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BEST IN PREPS THE SUN STANDOUT AWARDS HONOR HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC ACHIEVEMENT BY RAY BREWER, MIKE GRIMALA AND CASE KEEFER PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER DEVARGAS
The Sun Standout Awards recognized the best in high school athletics last Wednesday at the South Point Showroom. Here are this year’s 15 winners and their stories. ■ SUN STANDOUT AWARD NICK CAMPBELL CORONADO Nick Campbell’s track times weren’t great this spring. But that was the least of the Coronado High sophomore sprinter’s worries. Campbell survived the October 1 mass shooting on the Strip, where one of the bullets that rained down on concertgoers ripped through his right shoulder. Two inches to the left and the bullet would have hit his head and likely killed him. So when Campbell’s time in the 400 meters went from 55.14 seconds in 2017 to 56.53 this spring, he knew it wasn’t the number that mattered. Rather, it’s not being one of the massacre’s 58 casualties. Simply competing was important, and that’s why Campbell received the Sun Standout Award. It’s reserved for excellence and only awarded in exceptional situations. “The more and more I run, the better my stamina will get,” he says. “It’s like a balloon. The more you inflate it, the bigger and stronger it gets.” Campbell was rushed to University Medical Center and immediately treated
to save his life. A tube was inserted into his chest to expand his lungs and help with breathing. A few months later, he was playing junior varsity basketball for Coronado. In the spring, he returned to the track team. Breathing wasn’t easy, especially when running sprints. He could have quit, and teammates wouldn’t have questioned his desire. But that wasn’t an option he considered. Aside from constantly having to show friends the bullet wound scar on his shoulder and making the occasional appearance on national television to tell his story, Campbell is determined to have a normal high school experience. “I feel I am the same person,” he says. “I still want to be a 16-year-old kid.” He got shot. He almost died. But he didn’t, and there are plenty more games to compete in. “After a game, sometimes I will think, ‘Wow, I just did all that and I was in the hospital a few months ago,’ ” he says.
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■ FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR TATUM SPANGLER CORONADO SOFTBALL
Tatum Spangler was a dual threat for Coronado High School’s softball team. At the plate, she hit .625 with 10 home runs and 52 RBIs to finish her career with an all-time state-best 243 hits. She also won 13 games at pitcher with a 1.06 earned run average, including 172 strikeouts in 105 innings in being named the Sunrise League’s Pitcher of the Year. “It was really an honor,” she says of the hits record. Spangler also played on the Coronado volleyball team, which, like the softball team, won the league championship. “It was nice to get out there and try something different,” she says. “It didn’t take away from softball. It strengthened some of my athletic skills for softball.” Spangler will play softball at the University of Kentucky next season.
FINALISTS ■ Justice Ethridge Centennial basketball: Named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, averaged 15 points and four rebounds per game to help Centennial win its fourth-consecutive state title.
■ Jordan Ford Shadow Ridge flag football: Established single-season records with 4,570 rushing yards and 57 touchdowns to lead Shadow Ridge to the Sunset Region title and a state runner-up finish.
■ Whittnee Nihipali Shadow Ridge volleyball: Named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, totaled 463 kills, 410 digs, 61 aces and 48 blocks, and helped Shadow Ridge win the state championship.
■ MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR TY SMITH VIRGIN VALLEY WRESTLING
This state championship was different for wrestler Ty Smith of Virgin Valley High in Mesquite. Smith won the 120-pound championship in February, needing less than two minutes to pin his opponent and add his name to an exclusive section of the state record book. Smith became the 13th wrestler in Nevada history to win four state championships. His uncle and coach, Scott Woods, is one of the others. “It was amazing, truly a blessing,” Smith says. “It doesn’t happen very often, so I was just so proud to be part of it.” Smith went 61-2 this season—the defeats came in tournaments out of state. He finished his career with a 221-7 record and was ranked No. 7 nationally at 120 pounds by USA Wrestling. He’ll compete at 133 pounds at Drexel University.
FINALISTS ■ Jamal Bey Bishop Gorman basketball: Named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, averaged 22 points and eight rebounds in leading the Gaels to a state championship.
■ Jacob Heese Desert Oasis basketball: Led the state in scoring at 28 points per game, also averaged 10 rebounds.
■ Jeriel Thomas Legacy track: Won the 400 meters in five of Legacy’s meets this spring, including establishing a new school record at 47.83 seconds.
■ Dorian Thompson-Robinson Bishop Gorman football: Passed for 3,275 yards with 37 touchdowns and just three interceptions to lead Gorman to its ninthstraight state championship.
■ Gizelle Reid Rancho track: Won the state championship in the 400 meters for the second straight season. Also, was part of two state champion relay teams.
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SUN STANDOUT AWARDS ■ MALE RISING STAR
MA’A GAOTEOTE FAITH LUTHERAN FOOTBALL
UNSUNG HERO CHELY ARIAS CHEYENNE TRAINER Chely Arias was faced with the most challenging possible situation shortly after starting her job as athletic trainer at Cheyenne High last fall. A Desert Shields flag football player, Kennedi Jones, had collapsed while warming up for practice and wasn’t breathing. Arias rushed to Jones on the practice field, but didn’t find a pulse. Arias immediately started CPR and sent a player to retrieve emergency defibrillators, which she eventually used to revive Jones before an ambulance arrived. “I was there at the right place at the right time,” Arias says. “I was just doing my job, and acted the way I would have done for anyone else.” Jones spent two weeks in the hospital before returning to school. Arias has been recognized with a few different honors for saving a life, but says the biggest reward was seeing Jones back on campus. Arias worked at Cheyenne for a few more months after the incident before moving into a similar position at Arbor View. “When it comes down to it, I think of how much power I had over someone’s life,” Arias says. “You never know how much you can do for someone until they’re really dependent on you. I was out there trying the hardest I could to get her back and I didn’t stop until I was satisfied with the result.”
FINALISTS ■ Art Plunkett Las Vegas High athletic director: Retired after 20 years with the program having helped turn the football team into a perennial power in the 1990s and becoming a beloved figure campuswide.
■ Justin Weber Basic Academy facility maintenance: His bosses commended him for going “above and beyond” in preparing fields and gyms nightly for athletic competitions, where he almost always sticks around to cheer on the Wolves.
■ Donna Young Shadow Ridge athletic secretary: Served in almost every gameday role—banker, ticket-taker, security guard, etc.—based on nightly needs, in addition to working exhaustively in the athletic office.
Ma’a Gaoteote accomplished a lot during his freshman season on the gridiron at Faith Lutheran, racking up 56 tackles, three sacks and an interception from his outside linebacker position. And he’s just getting started. With his physicality, versatility and advanced mind for the game, Gaoteote should spend the next three years producing at an exceptional level in the middle of the Crusaders’ defense. “I’m more of your hybrid [linebacker],” Gaoteote says. “I can play in space, I can play downhill and do a lot of different things.” Despite all the highlight plays Gaoteote made between the lines last season, he says his favorite moment was suiting up against his older brother Palaie, a senior linebacker at Bishop Gorman. Palaie will play at USC next year, and in February, Ma’a also committed to the Trojans. “Playing my brother was the highlight for me, because we always used to bump heads as kids,” Ma’a says. “Getting to play him before he leaves was special.”
FINALISTS ■ Axel Botticelli Palo Verde tennis: Won the 4A individual tennis championship, helped Palo Verde win team title.
■ Steele Dias Green Valley wrestling: Won second straight individual state championship, helped team place second at state.
■ Jaden Hardy Coronado basketball: Averaged 25 points, five rebounds and four assists per game, drawing scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona State, Florida and UNLV.
■ Julian Strawther Liberty basketball: Averaged 24 points, nine rebounds and three assists per game, ranking as the state’s No. 1 basketball recruit.
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■ FEMALE RISING STAR
AUDREY BOCH-COLLINS CLARK TENNIS
Audrey Boch-Collins is only a sophomore, but she’s no newcomer to the top of the local tennis scene. And for high school opponents who might be hoping to dethrone her, time is already running out. She has already claimed a 4A state singles championship in each of her first two high school seasons, and she did it with undefeated records both times. Boch-Collins didn’t set out to achieve another perfect campaign in 2017—it just kind of happened that way. “My goal was just to practice and improve,” Boch-Collins says. “My goal was to have fun and not put too much pressure on myself.” For Boch-Collins, that meant honing her defensive, counter-punching style and using her athleticism to cover more ground than her competition. That approach led to a spotless sophomore season; not only did she win every match—she also didn’t drop a single set.
■ MOMENT OF THE YEAR
FINALISTS ■ Jazmin Felix Desert Pines cross country: Had five firstplace finishes, winning the Southern Region championship.
NICK DOLAND ■ Daejah Phillips Centennial basketball: Averaged nine points and nine rebounds per game for state champion Centennial.
■ Tommi Stockham Bishop Gorman volleyball: Recorded 343 kills, 52 aces and 34 blocks for state runnerup Gorman, committed to USC.
■ E’leseana Patterson Cheyenne flag football: Passed for 2,700 yards and 28 touchdowns, ran for 1,700 yards and 24 touchdowns in leading the Desert Shields to the 3A state championship.
■ GAME OF THE YEAR
CENTENNIAL VS. LIBERTY GIRLS BASKETBALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIP The nationally ranked Centennial High girls’ basketball team was expected to build a double-digit lead in the state championship game. And yet, it was Sunrise Region champion Liberty with a 15-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter. The final minutes produced the most dramatic moment of the high school season. The Bulldogs hit three 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds, including Jade Thomas’ shot from the corner at the regulation buzzer to force overtime. If
she’d missed, the Bulldogs’ streak of championships would have ended at three. In overtime, Centennial pulled away for a 74-65 win. Justice Ethridge, the state player of the year who is known for her 3-point shooting, went more than two quarters without making a long-range shot. But she finally connected early in the fourth quarter. “That started the comeback,” she says. “That’s when I knew we had a chance.” Three of Centennial’s stars, including Ethridge and junior point guard
Melanie Isbell, fouled out before overtime started. “But our bench players came out of their comfort zone and hit some big shots for us,” Isbell says. The Centennial fourth-quarter rally halted Liberty’s momentum. In overtime, Centennial continued its strong play by scoring the initial 11 points. “We started getting to the basket,” says Ethridge, who finished with a team-best 22 points and was carried off the floor on her teammates’ shoulders. And, of course, “We started hitting our 3s.”
CHAPARRAL BASKETBALL As told by Cowboys coach Steve Bentz: Nick Doland was the most valuable member of our program, because he epitomized what sports are supposed to mean for high school students. As a member of our team for the last four years, Nick grounded us with his pure joy for basketball. His love for the game was infectious to both his teammates and coaches. He usually arrived early for practice and stayed late, getting as many shots and playing as many games of one-on-one as possible. Nick, who is a special-needs student, received limited playing time in games but was a constant source of encouragement for his teammates. Nick’s dedication paid off this year, and his value to Chaparral was on display when he scored his first point, hit his first three-pointer and chipped in five points on senior night. The biggest jubilation came on his 18th birthday, when he made a 3-pointer at the buzzer and his teammates rushed the court. One of our injured players behind the bench even ditched his crutches to join in on the celebration. Other local players with special needs have scored in recent years with the coordination of the teams and officials, but there was none of that with Nick. He broke through after years of hard work, and reminded us all what is great about sports.
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SUN STANDOUT AWARDS
■ HANK GREENSPUN LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD PAUL NIHIPALI CHAPARRAL FOOTBALL
Chaparral High asked friends of coach Paul Nihipali to come by the school to record a video for his big award. Fifteen former players, coaches and friends showed up to sing the coach’s praises. It showed Nihipali was a more-than-deserving recipient of the Hank Greenspun Award, given to a figure whose career improved the community. Nihipali retired as football coach after this season. He was elevated to the position four years ago after 16 years as an assistant, and led the perennial losing program to consecutive state semifinal appearances. The Cowboys hadn’t won a playoff game since 1991. More important, as the wellwishers proclaimed, he was the father figure many students at the turnaround school lacked, treating players like he does his five children and 26 grandchildren. “For the kids to still come and visit him after all these years is a testament to who he is as a person,” assistant coach Jon Monga says. Will Hernandez, the secondround pick of the New York Giants in the NFL Draft a few days earlier, arrived for the video and went directly to greet Janie Nihipali, the coach’s wife. The Nihipalis came out of pocket to feed players over the years and didn’t stop when they graduated, with coach always springing for a meal during a college break. What many didn’t realize was the 63-year-old also worked a full-time job as a package handler at the airport, meaning the generosity was a sacrifice for the well-being of the studentathletes. “If you want to get something from a kid, you have to open up to them, you have to be honest with them,” the coach says. “Sometimes they don’t like what they hear, but that’s life. They have to take the good with the bad.”
■ FEMALE TEAM OF THE YEAR CORONADO FLAG FOOTBALL Regardless of sport, few teams in the nation were as dominant as Coronado flag football this season. The Cougars went 22-0, winning by an average of 35 points per game. They amassed more than 8,000 yards of offense, surrendering only a little more than 4,000 yards on defense. It was hard to imagine Coronado ever losing, even though it was
FINALISTS ■ Centennial girls’ basketball: Went undefeated against Nevada opponents, ranked No. 8 nationally by USA Today with a 29-3 overall record.
mostly the same team that fell to Cimarron-Memorial in the state title game the year before. “This was definitely a redemption year for us,” Coronado junior middle linebacker Amanda Burt says. “Every game, we focused on and thought of that horrible feeling we had losing last year. We worked hard and made sure that wouldn’t be us this year.
■ Shadow Ridge volleyball: Won state title with a pair of five-set victories in the state tournament, rallying from down 15-13 in the decisive fifth set against Coronado in the semifinals.
■ MALE TEAM OF THE YEAR BISHOP GORMAN BASKETBALL
Bishop Gorman was considered an underdog to Clark entering the season. The Chargers returned all of their starters from a team that nearly beat the Gaels in the state championship the previous season. But Gorman won all four meetings against Clark en route to a sixth-straight state championship, including an 11-point victory in the Sunset Regional finals. The Gaels finished 29-4 overall and ranked as a consensus top-20 team nationally in what was supposed to be a rare down year. “We used that to our advantage in our locker room,” Gorman coach Grant Rice says of preseason projections that Clark was the team to beat. “We printed out the stories and used it to motivate the kids.” And this shouldn’t be a oneyear blip. The team relied mostly on freshmen and sophomores, a core group of players who already have multiple scholarship offers from a number of powerhouse college programs.
FINALISTS Mojave football: Advanced to the state championship after winning just one game in 2016, racking up double-digit victories for the first time in the school’s 22-year history.
■ FEMALE SCHOLAR ATHLETE OF THE YEAR HAYLEE NIEMANN
ARBOR VIEW SOCCER Niemann will pursue an engineering degree and play soccer at MIT in Boston next year after a decorated four years of high school. She was a two-year captain in both soccer and flag football, while also managing a 4.8 GPA to become Arbor View’s valedictorian. She’s also a National Merit Commended Scholar and participated in the Women in Tech summer program at MIT before her senior year. She won three consecutive soccer state championships as Arbor View’s goalie during her career.
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■ COACH OF THE YEAR
JOE SAWAIA CORONADO GOLF Several head coaches around the Valley won state championships this year. Joe Sawaia might have been the only one to win two. Sawaia coached the Coronado girls to their fourth straight state championship in the fall. In the spring, the Cougars’ boys captured their first title in six years—setting a state-record low in strokes at the Sunrise Regional championship. Sawaia has also won 19 regional titles at Coronado, where he has coached since the advent of the golf program 17 years ago.
■ MALE SCHOLAR ATHLETE OF THE YEAR JAMES BRIDGES
CLARK BASKETBALL Bridges earned an A in every high school course en route to being named Clark High School valedictorian with a 4.8 weighted GPA. And he might be even better on the basketball court. Bridges was a member of the Las Vegas Sun’s Super Seven team and earned a full basketball scholarship to Sacramento State University. He was a four-year varsity player for the Chargers, starting his final three seasons and winning two state championships. His scholarly achievements include making the all-state academic team and staying active in the Future Business Leaders of America.
■ CITIZEN OF THE YEAR
HANNAH BARR BASIC SOFTBALL The conditions at Arturo Cambeiro Elementary School struck Basic High senior Hannah Barr when she volunteered there on multiple occasions, so she took it upon herself to improve the situation. Barr organized a fundraising raffle drawing—with prizes including Vegas Golden Knights tickets and an iPad— that netted $3,200 for the Northeast Las Vegas school. Barr has come to exemplify a commitment to service at Basic, where she’s also the student body president and part of the state championship bowling team. “I just try to be as involved as possible,” Barr says. “I love going out there, having fun and representing my school.”
FINALISTS ■ Vladimir Plotnikov Centennial football: Helped collect, wrap and deliver care packages to the local homeless community during the holiday season, and maintained a 4.7 GPA while starting at quarterback for the Bulldogs. ■ Ella Zanders Spring Valley basketball: Took an active role in the special-needs community, leading a Spread the Word to End the Word assembly and serving as vice president of the school’s Best Buddies program and a co-captain of the Grizzlies’ powerhouse basketball team.
■ Freddie Banks Canyon Springs boys basketball: Led the Pioneers to a Sunrise Regional championship and state tournament berth despite returning only two players.
■ Jessica Harrison Mojave girls’ basketball: Coached the Rattlers to their first state tournament appearance with a memorable playoff run that included a triple-overtime victory.
■ Cherise Hinman Boulder City volleyball: Won the 3A state championship with a core group of players she started coaching in middle school, leaving the Eagles’ reputation as an uncompetitive team in the past.
■ Grant Rice Bishop Gorman boys’ basketball: Won his 11th state championship with the Gaels despite not being favored to do so at the beginning of the season.
Las Vegas Sun Standout Awards 2018 honoring high school athletic achievement in Las Vegas.