Posts Tagged ‘Southern Nevada’

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Canyon Springs-graduate Isiah Carter (42) lost his mother, April, to cancer on Sept. 16, 2013. He’s dedicated every game he’s played in to her since then, and Friday will be playing for the NAIA National Championship with Southern Oregon. PHOTO: Southern Oregon Sports Information

By W.G. Ramirez

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in the sports world, you tend to see teams accentuating uniforms with pink accessories.

So it made sense when former Canyon Springs standout Isiah Carter asked Southern Oregon coach Craig Howard if the Raiders were going to be donning pink anywhere.

Then Howard learned why he was approached by his freshman linebacker.

“He had tears in his eyes when he told me about his mom,” Howard said this past week during a phone interview from Daytona Beach, Fla., where the eighth-ranked Raiders will take on seventh-ranked Marian University (Ind.) for the NAIA Football Championship on Friday.

Last year, on Sept. 16, when Carter was a senior playing for Canyon Springs, he lost his mother, April, to cancer.

He’s been playing for her ever since.

“I said my final good bye to my mother and told her that she had nothing to worry about and I was going to make her proud,” Carter said, holding back emotions during a phone interview. “After losing her, it’s turned into every game being dedicated to her. After every game I realize that she’s been through so much more pain than me. I know she is looking down at me, and I want to do everything I can to make her proud of me.”

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Isiah Carter started his first game the same week he approached Southern Oregon coach Craig Howard about wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Carter lost his mother to cancer while he was still a senior at Canyon Springs High School.

Carter’s done a good job of making her proud this season, as he started his first game the same week he approached Howard about wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and hasn’t relinquished his role since. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound who graduated from Canyon Springs with a 3.7 grade point average and is majoring in business at SOU, finished fourth on the team with 75 tackles, after playing in 11 of the team’s 14 games. He recorded 10.5 tackles for loss, which ranked third on the team, and his 52 yards-for-loss ranked second-most on the team.

“It was like a light switch going on when we saw Isiah at the linebacker spot, he was so fast and so good at his position, and I’m just so pleased with this young man,” Howard said. “Some guys are homesick, or find it tough to adapt to college. This guy lost his mom, and he’s always stayed dedicated. It keeps me highly motivated to be a better coach for these young man.”

Carter’s high school coach, Hunkie Cooper, had identical thoughts of Howard, saying he was one of the finest players and young men he’s ever coached.

“I’ve been at every level, and now I coach high school football, this is a young man you can put in any circumstance and he will be successful and he will bring positivity all around him,” Cooper said. “This is a kid who is physical, he’s fast; he has a football IQ out of this world. He will play in the NFL on Sundays. He is a purpose-driven kid. He is a big, violent kid on the field. His ability and will to prepare and to be successful is unmatched, no matter what obstacles are in his way. His work ethic, his approach for the game and the way he carries himself off the field – this is an honorable man.”

Cooper said he’s always told his players to remember the game is not always about them, and to find a way to play football for someone. It’s exactly what he told Carter after his mom passed, and to remind himself when he felt he couldn’t go any more, to think of someone who is on a respirator or isn’t going to make it and do it for them.

For Carter, that’s been one person ever since. That’s why after having his wrists taped for each game, he has his mother’s birthdate and the date she passed written on the tape, along with “R.I.P Mom.”

“Isiah is a strong individual. He is one of the toughest athletes I’ve ever seen,” said former Centennial standout and Southern Oregon running back Lantz Worthington. “Any man who can go through that, in losing his mom and still playing the sport he loves. I respect and look up to him as a brother. I’ve learned that he is a hard worker and he never gives up. He is an athlete you can learn from and he will be an awesome role model for me all four years.”

Said Howard: “Here we have a freshman linebacker from Las Vegas, being able to dedicate a national championship game to his mom, that’s just something. I’m going to be a better coach because of players like Isiah. He is so dedicated he is so loyal, he is such an incredible young man.”

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Seven Las Vegas-based football players are on Southern Oregon’s football team, including Lantz Worthington (third from left). The Raiders play for the NAIA National Championship on Friday. PHOTO: Courtesy of Sports Information.

 

By W.G. Ramirez

If UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez (it’s okay to say that now, right?) needs proof it’s okay to recruit locally, and build a nucleus around Las Vegas talent, he should direct his attention to Ashland, Oregon – population 20,000. That’s an approximate number.

A more precise number is seven. How apropos, as Vegas’ winningest number on The Strip is the same number of Southern Nevada football players who attend Southern Oregon.

Why does this all matter? Because Friday at Noon pacific, the eighth-ranked Raiders will take on seventh-ranked Marian University (Ind.) for the NAIA Football Championship in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Yep, while the Rebels are licking their wounds after another two-win season, seven Las Vegas products may be donning national championship rings at the collegiate level. Southern Oregon, which was No. 22 in the preseason poll, knocked off third-ranked Saint Xavier, 62-37, two weeks ago to get to the final game. And history is on the Raiders’ side, as the lower seed has won the last four championships and seven of the last eight.

Coach Craig Howard has a wealth of talent he can brag about, but said he has been pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed with how well his Las Vegas contingent has worked out for his team during its championship run.

“It really was an untapped recruiting area,” Howard said from Daytona Beach, during a phone interview on Tuesday. “These guys have been a joy to coach. And we’re going to continue to recruit Las Vegas, no matter what, as it’s been a huge benefit for us.”

Linebacker Isiah Carter (Canyon Springs), running back Lantz Worthington (Centennial) and defensive back A.J. Cooper (Canyon Springs) made the trip with the Raiders, while defensive back Ray Robinson (Las Vegas), defensive back RaeQuan Bascombe (Canyon Springs), offensive lineman Terry Dodd (Cheyenne) and running back Malik Davis(Desert Pines) have been an integral part of getting the team prepared throughout the season, during practices.

“These kids played together for many years and they stayed together to build a pipeline from Las Vegas,” Canyon Springs coach Hunkie Cooper said. “We have a pretty good group of kids there.”

Cooper, who starred at UNLV and went on to become one of the biggest stars in the history of the Arena Football League, said he’s confident Sanchez will begin his recruiting process in Southern Nevada, as he knows the coaches and players, and respects what many of his now-former high school colleagues do at their respective schools.

The trio who made the trip to Daytona Beach agreed wholeheartedly.

“I think that a lot of Las Vegas talent is overlooked by a lot of schools because we’re small, speedy guys,” Carter said. “Nobody is willing to look into it and recruit from it because most schools are looking for prototypical football players, size wise.”

(TOMORROW: Read Isiah Carter’s touching story on who he’s dedicated the season to)

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Former Canyon Springs standout Isiah Carter, who played in 11 of 14 games for Southern Oregon, finished fourth on the team with 75 tackles. PHOTO: Sports Information

Carter finished fourth on the team with 75 tackles, after playing in 11 of the team’s 14 games. He recorded 10.5 tackles for loss, which ranked third on the team, and his 52 yards-for-loss ranked second-most on the team.

“I think that having guys from Vegas, it would make the transition to college much better if they went to UNLV,” said Carter, who also recorded four sacks this season. “I know our Vegas guys up here now have made this team more dynamic and more diverse on offense and defense.”

Worthington, who was one of the best running backs out of the Sunset Region last year, said former UNLV coach Bobby Hauck sat down with him and told him he could walk-on and make the team, but that he would not be offered a scholarship, mainly because they had been used up for out-of-town recruits and there simply was no more money left.

“Honestly, I think it’ll help the program if he brings in locals,” said Worthington, who has seen limited time, but is the fastest player on the Raiders, according to Howard. “It’s the way Sanchez runs his program, I mean, Gorman was phenomenal and I feel college athletes need that kind of leader and role model as a coach. He’s the type of coach that college athletes would love to play for, and I feel it will make a big difference if he can keep kids home.

“Kids will feel more appreciative being recruited by UNLV, knowing they can stay home. UNLV’s recruiting should always start with Las Vegas football players.”

In six games, Worthington rushed for just 31 yards on five carries. Nevertheless, Howard wasn’t afraid to say he’s shocked to this day he has Worthington, given how talented he is, and that he’s looking forward to him playing a lead role next season.

“Lantz hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time, but he’s the fastest player on the team,” Howard said. “He will definitely be a full-time starter next year. I don’t know why he is at Southern Oregon, because he is a Division I player. But hey, he’s an impact player for us, so everyone else’s loss is our gain.”

A.J. Cooper said it’s come up often, as the season has progressed, whether or not the Vegas boys will be staying in Ashland, or if they’d like to return home to play for the Rebels and Sanchez, or elsewhere for that matter.

“We’ve decided we started here and we want to build here,” said Cooper, who is Hunkie’s son. “Even though I’m a redshirt, I came for the trip so I can experience the feeling of playing for a national championship and that means something to me, so I’m going to stay loyal to my team and my coaches. But, there are guys who would feel good playing for their hometown (in Las Vegas). There’s a sense of motivation to play in front of friends and family. It would feel good to play for your hometown.”

Howard said it’s been his first move, to recruit locally, as it’s created a solid fan base, including sponsorship money from business owners who support the local team. But after recruiting from Ashland and surrounding areas, he said he knows where one of his first moves will always be after this seeing the results from this season.

“I don’t know if we lucked out, but character-wise, these guys from Las Vegas have been great,” Howard said. “They’re just great examples for our program. The character of those kids and the work ethic of those kids makes me want to go out and recruit that area annually.”

Given his success with Southern Nevada preps, something tells me Sanchez will be doing the same.

(Friday’s NAIA National Championship will be televised on ESPNU)

By W.G. Ramirez

Enough. ENOUGH!

I’ve seen and heard too much whining and crying during the Little League World Series.

Remember – there’s no crying in baseball.

Now if I could just get the Mountain Ridge Little League All-Star team to teach that philosophy to its supporters back here in Las Vegas.

You didn’t think I was talking about the kids, did you?

The kids who shied away from talking smack as they pulverized their opponents in the West Regional in San Bernadino, while remaining humble en route to Williamsport – one of just 16 teams in the world to do so?

The kids who continually talked about taking it one game at a time, and the team aspect, as they opened the Little League World Series with an impressive 3-0 start that saw them outscore their opponents 33-5?

The kids who whenever being interviewed, simply said they hoped they could play good enough to get to the next round?

All week, Las Vegas shined bright in the shadow of Chicago’s remarkable Jackie Robinson West Little League and Philadelphia’s Mo’ne Davis. Our boys representing the Silver State were ambassadors like we’ve never had before. I know Las Vegas Review Journal columnist Ed Graney wrote a story describing Mountain Ridge as Vegas’ second-most successful team behind the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels of the 1990s, and that may be true – based on success.

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Photo courtesy: Ed Graney

But it’s going to be hard to compare a better group of athletes to be labeled ambassadors for our city. For my city.

The Rebels were grown men. These are 12 and 13 year olds who showed the type of dignity and poise in front of a national audience I’m sure UNLV coach Dave Rice would hope his Rebels display. They displayed the type of personalities and grace most parents dream their kids have walking into McDonalds. Okay, at this age, maybe Starbucks.

But you get the point.

It was the type of sportsmanship you’d hope Johnny Manziel may have watched and learned from at some point the past week.

And along with their spirited play, jovial personalities, brilliant smiles and laughter came the overwhelming support from Southern Nevada. In droves. Politicians, business owners, professional athletes like Bryce Harper and Greg Maddux and what seemed like Clark County’s entire population embraced what was taking place in Little Town America, a place with an apt-named motto: “The Will Is In Us.”

Heck, for most of the week, Las Vegas embraced everyone in the most watched youth tournament annually. From Cumberland Little League manager David Belisle, to Mo’ne-mania and yes, even Jackie Robinson Little League West.

Then Mountain Ridge lost. And that’s when you got ugly Las Vegas.

Shame on you.

You took to social media and literally tattered the very fabric of youth athletics – sportsmanship.

In true Southern Nevada-fashion, a loss brought out your fair-weathered ways. Forget for a moment the joke of a TV rule that eliminates the double-elimination factor, that’s a side note to what I saw on the Internet. Comments about kids choking. Remarks about a VOUNTEER coach who sacrificed work hours as a firefighter. And simply a blatant disregard for all the positive things you praised these kids for the previous two weeks, since they were in San Bernadino.

Seriously. Shame on you.

As of 11 a.m. on Sunday, 208 comments on Ed Graney’s story about Mountain Ridge’s loss to Chicago. Now I didn’t go through all of them, but I’d say one of every seven or eight included “Great job Mountain Ridge,” while the rest littered my screen with something not worth the space on my Blog page. Talk about ugly.

People arguing with people about having an opinion, while others questioning the validity of Ed’s points in the aforementioned story about the team ranking No. 2 all time. Focus people. These are 12 and 13 year old kids.

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Photo courtesy: Ed Graney

Yes, ESPN and ABC does a good job to make you think you’re watching Mike Trout and Derek Jeter, and, this year, Jennie Finch. But they’re not. Sheesh, if you can predict five of these kids that played in Williamsport will go on to be professional baseball players, well more power to you. This was their time. This was their spotlight. This was their cup of coffee on their field of dreams.

In one fell swoop, you spilled their coffee.

Don’t get me wrong, there were so many of you who stayed positive throughout the week, and after both losses the past two days. You’re exceptional supporters of these young men, and I applaud you. But when it comes to social media, you just can’t hide ugly.

Now, let’s address the TV issue.

The rule sucks. Point blank. But get over it.

The rule has been in place, and the kids knew it. Coach Ashton Cave knew it. And when Chicago recorded that final double play, you saw tears of anguish, a hurt none of us will ever know because we’ve never been to Williamsport. They have. And they knew what came with participating in this event.

And as much as I agree with everyone’s disdain for the rule – it really doesn’t make sense to not have an ‘if’ game – I have to wonder what would have happened if the roles were reversed. If Las Vegas came through the losers’ bracket, and won the U.S. Championship, I am almost certain that not one person in Southern Nevada would have exclaimed: “This is an outrage! This is double elimination dammit. Chicago should get an ‘if’ game!” No, I believe you all would have said: “That’s the rules!”

It’s one thing to vent and say ‘hey, this rule isn’t fair,’ but Las Vegas, you know how to take ugly to a new level. Is that really the message you want to send to these kids, who epitomized the type of dignity and poise you’d hope they would have on social media? To come up with excuses for a loss? Blaming umpires and TV executives, when you knew going in you had one job to do. From the game I watched, those boys left it on the field. They did their best. And that’s what needs to be said.

One of the quotes in Ed Graney’s story from coach Cave talked of him losing his brother last year, that that is real loss. It put the game in perspective. For the record, a junior-to-be from Arbor View who knows many of the same kids and circles my son knew prior to graduating died over the weekend. Speculation across social media was suicide, but not confirmed. I feel for the pain she must have been going through, but also for her parents. That’s real loss. Last week I wrote about longtime coach Leon Doss and his battle with cancer. I was informed late Saturday night he was admitted to the hospital and his daughter, Hayley, is headed to Las Vegas to prepare for his departure. That’s real loss.

It puts the game in perspective – TV rules and all.

And if you can’t see that, well, shame on you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a team from Chicago to cheer for in the Little League World Series championship game.

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By W.G. Ramirez

Heading into the 2013-14 boys basketball season, Arbor View coach Kyle Hageness had no clue what to expect from diminutive point guard Corey Moore.

After all, the 5-foot-9 senior spark plug spent his junior season behind Navonte Hill, who is now playing at Arizona Western College.

Seven games into the season, the Aggies are undefeated. And heading into Friday’s showdown with Centennial, which is also 7-0, the Bulldogs might want to be wary of more than Arbor’s proclaimed star, Justin Burks, as the Aggies are getting it done from a well-rounded bunch.

Including Moore, whose leadership hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“It’s definitely a pleasant surprise, we hoped he could do that,” Hageness said. “But (Corey’s) matured so much from his junior to senior year, he’s taken on leadership roles, he communicates on the floor, off the floor with the players. He wants to play defense. He gets us into what we need to be into.

“He’s become that kind of kid that can lead us.”

His stats might not back up Hageness’ statement – Moore averages a bleak 5 points per game – but it’s the attitude he brings out on the court, and leadership he displays in getting some of the most lethal scorers in position during the game.

While Burks is the name everyone knows, teams will be making a big mistake in ignoring Chuck Porter, Tristan Lacy, Isaiah Simmons or Terrell Butler – four other players who on any given night can pump 20 into the books for Arbor View. And with Moore pulling the strings and doing the little things it takes to be a great point guard, he’s doing a pretty good job making every one of those guys – not to mention a talented bench – look great.

Though Hageness said Corey is in the background, “getting not a whole ton credit all the time, but deserving an awful lot of that credit,” there is one player who knows how important his point guard is to Arbor View basketball.

“A lot of teams still come out thinking I’m the only player Arbor has, but in the Legacy tournament we showed that’s not true,” said Burks, who signed his letter of intent to play college ball at Cal Santa Barbara. “Corey’s definitely a big key to this team. He brings energy, he gets everyone excited, he makes everyone play harder and he’s a real good facilitator.

“He picks everyone up and he makes us play harder. That’s what I look for every game, he just comes out with that same fire, that same energy that we all need.”

Like during a recent tournament at Legacy High School, where Moore established the first triple-double in school history. And he did it without grabbing a single rebound.

Moore scored 12 points, had 10 assists and 10 steals.

Then, in a tight battle at home against Green Valley, with 54.1 seconds left in the game, Moore challenged 6-foot-4 Troy Cropper and 6-foot-7 Tyrell Crosby in the paint and came away with a key defensive rebound. It might have been the biggest play of the game.

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“People don’t realize how much heart he has,” Burks said. “He’s smart, he’s real deceptive, his change of speed is ridiculous and he really catches people off guard with that, a lot of times they don’t expect that from him. He’s very underestimated, but he’s showing people this year.”

Moore admitted he feels he has something to prove, especially when three of his teammates return after successful seasons that garnered all-conference and/or all-state honors. His goal, like any other point guard, is to prove he’s the No. 1 floor general on the floor, but to also lead the Aggies to the state tournament.

“I feel like there’s nobody I can’t guard and there’s nobody I can’t get open on my team,” Moore said. “My teammates been telling me all summer that I needed to prove … I’m the best point guard in the city. That really just drives me to do it, to prove everybody wrong.”

Seven games into their undefeated season, he’s certainly done all the right things to prove to his coach and teammates he can handle the job.

“Corey is the (guy) that makes everything go,” Hageness said. “Those kids know that if they get themselves open, Corey will find them. He dishes the ball to those guys and gets them where they need to be. Defensively, he’s probably our best one-on-one defender. We don’t have a stat for how many times he’s been on the ground, we don’t keep that one. But Corey’s leading that one. He’s got the keys to the car.

“He’ll do what it takes to win.”

By W.G. Ramirez

I had a chance to cover the Sunset Regional Division I Girls Golf Championship at Siena Golf Club this past week, for the Las Vegas Review Journal. And while I watched some pretty phenomenal athletes brave a rough course and chilly conditions, I was more impressed by something that had nothing to do with their golf games, yet everything to do with how the game should be played.

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Allison Weiderman (left) and Aspen Bryant after the Sunset Region Championship.

There were no Yasiel Puig-like bat flips with golf clubs off a booming tee shot. I didn’t see any LeBron James-like staredowns after a long putt. And I certainly didn’t see any Joseph Fauria-like touchdown dances every time someone new took the lead, or challenged to take over as leader.

What emerged from the final four competitors over the last nine holes was a display of sportsmanship plenty of pro athletes can take a page from.

Cimarron-Memorial’s Aspen Bryant, Desert Oasis’ Allison Weiderman, Bishop Gorman’s Katie DeJesus and Palo Verde’s Allison Ryu were all within striking distance of one another at the turn. Bryant was competing as an individual, while the other competitors were part of their teams vying to earn a berth into next week’s state tournament on Wednesday and Thursday.

The top two teams in the region moved on, while the top five individuals from non-qualifying state teams earned a one-way ticket to Bear’s Best Golf Course.

But as much as each girl wanted to win, they seemingly put their personal wills and wants aside to extend support and praise to their competitors.

“I don’t dislike anybody because they’re playing the same game as me,” Bryant said. “They’re my competition, but it’s not like we’re in contact sports or something. We can still kind of be friendly.”

If anyone had a right to be salty on the back nine, as the sun was descending and the temperatures were dropping, it was the Cimarron senior, who dropped an 11 on the par-4, 10-hole to fall behind Weiderman by three strokes. After all, Bryant was the No. 1 seed based on season averages, and was a mere 3-over par after the front nine.

Instead, any bystander would have thought Bryant was there specifically to cheer her competitors on. The same can be said for Weiderman, the No. 2 seed. Both could be heard throughout the last several holes cheering for one another, not to mention DeJesus and Ryu. Whether it was off the tee box or after a beautifully played long putt by DeJesus on a couple of occasions, the girls’ graciousness was refreshing in a world where athleticism tends to rear its ugly head among competitors.

Don’t get them wrong, as Weiderman pointed out – they each want to win medalist honors.

“Golf is such an individual sport and you want everyone to be making their putts, you want the competition level to be higher, so that you think ‘if they put this in’ you want to put yours in right after them,” Weiderman said. “I just think cheering everyone else on just brings a better environment and everyone wants to do good if they have competitors saying ‘nice putt’ or ‘nice shot.’ ”

And as Desert Oasis coach Ken Gibson pointed out: “They want to win because they play well, not because somebody else plays bad.”

The positive vibes spilt into the “gallery,” which consisted of a couple of parents and coaches from each school, not to mention this amazed reporter who got to see an exciting finish to a regional golf championship. The coaches could be heard yelling “nice putt,” or “good shot,” or “atta girl” throughout the round to all the competitors. Parents knew one another and the golfers, because the girls had been competing against one another during divisional matches all season.

As Bryant’s 11 left her scrambling and challenging DeJesus just to stay near second at times, while both trailed Weiderman, staying positive with the others might have been the trick in keeping a certain poise that allowed her to shoot three pars and one birdie over the final five holes.

“I think when I don’t have any emotions toward it, I do better than if I’m happy when I start (well), or if I’m angry when I do bad,” Bryant said. “If I just don’t do anything, I usually play a lot better because I don’t think about anything but my next shot.”

And yet the one thing she continued to do, even if she stayed quiet while being shuttled from shot to shot, was cheer on her rivals.

Weiderman also stayed focused on her game, since she needed to finish strong for her team in order to get to next week. And she shot beautifully over the first five holes of the back nine, dropping three pars and a birdie.

“Showing no emotion sometimes does you better, so I felt bad and I didn’t really want to say anything,” Weiderman said. “But then I’m thinking ‘here’s my chance’. But I still don’t want her to get an 11.”

Nor did Bryant want her chief competitor to shoot 5-over over two crucial holes, including a 4-over 8 on the par-4 16.

“I truly feel bad when other people do bad, because it could just as easily be me,” Bryant said. “But I do think sometimes that just opens the door more for me. But I never wish bad things happen. I never want somebody’s ball to go into the water. (Because) the next hole it could be me in the water or something.”

When it was all said and done, the girls congratulated one another for a strong finish, and getting the round in before it became completely dark. I mean, they teed off at 12:48 p.m. and the final putt was dropped at 6:19 p.m. Nonetheless, they sat together to sign their scorecards and they converged to the final tote board for the announcements of who was going to state.

And the winners were…

Well, after all that sportsmanship several pro athletes could learn from, does it really matter?