Former Pahrump Valley athletes continue careers in college

Updated November 19, 2018 - 7:11 am

They play soccer, baseball, golf and run cross-country. They play in Division I and Division II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and the National Junior College Athletic Association. They are as close as Arizona and as far as Illinois. Some already have seen some success, while others wait for their opportunities.

They are some of the former Pahrump Valley High School athletes who are continuing their athletic careers at the college level, and while they might be few in number, they are showing current and future Trojans there can be athletic life beyond Pahrump.

Austen Ancell

Austen Ancell headed off to college after finishing first or second in the state golf tournament three years in a row. It has been a little tougher at the college level, but the 2017 Pahrump Valley High School graduate is finding success at Regis University in Denver.

Ancell shot rounds of 80 and 70 to tie for 79th as Regis wrapped up its fall golf schedule Oct. 15-16 at the NCAA Regional Preview at The Ledges Golf Club in St. George, Utah.

Ancell, a sophomore at the NCAA Division II university, mostly was pleased with his second-round effort on the par-72 course.

“First day was a little rough, had some bad holes that set me back, but the second day turned around really well,” said Ancell, a 2017 Pahrump Valley graduate. “The 70 should have been even lower than it was. I missed a couple of easy putts.”

The 70 was his best round of the abbreviated fall season. Spring is the primary season for college golf.

Ancell shot 227 at both the Ryan Palmer Foundation Invitational in Amarillo, Texas and the Western New Mexico University Intercollegiate in Albuquerque, New Mexico, finishing tied for 24th out of 99 golfers in the latter. As a team, Regis finished sixth in Amarillo and seventh in Albuquerque before finishing eighth out of 27 teams in St. George.

Ancell averaged 76.3 over 10 rounds this fall, and his 6-over at the regional tournament was his best total score of the season. He said the challenge in college tournaments is a bit tougher than it was in high school.

“I’d say not so much harder courses, but they set the courses up to be harder,” the sophomore business management major said. “They put the tees farther back, they put the pins in difficult locations. For the most part, the courses at the college level play much harder than those that we played in high school.”

Speaking of high school, Ancell didn’t have to think long before recalling his best memory as a Trojan.

“Winning state my sophomore year was my best memory,” he said. “We had a really good team, a really good group of guys. It was five upperclassmen and me. It was really nice to have them all there, I really got along with them well. Finishing the last hole and seeing everybody on the hill watching was great.”

Ancell shot rounds of 73 and 77 to edge Boulder City’s Luke Logan by two strokes for the 2015 Division I-A state title in Truckee, California. Ancell, who shot 161 at state at Mountain Falls during his freshman year, went on to finish second in 2016 and tied for second in 2017 before heading off to Regis, a Jesuit university of roughly 12,000 students.

“I love the school,” Ancell said. “I’ve made some really good friends up here. It’s a really beautiful campus, it’s considered an arboretum. Every tree that’s native to Colorado is on the campus.”

Sydney Dennis

Northern Arizona’s women’s soccer team finished fourth in the Big Sky Conference this season, posting a 5-1-3 mark and a 9-5-4 overall record before losing to fifth-seeded Montana in the first round of the conference tournament. The Lumberjacks even set a school record for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal with 684.

But Sydney Dennis, a few months removed from Pahrump Valley High School, didn’t have much to do with it, but in what could turn out to be a blessing in disguise, Dennis was redshirted this season by Lumberjacks coach Andre Luciano.

“It ended up happening where I wasn’t playing much when we got to a certain point in the season,” Dennis explained. “I had a couple of upperclassmen playing ahead of me, so he didn’t see the point of playing for a couple of minutes and wasting a season.

“I was sad, but it wasn’t like the end of the world. It was definitely hard, and my confidence was very up and down, but eventually it kind of clicked for me. This is college, and everyone is going to be the best player on their high school or club team. Overall it ended up being OK, but it was definitely hard there for a while.”

Dennis is impressed with the skill level of her Lumberjack teammates.

“This is one of the best teams I’ve ever played on,” she said. “We’re really good at playing for each other. That’s something that is stressed because we know we’re not just playing for ourselves.”

Dennis said her time spent with Las Vegas-based Players SC has proved valuable at the college level.

“Club is not college level, but it’s definitely a step higher than high school,” she said. “It definitely prepares you.”

While Dennis is eager to play a bigger role on the field, she said Luciano remains undecided about her future.

“He’s talked to me about a couple of different positions,” she said. “When I first got here he mentioned center back, but he’s also mentioned me as an attacking mid. So I think he’s thinking of me as either a holding mid or an attacking mid.

“If it’s what’s best for the team I’ll gladly do it. It doesn’t bother me.”

When she’s not in the classroom or on the practice field, Dennis enjoys living in Flagstaff.

“It’s definitely a nice town,” she said. “I think that’s what kind of makes it different from a lot of colleges. I noticed other schools not in super-great neighborhoods. You don’t feel nervous going off campus. The town reminds me of Pahrump because it’s small and everything is so close.”

Her best memory from Pahrump Valley? “When Vaniah (Vitto) scored that goal during state.” Vitto’s goal tied the Class 3A semifinal last season against Truckee at 1-1 with two minutes left in regulation, although the Trojans lost in overtime.

Dennis will not have to wait until next season to get on the field for the Lumberjacks.

“We practice throughout the spring, and we have a couple of games,” she said. “I can play during spring.”

Parker Hart

Parker Hart was not thrilled with the statistics from his first year playing baseball at Black Hawk College in Moline, Illinois.

“I feel I didn’t play to my full potential,” said the 2017 Pahrump Valley graduate. “One of the biggest adjustments from high school was not playing in all the games. I appeared in 25 games, and it was harder to stay in a groove playing every other game instead of every game.”

That was reflected in his .258 batting average, but he did show ability to drive the ball, recording eight doubles in 62 at-bats. Hart also had a home run and 11 RBIs, compiling a .352 on-base percentage and a .435 slugging percentage.

“I would say my biggest strength would be my hitting,” he said. “As a college first basemen, hitting is a big part of playing the position. I think my ability to hit for power has improved since high school.”

The Braves finished the 2018 season 35-17, including 27-15 in Region IV and 16-4 in the Arrowhead Conference. Coach Arnie Chavera, who has been there 14 years, is a member of the NJCAA Region IV Hall of Fame. Nine of last year’s Braves have moved on to four-year schools, including two to NCAA Division I universities.

Playing for a junior college means finding the right fit to showcase your talents to transfer to a four-year school. The business major said he has been in contact with a few schools, some in the Midwest, some in the West, but he has yet to make a decision on where he will continue his studies and his baseball career.

Hart said his fondest memory of Pahrump Valley came as a senior.

“My favorite high school memory would definitely be winning the conference championship my senior year with the baseball team at PVHS,” Hart said. “My favorite college memory so far would be winning our own conference championship my freshman year here at BHC.”

Hart has some very clear-cut goals for his second year with the Braves.

“My personal goals for the season would be be the everyday starter and have a batting average over .385,” he said. “Some team goals would be repeat as conference champions and make a run at the NJCAA World Series championship again.”

Kathy Niles

Kathy Niles played key roles on two Sunset League-winning teams for Pahrump Valley, starting in center field for the softball team and posting seven goals and 10 assists for the soccer team for 24 points as a senior, third most on the team. Her family moved to Iowa, and Niles looked for a school near their new home to be close to her large family.

She landed at William Penn University, an NAIA school in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and made an immediate impact on the women’s soccer team, playing in every game, starting 16, as the Statesmen went 8-10-1, 3-8 and 10th place in the 12-team Heart of America Conference.

“Kathy came in as a freshman this past year and was a key player for us,” William Penn coach Jaymee Highcock said. “She started in almost every game and she showed great versatility.”

Niles was primarily a defender for the Statesmen, recording only shot on the season. “We played her in a number of positions, and she excelled in a left back or a center back role,” Highcock said. “She was very aggressive in the tackle and reads the game very well.”

The second-year head coach is optimistic about having Niles on his roster for the next three seasons. “We will be working with her physically in the spring so we can take her game to a higher level,” he said. “She has a bright future ahead in soccer, and we are lucky to have her at William Penn.”

Vaniah Vitto

During Vaniah Vitto’s senior season at Pahrump Valley High School, she was a key component of a soccer team that reached the Class 3A state semifinals, scoring the tying goal in the closing minutes against Truckee to keep the Trojans’ hopes alive.

Fast forward one year, and she’s a bit player on a team which had a very rough season. Adams State University, an NCAA Division II school in Colorado competing in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, went 2-15 in women’s soccer this season, including 1-12 in the league, losing its last 11 games.

“This season was extremely hard, especially not playing and just kind of watching some of the upperclassmen get playing time over me,” Vitto said. “It was hard, especially when we’re losing that bad and you think you can do something to help the team.”

But Vitto is an optimist, and she sees a better future for herself and the Grizzlies, once the younger players get a chance to make their mark. It helps that she’s very familiar with the team’s formation, having played a 4-5-1 in school and in club. “I think next season it will be a lot better,” she said. “We have a really strong center midfielder and a really strong center defender. There’s a good solid five of us who have talent.”

Vitto has been impressed by the level of competition in the conference. “It’s hard. It’s definitely a level up from high school soccer, the toughest soccer I’ve ever played, including club,” she said. “That’s what makes it worth it. I’m playing a tough level of soccer.”

Pahrump Valley’s 2018 valedictorian is majoring in nursing and has found a good fit academically. “School’s going awesome,” Vitto said. “I love my classes. I’m taking some chemistry and bio right now, definitely not an easy path, but it will be worth it.”

And what about going to college in Alamosa, Colorado? The city of nearly 10,000 sits on the Rio Grande River, not far from the New Mexico border. “It’s very, very small,” Vitto said. “It’s a lot like Pahrump, to be honest. It’s not a big college town. I like it. It’s a lot prettier than Southern Nevada. It snowed here a couple of days ago, and we started playing Christmas music while it was snowing.”

Vitto’s best memory is the trip to state that resulted in a double-overtime loss to Truckee, the same team this year’s Trojans lost to last week in the same round of the tournament.

Bryce Odegard

The College of Idaho has had a strong cross-country program for years, but the Yotes never could unseat Southern Oregon as top dog in the Cascade Collegiate Conference. This year, with a little help from freshman Bryce Odegard, they made a little school history.

The 2018 Pahrump Valley High School graduate was one of five College of Idaho runners in the top 10 at the conference championship meet, finishing seventh with a time of 25 minutes, 25.40 seconds on the 8,000-meter course as the Yotes captured their first conference title at Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah, Washington.

“The course at conference was near Seattle, and it had not stopped raining for a week before we got there,” Odegard recalled. “It was all grass, and everybody was wearing spikes. That was a crazy race trying to get through different parts where you might slip. But I got to experience different types of courses, and I’ve enjoyed that.”

Odegard has been contributing all season, but he has improved. After finishing 17th, 13th and 26th in his first three meets, he was 11th — and the best freshman — at a meet near Sacramento, California, before his seventh-place finish at the conference meet.

“As of late I’ve felt a lot better than I was at the beginning of the season,” he said. “I wasn’t sure where my place was on this team, and I was ill a little at the beginning, and that hindered one of my races. I started racing better, and I feel like I’ve come along way from where I was.

“I’ve developed better racing tactics, and I’m happy with how I’ve done so far this year.”

The longer races and varying distances of college cross-country have not been much of an issue for Odegard.

“I honestly thought I was going to struggle a bit more with the move up to 8K,” he said. “I got to start with the 7K, but it ended up that the races I’ve felt the best in have been the 8Ks, so I haven’t struggled as much as I anticipated with the step up to the longer races.”

One of the reasons for that is more intense preparation. “I think my mileage has doubled from high school,” Odegard said. “We do two quick workouts every week we don’t have a meet, and I love the workouts. They’re a blast. It’s a lot more intense than what I was used to. The first couple of weeks I was overwhelmed, but I got used to it and I’ve handled it fairly well.”

Caldwell, Idaho, is a bit different from Pahrump, as Odegard quickly learned.

“I’m loving it,” he said. “It’s a totally different experience being away from home. The climate’s a little different. When I woke up this morning, it was 20 degrees outside. But everything’s good and I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at. I’m glad I’m here as opposed to anywhere else.”

Although the liberal arts school has fewer than 1,000 students, there is quite a cross-section of people. “Pretty much everyone you run into is in some sort of sport,” Odegard said. “You get a lot of students who aren’t from around here, and then you have the football team who are mostly from around here. A lot of people don’t fit the liberal arts mode, and then the professors mostly lean a little left. There’s a healthy mixture, I would say.”

Odegard also will compete in track and field for the Yotes, but he can’t look forward to spring just yet. The College of Idaho qualified for the NAIA national championships, which will be held today in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

They release power rankings throughout the season,” he explained. “In the last ones, our seeds going into nationals, we’re ranked third, 30 points behind the first-place team. So we’re right there and have a chance to go and win it.”

Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at trysinski@pvtimes.com On Twitter:@PVTimesSports

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