Trio of A-G standouts commit to colleges
From left, Ayden-Grifton standouts Jordan Cannon, Ray Darden and Zion Hardy committed to colleges Tuesday. Cannon will head to Lenoir Community College for volleyball, Darden is playing at St. Andrews for football and Hardy is going to Mississippi Valley State for volleyball. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News
AYDEN — A trio of Ayden-Grifton stars made commitments to colleges Tuesday.
Jordan Cannon, Ray Darden and Zion Hardy signed to different schools after etching their names into Chargers lore. Cannon and Hardy played volleyball for Ayden-Grifton all four years as the Chargers went 62-28, including a 44-5 mark over the past two seasons. The duo helped the team win consecutive ECC conference championships — snapping a 41-year drought in 2017 — and reached the fourth round of the NCHSAA 2A playoffs both seasons.
Cannon will be heading to Lenoir Community College and said her decision to go was mainly predicated from the Lancers’ hiring of new coach Lee Avery. Cannon, who is deciding between criminal justice and psychology for her major, played for four years under Avery in travel ball with Lenoir Fusion.
"My original plan was to play at UNCW, but when I found out he was going to be the new coach and wanted me to play on the team, I changed my plan," Cannon said. "I hope to bring the experience I had (at Ayden-Grifton) with the talent we had out to LCC to help build that program as well."
While LCC is only 25 minutes from Ayden-Grifton, Hardy will be more than 13 hours and 850 miles away after accepting an offer to play at Mississippi Valley State University. Hardy plans to study physical education and said MVSU felt like the best fit for her.
“I was looking for the best place for me academically and athletically, and I also liked the coach at Mississippi Valley State,” Hardy said. “Hard work got us this far — we felt like we were able to make the program here better and I hope I’m able to do the same at the next level.”
Ayden-Grifton volleyball coach Linda Bryant had nothing but positive words for Cannon and Hardy.
“Jordan was one of the best setters we’ve had in a long time and it helped that she also played travel ball,” Bryant said. “Zion also played travel ball and with her being 6 feet tall, she was able to make an impact at the net.
“These ladies had plenty of talent and continued to improve, really helping to turn this program around.”
Darden, who looks to study sports management, is heading to St. Andrews for football after helping the Chargers keep their impressive postseason streak alive at 18 consecutive years. Darden played on both sides of the ball this season, leading the Chargers in tackles with 54, but will play running back in Laurinburg after posting totals of 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“I felt like this was my best choice,” Darden said. “The school made me feel like I was at Ayden-Grifton and I had good vibes when meeting the coaching staff. My goal is to keep bringing that drive and motivation I learned here, trying to get everyone to work hard to be the best that we can.”
Ayden-Grifton football coach Paul Cornwell said Darden epitomized what his program is all about.
“Ray came in with a lot of commitment and dedication to the team,” Cornwell said. “He brought his hard hat every day to practice and the games, and now he has the opportunity to take his game to college — I couldn’t be happier for him.”