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South Forsyth's Welch signs with Mercer women's basketball
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South Forsyth senior girls basketball player Ally Welch posed for pictures with her Lady War Eagles teammates Wednesday after signing a National Letter of Intent with Mercer University. - photo by Brian Paglia

Two years ago, Ally Welch walked into a Mercer women’s basketball summer camp because the University of Maryland told her to. The Lady Terrapins had seen the 5-foot-11 forward at a camp in College Park, Md., and liked what they saw; offered her a scholarship even. But the numbers game of recruiting didn’t work in Welch’s favor.

The network of recruiting did. Maryland and Mercer’s coaching staffs had ties, so off Welch went to the Lady Bears’ camp, forging a relationship that led to the South Forsyth senior signing a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday morning.

“Their program is so much more than I expected,” Welch said. “It’s already growing. I love the coaching staff there, and I’ve already gotten to know some of the players. I’m very excited to get there next summer.”

Welch joins Mercer’s recruiting class of 2015 that includes Keke Calloway (Mary Persons), Kyesha Lewis (Effingham County), Linnea Rosendal (Sweden) and Rachel Selph (Dodge County).

And she joins a program that’s seemingly on the rise. Under fifth-year head coach Susie Gardner, the Lady Bears went 17-14 last season and 9-9 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Mercer is now a member of the Southern Conference.

Welch has helped South make its own impressive rise. As a junior, she averaged 8.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.2 steals a game to help the Lady War Eagles go 27-6 and reach the Class AAAAAA Final Four.

But Wednesday was the culmination of Welch’s rise from an upstart third-grader who even then held ambitions of playing in college.

“That’s definitely been a goal for a very, very long time,” Welch said.

The goal shifted over the years. Eventually, Welch thought her ceiling might be to play at a Division II school, and that was okay with her.

But when her Atlanta Cagers AAU team started winning summer tournaments with dozens of college coaches watching from the baseline, Welch’s ambitions grew.

“I just thought we could end up somewhere [big],” Welch said.

She ended up in South’s Performing Arts Center on Wednesday sitting behind a table on stage surrounded by her Lady War Eagles teammates. They wore Mercer T-shirts and took selfies.

A year after Welch verbally committed to Mercer, she officially became a college basketball player.

“Definitely takes off some stress,” Welch said. “Kind of lets me focus a little bit more on the season, make it a good senior season, take it as far as we can.”