BELLEVILLE • Everything about her is based around speed.
Nicknamed "The Flash" or "K-Rain", Belleville East senior Kaylah Rainey has gotten used to displaying that lightning speed.
Except for Wednesday morning.
Her mother, Pamela Rainey, got to be first that time around.
"I just had woke up and my mother was like, 'Kaylah, got to wake up and sign your letter,'" Rainey said.
After using her lightning quickness to leave Southwestern Conference opponents in the dust, Rainey is taking that speed to the Big Ten Conference. On Wednesday, the 5-foot-6 inch bolt of lightning signed a national letter of intent to attend Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
"It was the best feeling ever," Rainey said. "I've been dreaming about this since I was a kid."
Rainey recently received some gut-wrenching news that will prevent her from taking the court with her high school teammates one final time.
After going in for a routine physical before her senior season, doctors diagnosed her with an anomalous left coronary artery. It is a condition where the developing blood vessel in the heart muscle does not attach correctly and then is unable to receive oxygen-rich blood and the tissue begins to die due to lack of oxygen.
The issue was found early, so it is correctable. Rainey will undergo heart surgery later this month. She is expected to be out 12-14 weeks and will miss her entire senior season.
"It's obviously a big setback for her," Belleville East coach Amanda Kemezys said. "She will be sitting out her senior year, which is terrible and a big setback for our team because of what she has meant for us on the court. I think that's what makes this night even more special. Northwestern has honored its commitment and I think that solidified her happiness by choosing them."
Kemezys is disappointed that she won't have the school's career leader in steals on the court to harass opponents all winter long. But she is happy that Rainey will be able to possibly extend her career in college.
"I couldn't be happier and she deserves everything that she got," Kemezys said. "I've seen her grow up since sixth and seventh grade and to see where she is, not only as a player but as a young woman, is really special to see."
Rainey entertained offers from Harvard, Yale, Penn, Illinois, Iowa and Kansas before settling on the Wildcats.
"It was an easy pick for me," Rainey said. "It was almost like a home away from home with the coaches. I really believed in the vision they had and every time I went there, I just had so much fun and I just believed in everything they were doing."
Rainey will be joining a Northwestern team that made its first NCAA tournament appearance in 2015 after an 18-year absence.
She led the Lancers in steals (113), assists (126) and was third on the team in points (237) last season.
Kemezys says Rainey, who tried out for the USA under-16 team before her junior season, has been a joy to watch.
"It's a lot of fun to have that kind of talent to be able to build a team around," Kemezys said. "I also appreciate that she's never had a big head and has also been an added coach on the court."