Posts Tagged ‘Sunset Region’

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University of Michigan-bound Sydney Badger is a 10-time state champion and is one of the most decorated runners to ever graduate from Southern Nevada.

W.G. Ramirez

Whenever I do a big feature, I tend to look for a quote from my subject or something to cling to for the story. Something that epitomizes who I’m writing about.

After a near-two hour visit with Centennial High School-graduate Sydney Badger, an incoming freshman at the University of Michigan, it wasn’t hard to find my catchphrase.

The picturesque runner who dominated the Silver State her senior year – both during the cross country and track seasons – was talking about the climate change she is about to adapt to in the Midwest.

Now I’ve never been to The Wolverine State, but I have lived in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, so I do understand cold weather. And I find it pretty hard to run daily errands, let alone run on a treadmill or long distance like Badger does so well. So to say I know nothing about running in cold weather would be an understatement.

Neither here nor there, she says “running in that weather and going into (NCAA) races at other places – it’ll be a breath of fresh air.”

What does all that have to do with this quaint narration about one of the most decorated athletes I’ve ever come across? Well, nothing, quite frankly.

Except I found the 5-foot-6 spark plug who easily could be mistaken for a fashion or fitness model is, well, a breath of fresh air.


 

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Centennial-graduate Sydney Badger

Lenny and Susie Badger have raised three daughters; Sydney is the baby. All three did well post-high school, one attending Arizona State, another up north in Reno. Now, their star runner is headed to Ann Arbor, despite bearing a last name that matches the nickname of Big Ten-rival Wisconsin. How coincidental – and marketable – would she have been for the sports information department had she chosen to attend Wisconsin? That would have been too easy, though. And understand, this is not the ordinary tale of a lifelong runner.

Prior to Badger’s high school career, she participated in organized soccer from the time she was eight years old alongside Tiana Bonds, her best friend that is headed to the University of Arizona on a track scholarship. When she got to high school, her parents insisted their children participate in another activity beside their preferred sport. At the time, soccer was held during the winter, thus, Badger elected to run cross country as a freshman. She then played freshman soccer in the winter and followed that by running for Centennial’s track team in the spring.

Needless to say, her skills as a runner emerged.

I could go through her list of accomplishments, but then this story would extend longer than it already is, and I want to keep your interest on how remarkable an individual she really is, not on the fact she was a three-time regional cross country champ, that she finished unbeaten in every Nevada-entered cross country race she competed in as a senior, or that she lost just two races over her sophomore and junior seasons.

That’s just cross country. The rest of her résumé is just as impressive.


 

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In a familiar scene, Sydney Badger leads the pack during a cross country race.

I remember the very first time I heard the name Sydney Badger.

I was at Veterans’ Memorial Park in Boulder City for the Division I Sunset Region cross country meet. Not in a professional capacity, but on a personal note. I was there for moral support of a couple of runners who were friends of my son at Arbor View, one of them being a top challenger in the region, and to Badger. Well, so it would seem.

That day, I quickly learned about Sydney Badger.

And anyone who reads the local media, during the fall and spring seasons, knows who she is too.

Now I’ve covered some incredible athletes, on every level, from high school up to the professional level.

We’re talking about people like Kobe Bryant, Riddick Bowe, Evander Holyfield and Martina Navratilova back in the day (to give you a broad spectrum), to the U.S. Men’s National Basketball team just two weeks ago. Splattered throughout 27 years, I’ve seen some of the top high-school athletes do their thing in local gymnasiums and/or playing fields right here in Las Vegas.

Sydney Badger easily is one of the top 10 scholar-athletes I’ve ever witnessed in the Clark County School District.

Forget the fact she’s a 10-time state champion in cross country and track combined, I’m talking about her tenacity and attitude. I’m speaking about her gladiatorial approach toward competition. You have to see her face while she’s running. Heck, you need to see her approach the starting blocks on the track. It’s the same look Mike Tyson gave in the late 1980s, when he’d get in the ring with black boxing trunks and shoes with no socks. It was intimidating. Anyone running in the same race as Badger, she knew she’d be battling for second – point-blank.

Put it this way, if MMA were her sport, Ronda Rousey would have her hands full.

On Monday, amidst the sad news of comedian Robin Williams’ death, I was reminded about one of his quips: “I love running cross country. On a track, I feel like a hamster.”

Lucky for all of us, Badger was incredible in both.


 

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Centennial-graduate Sydney Badger is set to join the Michigan Wolverines.

Transformation Tuesday takes on a new meaning after Aug. 19, one day after Sydney departs, as the Badger family will shed its powder-blue Centennial gear to Michigan’s maize and blue outfits. With the football season fast approaching, I’m pretty sure the family will be shrieking the Wolverines’ battle cry “M Go Blue!” no matter which Michigan team is participating. Heck, proud papa Lenny showed up for our sit-down last weekend wearing a Michigan t-shirt.

“It’s everything we wanted,” he said. “From an intellectual standpoint she’s going to do well. She’s a driven person, both academically and athletically. I think it’s going to be great. Are we concerned? I think, yeah. Even we don’t know what kind of workload she’s gonna have. Obviously she’s gonna be training a lot. If she wants to go on to med school, she’s gonna have to get top grades.”

Oh, did I forget to mention that, as well? Centennial’s 2013 Homecoming Queen isn’t just a skilled runner, she’s got the brain to go with her athleticism and model-esque looks and is hoping to apply her smarts in the classroom as a pre-med major. She graduated from Centennial with a weighted grade point average of 4.75, while her un-weighted GPA was 3.98.

Badger spent some time doing community service as well. She’s volunteered for, and participated, in several charitable running events for organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Kassidy’s Army. In addition, she has also participated in community clean-up events and spent some time tutoring fellow students in subjects such as Calculus and Epidemiology.

“It’s amazing, it makes us really proud, it’s exciting,” Susie Badger said. “I don’t think anybody could have done anything different with her or for her. She made her own path really, she knew what she wanted.”

And while Sydney is adjusting to college life and running in a different climate, the biggest adjustment for the Badgers will be having to wait for their daughter to compete on the West coast, and hoping the Big Ten Network occasionally broadcasts events so they can see her compete.

All that’s left for them to do, prior to her departure next Monday, is adding to her winter wardrobe.

“I think I am pretty prepared (but) I have no winter gear,” Badger said laughingly. “That’ll be a fun transition; I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for that, but I think it’ll make me a stronger runner.”


 

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As Sydney Badger leaves Southern Nevada behind, and heads to Ann Arbor to run for the Michigan Wolverines, the memories she’s left for her fans are vivid of her on top, as No. 1.

It really comes as no surprise Badger is headed to Ann Arbor to run for the U of M.

What was a surprise is the reason she gave me for choosing the Wolverines over her secondary choices Georgetown and Oklahoma State, as well as Southern Cal, Cal Berkeley, Ohio State, San Diego State, UNR and UNLV.

“I didn’t want to go to a school coming in as their No. 1 girl,” said Badger, Nevada’s 2013 Gatorade Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. “I wanted to be in a school where I was pushed really hard. Just going to big races (during high school), it was so easy to run fast times, so I can’t imagine how much better I’ll get training with girls who are pushing me all the time.”

Badger said while it hasn’t set in that she’s about to join one of the most prestigious athletic programs in America, and even be around that sort of environment, she is ready for the big time. She’s also ready to train alongside Division-I athletes on a daily basis.

“It’s pretty hard to just go into workouts by myself all the time and (need to) be pushed,” she said. “Sometimes we’ll do workouts with the guys, but it’s not the same. It’s better when you have a teammate or someone pushing you, right next to you. I’m relieved to finally not have to do that (alone) anymore.”

Badger says there’s a good chance she’ll redshirt her freshman cross country season, and doesn’t mind that either, as she’s on the lookout for long-term success, not short-term greatness. That is one thing she did admit she’ll have to adjust to, however, as it’s going to take time for her to find success at the next level.

“It’s easy for me to stay focused because I know that high school isn’t it for me, there’s a lot after it, a lot to look forward to,” Badger said. “I know it won’t be (easy), going up there and winning races right away. It’ll be a nice change actually, to get my butt kicked a few times and maybe teach me a few things.”

On Aug. 9, during the Super Moon’s arrival, Badger tweeted the following:

I don’t know why I found it to be typical, yet somewhat humbling, that someone who has been a bright spot for Southern Nevada’s high school athletic scene, took the time to appreciate something that shone down benevolently upon the universe while she was doing what she does best.

Then again, coming from a Super Athlete like Badger, it really wasn’t a surprise after spending some time with her. Come to think of it, getting to know Badger and her parents, and finding out a bit more about one of the most decorated and determined athletes we may see for a while, well…

It was a breath of fresh of air.

 

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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?

Shadow1 208By W.G. Ramirez

It’s never easy for an underclassman to fit into a varsity-level program that has rich tradition and high expectations annually.

So imagine the feeling Arbor View’s Jessica Longhurst had last year as a sophomore in the state championship game, when Aggies coach Jay Howard asked her to step up as one of the team’s penalty-kick kickers.

You’d never imagine she was nervous when her shot was the one that sealed the victory over Green Valley, and handed the Aggies their second state championship in three years.

“She’s a quiet girl, and whatever you say she just says yes,” Howard said. “We had four of our five kickers set … and she stepped up for us in that situation.”

And while she was a vital part of the Aggies’ state title run, Longhurst’s demeanor blended her into the background of a senior-laden group of players whose names were well-known throughout Southern Nevada.

This year, however, there’s no hiding her talent. Everyone knows about Jessica Longhurst.

“To say the good coaches know, and look, who to watch out for, she’s definitely a target; she’s on their radar,” Arbor View assistant coach Melanie Johnston said.

Johnston, who is the head JV coach as well, said Arbor View has gone through many different styles of team-personalities, from having several vocal leaders last season to having one player take command as the team leader in prior years. And because Longhurst has been exposed to the program since her freshman year, she’s been able to absorb everything Howard and Johnston have tried to instill, and what the teams have been like with some of the top players in the Sunset Region.

“She came in as a leader that freshman year, and wasn’t on varsity; but that (JV) team was mature, collected – they were just phenomenal,” Johnston said. “They put out a varsity-level performance right off. She got to be a leader before moving up to varsity, and then having to fit in the mix with the older girls and kind of find her position.

“Jessica has been one of the players that her work ethic sets her apart from a lot of players. She’s just never taken time off or trying to cut corners. She’s always expecting the best of herself, she’s very coachable, she’s willing to try things and get outside of her comfort zone.”

Getting out of her comfort zone is an understatement this year, as she’s moved from defender to midfield.Shadow1 677

“It took hard work and a lot of confidence,” Longhurst said. “I really liked playing sweeper; I already had a lot of confidence there. (Changing position) has been really hard, just because I’ve always been a defender; I’ve never been an offensive player. I’ve never had to dribble or take the ball up. I’m still transitioning.”

Howard said the move was out of need this season, once the team graduated Amberly Halstead, who is now a freshman and playing at Northwest College in Wyoming. Halstead left a huge gap on the line, but Howard said Longhurst’s transition has come natural for her because of her overall ability to take command on the field, not to mention her work ethic.

Halstead agreed wholeheartedly.

“That’s what good players do, they handle the situations they get put into,” she said. “They can work with change. She’s young, but she’s smart enough to handle that stuff.”

The former all-Southern Nevada star for the Aggies said there were times last year that Longhurst’s work ethic inspired many of the upperclassmen, including her.

“She motivated me because I never wanted to get outworked, and Jessica never stops working hard,” Halstead said. “On days where it seems everyone else is having an off day, Jessica’s a hard worker and she’s a team player, so she keeps everyone focused on working hard.”

Said Longhurst: “When you work hard, I think the older girls give you respect.”

Now, with the shoe on the other foot, it’s Longhurst who proudly walks the halls at Arbor View with a letterman’s jacket and a state ring and is the upperclassman the younger girls want respect from.

“She’s one of those kids that her character, people want to play for her, they want to play with her,” Johnston said. “I think people depend on her. She hasn’t spent a lot of time in the papers as a defender. You don’t always get to recognize your defenders because stats don’t show. Her being a little bit more central and more heavily involved in the attack is probably gonna help her turn with that, and being seen a little more offensively than being seen as just a defensive player.”

Longhurst can’t receive any offers until next summer, but she’s generated plenty of interest from college coaches, thanks to her club soccer career. And both Howard and Johnston believe she is well on her way to joining an impressive list of Division I players who have graduated from Arbor View.

“What Jessica brings on the field is she never stops, she plays so hard that that makes her stand out,” Howard said. “Even when Jess is tired, she’s running and trying. And she’s versatile too … I would want her cause I could put her in a lot of different spots and be successful.”

Longhurst says she’s taking it step-by-step, game-by-game this season, while hoping to attain one goal at a time leading up to the postseason. She knows college offers will come, and she acknowledges her team has the potential to vie for a state title. But she also admits the second she allows herself – or her teammates – to think about back-to-back championships, is when focusing on the task at hand will be lost.

“Every game is a state game, you have to work hard to get there,” she said. “You never know what the results could be, so I try not to think about it … you just can’t think like that.”

Good philosophy for a girl who less than a year ago was unassuming and far from the headlines.

But when the defending state champions step on the field in the postseason this year, there’s no doubt everyone will know about Arbor View’s Jessica Longhurst.