WELLSVILLE — Paige McDaniel’s mother, Lisa, told her daughter on a visit to West Point, New York that she had never seen her smile so much. Those emotions coming from one of Wellsville High School’s most decorated athletes were true. On Friday, Paige made it official by signing with the Army cross country and track and field team.

The Black Knights gain a four-time 3A state champion in track and field, including last year’s winner of the 800 and 1600-meter runs. She is also a four-time 3A state qualifier in cross country.

Family friend Steve Morris was a help getting McDaniel interested in going to West Point. Through him, McDaniel met former Kansas State athlete and five-time NCAA All-American Christian Smith, who was coached by current Army director of track and field Mike Smith.

From there, McDaniel took an official visit with her family in September. She and her father, Scott, were sold.

“I got to meet a lot of my future teammates and just fell in love instantly,” Paige said. “Everyone there is so built on leadership and family. It was like no other college I’ve ever seen in my life. I used to be obsessed with Arkansas and Oregon, but after going there, there was no where I would get this opportunity and a team that is more like a family than my own.”

Paige said her mother was initially concerned, but was happy to see her daughter’s display of emotion on the visit.

“Even my mom turned around and started crying because she said, ‘I have never seen you smile and be so in love with something in your life. You got there and I don’t think I ever saw you not smiling.’ I was there the whole weekend,” Paige said.

“My dad was head over heels for it,” she added. “My mom was kind of scared like, ‘Oh no, she’s going to go in the army after this.’ There’s always that motherly fear, but we all went on the visit together and everyone realized that this is where I need to be. My dad was talking to some of the other kids that were there and he said, ‘You are literally just like them. All of you are super tenacious and you all want these big dreams. This is where you need to be.’ Ever since then he’s been pushing me for it.”

And now a dream that McDaniel has had since middle school is coming true. After years of hard work and lots of training, she will be running in Division 1 athletics. She will train with the cross country team for endurance, and focus mostly on the 800 and 1600-meter runs her freshman season, she said.

“Now that I am here, I am looking back on when I was younger and saying, ‘Hey, we did it! We got here!’” she said.

Pre-med or biology is what McDaniel wants to focus on for education with plans to become a pilot if her grades are good enough, or a medic, she said.

Out of everything, though, McDaniel is most excited for the atmosphere at Army — the major selling point of her choosing West Point to further her career.

“Obviously I am excited to run track, but I think I’m more excited to be in an environment where there is people like me who want to see me succeed just as much as they want to,” she said. “Also, being able to challenge myself every day, whether it is education, workouts or just the military aspect of it all too — just constantly working to better yourself and build up all of these other people who are there to do the same thing. I just think getting into that environment is what I am most excited for.”

And now that she is officially a Black Knight, McDaniel had one last thing to add.

“Beat the hell out of Navy,” she said with a smile.