Lady Bucs ink four

Published 10:58 pm Thursday, November 12, 2020

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JOHNSON CITY – Head coach Brittney Ezell and her staff announced Wednesday the addition of four new Buccaneers on National Signing Day as Aaliyah Vananda, Jada Ryce, Meleah Kirtner and Sarah Thompson will join the Blue and Gold’s roster for the 2021-22 season.

“Our signing class is remarkable,” Ezell said. “With the ever-present uncertainty during the COVID era, this group has been unwavering in their commitment to ETSU and to improving themselves prior to their arrival in Johnson City next summer.

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They are incredibly talented and committed to high standards in all that they do. As a collective, they are athletically gifted academic high achievers with boundless energy and a palpable passion for the game.

They have a competitive greatness with none of the ego that sometimes comes along with that quality.

I have loved every second of recruiting Aaliyah, Jada, Meleah and Sarah, and we are all so excited to have them in the Buccaneer family.”


Hometown: Maryville, Tenn.

High School: Maryville

Summer Team: Tennessee Flight Select

Position: G

Height: 5’8”

Parents: Rachel Vananda & Marshall Tillman

Awards: Back-to-back all-region selection, all-district first-team junior year.

Ezell on Vananda: “Aaliyah is a big-time competitor. She plays downhill on offense and is a readymade stopper as a defender. She plays incredibly hard on both ends of the floor and I truly believe that her best basketball is ahead of her. Her experience at Maryville High School and with Tennessee Flight Select will serve as great preparation for the college game. Aalyiah has a high ceiling as a player. We are looking forward to her growth and contributions at ETSU.”


Hometown: McDonough, Ga.

High School: The Galloway School

Summer Team: FBC Hoopstars Brown

Position: PG

Height: 5’6”

Parents: Bernard & Judy Ryce

Awards: Three-time all-region selection, 1000-point scorer.

Ezell on Ryce: “Jada is a dynamic floor leader. She understands the game at a high level and communicates extraordinarily well. She can score at all three levels and is best in the open floor. Jada brings a unique level of maturity to ETSU and she comes from an incredible high school program and a big-time travel organization in Georgia. Jada is equipped for the college game with her combination of speed and skill. I am beyond excited to have the basketball in Jada’s hands for us.”


Hometown: Wytheville, Va.

High School: Wythe

Summer Team: Bristol Pistols

Position: G

Height: 5’10”

Parents: Kim & Patrick Kirtner

Awards: Three-time all-district selection, three-time all-region selection, second-team all-state junior year.

Ezell on Kirtner: “Meleah is a scorer and what some might consider to be the sleeper of our 2021 class. She is a pure shooter that can run the break and see the floor like a point guard. I am most impressed with Meleah from a commitment and loyalty standpoint; she wanted ETSU as much as we wanted her. She has experienced success both at Wythe High School and with the Bristol Pistols on the summer basketball scene. There is no doubt that Meleah will continue to mature as a player at ETSU. She has her best basketball ahead of her.”


Hometown: Gate City, Va.

High School: Gate City

Summer Team: Tennessee Flight Select

Position: G

Height: 5’7”

Parents: Mark & Tammy Thompson

Basketball Awards: Three-time first-team all-district selection, three-time all-region selection, two-time first-team all-Southwest Virginia selection, two-time first-team all-state selection, two-time district player of the year, Kingsport Times-News Promising Newcomer 2017-18, Southwest Virginia underclassman of the year 2017-18, Kingsport Times-News Southwest Virginia Athlete of the Year, VHSL AA State Player of the Year 2019-20, VHSCA AA State Player of the Year 2019-20.

Volleyball Awards: Three-time all-district selection, three-time all-region selection.

Softball Awards: Two-time all-district selection, first-team all-region 2019-20.

Ezell on Thompson: “Sarah Thompson is a winner that bleeds Blue and Gold. She is an emotionally charged competitor that exemplifies grace under pressure and truly does it all for Gate City High School. A decorated three-sport athlete in basketball, volleyball and softball, Sarah understands how to compete consistently night in and night out. She can play the 1, 2 or 3 position on the basketball court and performs her best in intense situations. Sarah is a leader on and off the floor and has been well-prepared for the next level with her high school success and playing travel ball with her teammate, Aaliyah Vananda, for Tennessee Flight Select.”

For more information on ETSU Women’s Basketball, visit and click on the women’s basketball page.