This is the second part of a series taking a look at the impact of sports specialization and club sports on high school athletics.
Two years ago, at the annual early-morning ceremony at which seniors at Pahrump Valley High School sign letters of intent to play a sport at the collegiate level, there were four student-athletes at the table: Sydney Dennis, Garrett Lucas, Bryce Odegard and Vaniah Vitto. A fifth graduating senior, Kathy Niles, also went on to compete in college.
Last year, there were just three: Willie Lucas, Zach Trieb and Nico Velazquez. This year, a few weeks before signing day, four members of the PVHS Class of 2020 already have committed to college athletic programs. All four played for club teams in Las Vegas, with some playing other sports before choosing to specialize in their favorite one.
One of those players is Terrena Martin.
“I did cross country my freshman, sophomore and junior year,” Martin said on the night the Trojans softball team received Class 3A state championship rings during halftime of a football game. “My sophomore and junior years I kind of struggled; my freshman year was my best year.”
Martin’s memory is a good one. She ran her best 5,000-meter time, 23 minutes, 32.8 seconds, at the Class 3A Southern Region Championships her freshman year. She also turned in her best 3-mile time (23:00.2) and her best 2.5-mile time (19:47.9) that season.
But not running as well during her sophomore and junior years was not the reason she gave up the sport.
“It was because I love softball so much,” Martin said. “When I first started I didn’t know that this was my sport. Then as I kept playing I sat down and said, ‘This is what I want to do with my future.’”
Trojans cross country coach Erik Odegard completely understood Martin’s decision.
“Terrena Martin ran for us last year, and she’s going to do softball year-round,” Odegard said before the start of cross country season. “That’s her sport, she’s a senior, and she wants to focus on her sport. I totally understand that. Kids gotta do what they want to do.
“I love seeing three-sport athletes. I think that is awesome. I coach three seasons, so I’m a three-sport coach. But once they establish what they want, they’ve got to hone in on those things sometimes and push.”
Honing in and pushing worked, as Martin was right about her future. Three months after making that statement, Martin signed to play softball for Williston State College in Williston, North Dakota.
Giving up other sports earlier was Skyler Lauver, who was a multisport athlete into her second year of high school, although she did give up volleyball after middle school.
“My sophomore year I wanted to keep playing basketball, but my coach wasn’t willing to work around my softball schedule and I knew before then that softball was what I wanted to do,” Skyler Lauver said. “I wanted to pursue a college career in softball. I had to make a decision on what my priorities were.”
Skyler’s father, Rich Lauver, previously had said that “work around my softball schedule” meant missing one Saturday practice in January to attend a softball showcase, where college coaches gather like moths to a flame to watch high school players play several games in a weekend. He said that what really got Skyler was, when she showed up at that practice, how many other players were absent for reasons far less significant than playing in an event that could have helped decide her future.
In any event, there is a good chance that would have been her last year of playing basketball anyway. Her father, an assistant softball coach at PVHS who led the Trojans to three consecutive state titles as head coach from 2003-05, subscribes to the theory that, for players who think they have a future in a sport, junior year is the time to make the commitment to that sport. “Specializing too early can be bad, but specializing too late can be worse,” he says.
However the decision came about, Skyler Lauver will be playing softball next year at the College of Southern Nevada — on a full ride. Former teammate Jackie Stobbe is playing for CSN, and it’s not hard to envision a pipeline between Pahrump and the CSN softball program.
But Pahrump Valley High School softball will be represented much farther away than Clark County, or even North Dakota, as McKayla Bartley has committed to play for Bryant & Stratton College in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Like Lauver, Bartley played volleyball in middle school, and she also played one year for the golf team in high school. She was even a bowler when she was younger. But she loved softball, and she went to Las Vegas when she was 14 to play for Mojo and coach Rodney DeTommaso.
“When I went to Mojo my first year with Rodney, I felt pretty bad about it because I felt I was ditching my teammates in Pahrump,” Bartley recalled. “But being on a team in Vegas helped me become more known among college coaches. But I went back to Pahrump, and then back to Impact Gold.”
Bartley played other sports before settling on softball. She played volleyball at Rosemary Clarke Middle School, one year of golf for the high school team, and she bowled in a kids’ league. But she also has shown versatility in softball; while she is a catcher for her high school team, she has played other positions with Impact Gold, including second base and third base, and DeTommaso is again her coach.
“Impact Gold is a national organization for softball players who are truly serious about the sport,” she said. “They are based in Texas, and my coach is from Texas. It’s a great organization full of great people. A lot of softball players from Impact Gold go Division I or Division II, so that’s cool.”
Impact Gold certainly draws talent, as Martin, Lauver, Bartley and Ashliegh Murphy all have made the drive over the mountains for practices and games with the club.
While Martin, Lauver and Bartley played other sports at the high school level, sometimes an athletic life revolves around one sport from an early age. Take Chase McDaniel. McDaniel has been playing travel baseball in Las Vegas since he was 10 years old. That’s a lot of driving for mom and dad.
“I started off doing a couple of sports, and I kind of just told him I wanted to play baseball and I think he was kind of happy that I said that,” McDaniel said. “He realized if these kids are playing year-round they’re going to be better and more competitive and have the edge on people playing just one season.”
Former Pahrump Valley athletic director Larry Goins, often thought of as an old-school advocate of multisport athletes, endorses McDaniel’s path, because it was his choice.
“Chase McDaniel is a great example,” he said. “It was his decision right from the start, and it turned out to be a good decision for him. That’s not always true, but it was his decision, at least in my understanding.”
A single-sport athlete is obviously a benefit to the coach of that sport at the high school, assuming the athlete plays for the school during the spring. Like Martin, Lauver and Bartley, McDaniel does, and Trojans coach Brian Hayes is a big fan of his.
“Chase is one of those kids who changes your program,” Hayes said. “He excels in everything he does. He is a high-character kid from a great family. His baseball IQ is off the charts. He represents every one of our core values to the highest standards.
“We can trust him, he is resilient, he works hard on improving his game, he does his job on and off the field, he shows appreciation for others, and he is unselfish.”
Those traits — and playing a lot of baseball — worked well for McDaniel, who announced late in the fall that he is going to play baseball for Southwest Minnesota State University, an NCAA Division II school in Marshall, Minnesota.
“When middle school basketball came around I was doing both, and my dad was one of the coaches,” McDaniel said. “I’d have practice and then my dad would take me from basketball to baseball. Then once high school came around, I was done with every sport except for baseball.
“My dad always said he kind of wishes he had the opportunities I had, but he didn’t because it was a small town and he couldn’t go to Vegas and play club. Everyone was multisport. He was very proud that I said I wanted to focus on one sport, and he supported the decision.”
In Part 3: Coaches offer their perspectives on young players focusing on one sport — the one they coach.