This is part of an ongoing series of stories keeping up with former Nye County student-athletes who are continuing their careers in college.
When the pairings for the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics Football Championship Series were released Nov. 17, it immediately became apparent that a pleasant coincidence could create a Pahrump Valley High School reunion in Caldwell, Idaho.
Class of 2019 offensive lineman Zach Trieb’s Ottawa University Spirit were matched up against the College of Idaho, and while no former Trojans play on the Yotes football team, Class of 2018 cross country and track athlete Bryce Odegard now runs for the Yotes.
And with the cross country team running in the NAIA Championships — where the Yotes men finished fifth but, with the women’s team finishing second, won the combined title — on Friday in Vancouver, Washington, Odegard would be able to get back to campus in time to watch his school’s undefeated football team take on the 9-1 Spirit.
The game itself was no contest, as College of Idaho, which brought back football in 2014 and had not been in a postseason game since 1953, rolled to a 70-23 victory over Ottawa. But after the game, it was all smiles as Trieb and Odegard posed for a picture at Simplot Stadium.
As Odegard put it, it was a meeting of “two former Trojans who played football together and were really good friends.” There was no word on whether the two placed a side bet on the outcome.
Trieb saw significant playing time almost from the beginning of his college football career at Ottawa, but it wasn’t exactly what he expected.
The Spirit, in just their second season of football, had a wildly successful season, going 9-2 overall and 7-1 to win the Sooner Athletic Conference championship before the loss to College of Idaho in the NAIA playoffs. But what the 2019 Pahrump Valley High School graduate didn’t foresee was starting a game at center during his freshman season.
“I was put at guard for the first couple of days at fall camp, and they moved me to center on day three,” Trieb said. “I was very surprised. The last time I played center was like fifth- or seventh-grade year.”
But Trieb has become accustomed to the position, as he’s seen time in several games for the Spirit, who finished the regular season Saturday with a 33-14 win over Southwestern Assemblies of God in Waxahachie, Texas.
“Against Doane, I only got like four or five plays, and I didn’t get in a couple of games, but Wayland Baptist I played the whole second half, Oklahoma Panhandle I played the whole fourth quarter, Texas College basically the whole second half, Arizona Christian part of the third and the whole fourth, and Lyon I played the whole game.”
Trieb started against Lyon because regular center Tristan Shehorn suffered sprained ligaments in his ankle. Shehorn returned for last weekend’s game.
Ottawa was ranked 16th in the NAIA poll going into their final game. The Spirit play in the Sooner Athletic Conference for football, against teams mostly in Texas and Oklahoma.
“We fly to all of our games,” Trieb said. “The only one we had to take a full bus ride to was Oklahoma Panhandle, and that was about a 13-hour ride.”
Trieb, a pre-med biology major, said he has done well in school thus far, recording As and a B. His football education began early.
“Physically, conditioning and everything, I came here in the summer, and that really prepared me for the season,” said Trieb, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds.
At least, that prepared him to play tackle.
“The biggest adjustment was moving from left tackle to center,” he said. “Our coach says we want a ball snap every 18 seconds. It took some work, getting the snaps, which I’m still working on.”
Odegard’s College of Idaho men’s cross country team was ranked second in the nation going into the NAIA championships Friday at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington.
And the Yotes, who qualified for the championships by winning the Cascade Collegiate Conference championships, have a bit of a chip on their shoulders when it comes to taking on defending champion and top-ranked Oklahoma City University.
“Everyone on the team believes we think we’re the better team,” Odegard said. “Oklahoma City won last year and they’ve proven themselves time and time again this year, but we’re under the impression that if we put seven good races out there Friday, I don’t think there’s a team that can beat us.”
As it turned out, the Yotes were able only to put four good races out there, but one of them was Odegard’s, who ran the 8,000-meter course in 25 minutes, 46.7 seconds to finish 44th, the fourth College of Idaho runner to cross the finish line. A strong fifth could have had the Yotes finish as high as second, but the last scoring runner, hampered by an injury, saddled them with 102 points, almost as many as Oklahoma City totaled for the meet (110).
With four of the seven runners having been on the course previously, the Yotes were optimistic. But in all likelihood, they will be back, as they share the record for most championship appearances with 10.
Minor injuries have caused Odegard some trouble this season, but he has turned in some strong efforts on the trails.
“I raced really, really well when we were down in Sacramento, but following that I ran into some injury issues,” Odegard said. “First my hamstrings, then my toes. I think it’s more of a mental thing now. I have to get back into the mindset.
“My biggest flaw the last couple of races has been letting not being 100 percent get into my head.”
Sacramento was the site of the Capital Cross Challenge, where the Yotes finished eighth, behind a powerhouse lineup that included two NCAA Division I schools. Odegard ran the 8,000-meter course in a personal-best time of 24 minutes, 57 seconds to finish 53rd, 3rd among College of Idaho runners.
Odegard said he is handling his academic load better as a sophomore, and he still enjoys life in Idaho.
“It’s going much better than I did my freshman year,” said the business major. “I’m still liking it up here. Not all that different from home.”
Almost three semesters into college, Sydney Dennis still waits to get on the field.
The former Pahrump Valley High School athlete who ran track for the Trojans while simultaneously playing soccer for her Players SC in Las Vegas, her state champion club team, has yet to kick a ball in anger for Northern Arizona University.
Dennis redshirted as a freshman, which is not uncommon, but that redshirt year would have come in handy after she injured her knee during the spring.
“I hurt it during a scrimmage,” Dennis said. “I am literally changing directions and my knee popped. I ended up having to get two surgeries to repair some cartilage. The first one was to see what was wrong, and the second surgery they repaired some cartilage.”
So Dennis was on the sidelines as Northern Arizona went 8-8-3, 4-3-2 to place fifth in the Big Sky Conference. The Lumberjacks’ season ended Nov. 6 in the conference tournament quarterfinals, a 2-1 home loss to Northern Colorado.
But Dennis said she is on her way back and is feeling “pretty good” going into offseason workouts.
“I just had my first real practice,” she said. “No contact. We just did a technical session.”
Dennis said she has discussed her role on the team when she returns and the conversation centered on defense. “Maybe center back or possibly a holding mid,” she said.
School is going well, and the injury didn’t hamper her academic progress.
“I would just do my rehab during the time block we usually would have practice,” she explained. And while her leg was non-weight bearing for about two months and was on crutches, Dennis said the pain wasn’t that bad unless it was really cold.
And Dennis also decided to major in nutrition.
“I knew I wanted to help people, but I didn’t really want to know their deepest, darkest secrets,” Dennis said. “In high school I wasn’t very conscious of nutrition, but something happened when I came to college. It was like, I do need to eat better.
“It’s funny. I’ll be in class and my teacher will tell us something about how a certain vitamin or supplement will affect kidney stones, and I’ll text my dad and tell him not to take this because he’s prone to kidney stones.”
Dennis said she loves Flagstaff, Arizona, for its small-town feel and relaxed, down-to-earth population. But she would love it a lot more if she could get on the field, because it was tough watching her teammates play.
“I want to be out there so badly,” she said. “It looks fun, and it reminds me why I want to play.”
Like Dennis, Parker Hart is itching to get back on the field.
Hart, who started his college career at Black Hawk College in Illinois, suffered a fluke injury 16 games into his sophomore season.
“I was only able to play in 15 games this season because I was out with a torn ligament in my greater toe,” Hart said at the time. “The field we were playing at had grass baselines. And I was running out of the batter’s box and stepped on the lip of the grass wrong. It hyperextended my toe.
“I was in the starting lineup before I injured it. Thankfully, I was able to receive my medical redshirt for the injury.”
Hart could have stayed at Black Hawk for another year with that redshirt, but he chose to transfer and maintain three years of eligibility. And he is quite happy with his choice of Benedictine University in Mesa, Arizona.
“It’s good, there’s always something going on,” he said of the area. “The weather is similar to home, so it makes for great baseball weather.”
BenU Mesa will open the 2020 season ranked 25th in the nation in the NAIA, but Hart still is hoping to get on the field before fall ball is over.
“It was supposed to be a six-week injury,” he said. “I’m still recovering from my injury, believe it or not, but I’m supposed to back on the field in about a week. I’ve been going through physical therapy here with our trainers, trying to get healthy and strong enough where I’m comfortable to play.”
The list of names on the Redhawks’ roster is long, but Hart doesn’t concern himself with where he fits into second-year coach Brian McCabe’s plans.
“I don’t think about that stuff,” Hart said. “I know when I get on the field, and I just try to play how I play, I’ll give myself an opportunity.”
The Redhawks will open the 2020 season at Ottawa University in Surprise, Arizona.
At William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Pahrump Valley 2018 graduate Kathy Niles has been a fixture on defense for the Statesmen’s women’s soccer team. The sophomore has played in all 37 games since arriving on campus, and this year she started all 18 games, which is not unusual on her squad.
“We have a lot of new girls playing this year,” Niles said. “Our starting team for the majority of the season was only one or two seniors on the field, including the keeper, sometimes a junior, and the rest were freshmen and sophomores.”
That explains why Niles is optimistic about a team that went 6-12 overall and just 1-10 in the Heart of America Athletic Conference.
“Our conference is pretty tough,” she said, mentioning Benedictine and Central Methodist among teams that are especially good. Three league schools are ranked in the Top 20 going into the NAIA Tournament and another was receiving votes.
Although defenders don’t often get their names in the statistics, Niles managed that twice this year. She recorded a shot on goal against Waldorf and earned an assist against Hannibal-LaGrange, both William Penn wins.
William Penn’s soccer roster includes very few players from the local area.
“We have a lot of girls from California this year,” Niles said. “There are only two girls on the team from Iowa, three from Illinois, and that’s about it from nearby. We have two from Australia and three from Antigua and Barbuda.”
The biology major said school is going well, and she and her family — which moved to the state after her graduation from Pahrump Valley — like living in Iowa. Except for one thing.
“Right now it’s really cold,” Niles said. “During the winter season we get wind chill that’s like negative 45.”
After a negative experience at Big Bend Community College in Washington, Garrett Lucas faced a difficult decision. He could try and transfer to a four-year college, or he could go to another two-year program and go through the selection process all over again in another year.
His brother, Willie, originally slated to follow him north to Big Bend, instead lured him south, and Garrett Lucas is quite comfortable with his choice to go to Arizona Western College in Yuma.
“It’s nice,” he said of his surroundings. “Whenever we looked it up when Willie was checking out the school, we thought that the crime would be bad here, but it’s actually a nice place to be. The people are all really nice. It’s an enjoyable experience overall.”
That includes his experience with his Matador teammates.
“At first it wasn’t looking the greatest, but once everybody kind of started bonding we were definitely coming around,” Lucas said. “We’re looking like we’re going to be doing pretty good this season.
“I like the program. I like the people. The coaches are definitely here to push us up to the next level and put the best guys on the field, and that’s the program I want to be a part of. I’m definitely enjoying it.”
Fall ball is over for Arizona Western, and Lucas said he did fairly well for the Matadors, including one very well-timed strong outing.
“There were a few bad outings, but there was a lot of good,” he said. “My changeup has come around quite a bit, and right now I’m mostly just a changeup guy. That’s my main pitch, then mix in a fastball every once in a while.
“One of my outings I threw only one inning, but I struck out the side in front of about 20 scouts. Right now we’re in a dead time, but I have a feeling I’m going to be getting a couple of offers coming up here pretty soon.”
At least one school has had its eye on Lucas for quite some time.
“I talked to Dominican,” he said. “I talked to them before I committed here, and they told me they were going to keep their eye on me. But I also talked to them before I committed to Big Bend, so they’re kind of waiting to see what I do next.”
As for school, Lucas said he got a lot of the hard classes out of the way last year, so the academic side is easier this time around.
“I’m just taking electives to finish up my degree,” Lucas said.
Winona State (Minnesota) long-snapper Morgan White saw the first action of his college career, getting into the Warriors’ 49-3 win over Minot State. White redshirted during his first season in Winona.
Nico Velazquez, Pahrump Valley’s leading rusher in football last season, is a teammate of Trieb’s at Ottawa. The 5-9, 210-pounder is redshirting this season. “There are a lot of running backs on the roster,” Trieb said.
A rough season ended on a high note for T.J. Milk and the University of Jamestown (North Dakota) football team. The Jimmies (2-9, 2-7 Great Plains Athletic Conference) finished 2019 with a 31-10 win over Briar Cliff University on Saturday. Milk made 7 tackles in the game, second on the team, as the Jimmies pulled away with a 17-point fourth quarter. Milk finished his redshirt junior year with 48 tackles, fifth on the team, including 32 solo tackles, which was tied for the team lead.
Willie Lucas is a freshman catcher at Arizona Western and again a teammate of brother Garrett’s. Willie Lucas did not see much action during the fall season. “There’s a 25-year-old catcher ahead of him,” Garrett said.
Concussions plagued Antonio Sandoval’s wrestling career at Ottawa University in Kansas, but they couldn’t keep him too far from the mats. Sandoval will spend this season as a student assistant coach for Colby Crank’s Braves.