owen Warlassies head coach David Fiest, right, addresses C.J. Graham and her family as the goalkeeper signs a letter of intent to play for Lipscomb University.

Graham also considered attending Ohio’s Cedarville University, which competes in the NAIA.

“It was a constant battle as to which one I felt called to. Cedarville was the perfect school; there was nothing wrong with it,” Graham said.

Ultimately through a former coach of her mother, Kendra Graham, C.J. was made aware of the school. Although reluctant to pursue information on Lipscomb, the goalkeeper was eventually persuaded.

“I didn’t want to look at it at all,” said Graham. “Turns out I ended up loving it.”

Graham hopes to major in nursing at Lipscomb.

The goalie attended Asheville Christian Academy (ACA) through eighth grade and then applied for a spot at Nesbitt, a STEM school located in Asheville for Buncombe County residents. Nesbitt doesn’t have an athletic program, but allows students to play for the public school that they would have attended had they not been selected to attend there.

Since Graham went directly from ACA to Nesbitt, she didn’t have friends within the Owen school system.

“The girls at Owen were just amazing. They’re the sweetest, kindest girls you’ll ever meet. When I first came to the team, they really took me under their wing,” Graham said. “It was great. That’s why I kept coming back. I kind of wish I attended there just so I could see them more often.”

Graham also had praise for her head coach, David Fiest, who also coaches the boys team at Owen.

“He keeps encouraging me to get better and he said that I’ll be great – and I can possibly go to a professional team. He was very encouraging and keeps my skill level up,” she added.

The senior came to soccer at the age of three and a decade later found herself on a team that regularly rotated players back into the goalkeeper position, like it or not.

“It was definitely an evolution. I was originally a striker and just loved scoring goals and I remember my coach would put me in goal because we had to take turns as a keeper. I used to sit in the goal and cry – I hated playing there,” Graham said. “Then one day, I caught a soccer ball and I was like: ‘You know what? That actually is kind of fun.’ That’s when I started getting more serious.”

Graham is up for the challenges that come with playing the most important position on the field.

“It’s hard because we don’t get too many shots in  a game. Even if the game’s pretty close, you’re probably only seeing 10 shots total,” said Graham.  “If you make a mistake, you’ve got to come right back from it. That’s  difficult because you don’t constantly touch the ball.”

The Bisons went 15-4-2 this past season, while the Warlassies went 16-4-1 before bowing out in the third round of the NCHSAA playoffs.