By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
Ayen Angoi sat front and center — literally — during Bishop Lynch’s graduation ceremony held at Garland’s Culwell Center on Sunday, May 15. It was one of the perks of alphabetical seating.
“It felt really good,” she said of graduating days later with a broad smile.
The four-year growth felt by the school’s 257 graduates was likely particularly pronounced for Angoi. In the classroom, the softspoken daughter of Sudanese refugees developed into a member of the school’s social studies honor society and was active in the Pan Africa Club.
On the basketball court, she went from being a sophomore who began the season on the junior varsity to the starting varsity center as a senior, helped win a state championship along the way and earned an athletic scholarship to Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana.
As she and her classmates dealt in recent years with the unprecedented adjustments to school life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ayen (pronounced EYE-yen) also dealt with the sudden death of her 13-year-old brother, Deng, who had high-level autism. She and older sister Nyankor were often Deng’s primary caregivers with their parents working long hours.
“When it happened (in May 2020), I was struggling a lot,” she said. “It all happened like in the span of a week. We didn’t expect it.”
Longtime Lady Friars coach Andy Zihlman learned that funeral attendance would be restricted. Through the efforts of Bishop Lynch board of directors member Tony Parsons, Zihlman and other school personnel plus some girls basketball players were able to attend.
The Angoi family came to the United States in 2001 because of the civil war in their homeland that led to the creation of South Sudan. They live in Garland and are parishioners at Dallas’ St. Patrick Catholic Church, where Ayen attended school before arriving at Bishop Lynch.
Ayen led the basketball team this past season in rebounds (7.3 per game) and was the No. 3 scorer (23.3 points per game). Zihlman recalled assigning her to the JV two seasons ago.
“She wasn’t real happy about that,” he said. “We were just trying to get her to work a little harder. And she did. I told her there was a kind of method to my madness.”
Ayen said she learned along the way from fellow senior Maddie Cockrell (bound for UT-San Antonio) and former Lady Friars standouts Paige Bradley (TCU) and Endyia Rogers (Oregon).
“Players that want to help you do better,” she said.
Ayen excelled as a junior in the state championship win over The Village from Houston despite a challenging matchup against opposing center Jada Malone (about three inches taller), now at Texas A&M.
“Made her cry after the game — I was complimenting her,” Zihlman said. “I’ll be honest with you — we were both crying.”
Ayen will report to Louisiana Tech in June and plans a career after college in either wildlife biology or computer science.
Read more about the Class of 2022 from Catholic schools around the Diocese of Dallas in the June 17 print edition of The Texas Catholic.