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Iliana Martinez-Lopez signs with Milligan University

Photo by Richard Rourk Front row: Jose Martinez, Iliana’s father, Iliana Martinez-Lopez and UCHS Track and Field coach Thad Higgins; Back row: Roberto Solis, a family friend, and Daniela Martinez-Lopez, Iliana’s sister.

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County High School continues to produce some of the finest athletes in the region. For one current athlete, the race to the next level has reached the final lap.

Iliana Martinez-Lopez officially signed to run track next year with the Milligan University Buffaloes in a ceremony held Monday afternoon at the high school.

Martinez-Lopez was joined by family and friends as she put pen to paper at the signing ceremony inside UCHS.

“I’m so excited to be going to college so close to home,” Martinez-Lopez told The Erwin Record. “Milligan is a great school that has such a great track program and I’m thankful to go there.”

UCHS Track Coach and Milligan grad Thad Higgins was excited to see Martinez-Lopez sign with Milligan University.

“I’m ecstatic for Iliana and her success for what she accomplished here and what she will do for Milligan,” Higgins said.

Martinez-Lopez will join former UCHS track star Halie Hawkins, who is currently a member of the Milligan Buffs track and field program.

Unicoi County High School Athletic Director Michael Smith said he is happy that Martinez-Lopez is joining several other of UCHS’s finest at the next level.

“It is very gratifying to see our student-athletes getting chances to play at the college level,” Smith said. “We have had signings in football, basketball (boys and girls), baseball, softball, track and volleyball in the 10 years I have been the athletic director.”

Smith said that UCHS has top-notch teachers, coaches and student-athletes.

“Our teachers and coaches are great at their jobs and want the best for all our students, athletes or not,” he noted. “Our student-athletes also take their academics and sports seriously and really focus on what they need to do to be able to move on to the next level. The athletes, teachers and coaches want the student-athlete to be prepared (academically and athletically) so they are successful when they sign with any college.”

According to Smith, Martinez-Lopez will fit well with the Buffs Track and Field program.

“Illiana is a great student-athlete that will be very successful in her academics and sport of track and field at Milligan College,” Smith said. “Milligan College is getting one of UCHS’s finest and we wish her luck and continued success.”