As the “Nifty 50” moves into the third installment of a five-part series, a first has occurred.
For the first time in the three-year history of the “50 Student Athletes to Watch,” two teammates were selected as one athlete to watch. It’s the first time this has happened for the series, but after much research on the pair, it was impossible to not mention the two in the same breath.
As for the nine other student athletes spotlighted in this installment, they simply further prove how exciting the 2011-12 preps seasons are shaping up to become.
Steve Donatell, Highlands Ranch
Everyone at Highlands Ranch High School knows about Steve Donatell, a three-sport athlete. Being the starting quarterback for the Falcons football team the past two seasons, Donatell will have a few different faces to lead on the field this fall. Ranch had a big graduating class last year, which paves the way for upcoming juniors to fill the lineup. Donatell said the team is working hard over the summer and Falcons fans should see it on the field.
Donatell brings leadership to a role that demands it, he said.
“You have to make sure everything is going well out there,” the senior said. “You have to be the general at quarterback.”
Since last season, Donatell’s accuracy has improved as well as his ball velocity.
“This year especially, I focused on those two areas, so it’s helped a lot,” he said.
As a junior, Donatell threw for more than 900 yards and connected for 12 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. His completion percentage was better than 60 percent. He also ran for almost 550 yards and ran in six touchdowns himself.
For Falcons basketball, which made a heavy run at the Class 5A state championship last season, making the Final Four in Boulder. Donatell was a sort of sixth or seventh man for the team last time out. With talents for running the floor and on the fast break, the junior brought an energy to the court. Again, the Falcons had a lot of seniors graduate from the roster.
“We’ve had open gyms, been going to camps, and a couple kids transferred, which never hurts,” Donatell said of the hoops off-season. “Things should go well there as well.”
Last season, Donatell shot better than 60 percent from the floor and booked 100 rebounds between the two ends of the court.
Normally a baseball player, Donatell took his junior year to improve his agility, speed and form as a football player by joining the track and field team last spring. Although it depends on how the football season goes, Donatell may return to the Falcons diamond his senior year.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Shanna Beshore/Amy Button, Elizabeth
It’s impossible to say Shanna Beshore is going to be one to watch next season without mentioning Amy Button in the same breath. The two gymnasts at Elizabeth High School, both seniors, have been best friends since they were super little and have grown to have a passion for the balance beam.
In fact, both Beshore and Button have earned themselves a state championship title in the beam; Beshore in 2010 and Button in 2009, the two years the Cardinals won the Class 4A state team title.
“Shanna has a style that’s completely different than anyone else,” Cardinals coach Stacy Folmar said. “She’s very laid back but so extremely talented. Everything seems very natural and easy for her.”
Folmar said the team used to call her “Cat” since for no technically sound reason on beam, Beshore would always land on her feet.
“She could always just find the beam and land it,” the coach said. “It’s so natural for her, it’s like she’s walking on the floor.”
For Button, the beam event is where she has the biggest gymnastics passion. She has great feet and appears to be fearless.
“She is not afraid to fall,” Folmar said. “She’s sort of an adrenaline junkie that way.”
Beshore and Button both coach younger gymnasts and have been instilling that fearless approach in the youths to follow after the pair graduates, leaving a sort of legacy on their own with the program.
“Our beam roster is coming up because of them,” Folmar said.
Beshore competes in the vault and floor events as well. Her vault has come a long way. Button’s bar routine is described as simply awesome, and her floor talents are going to set her apart this coming season.
“She’s a really good showman on the floor,” Folmar said. “Beam is both their forte for sure. They know that. They want to be the clean up people.”
With the graduation of state champion Katie Cordova, Beshore and Button have stepped into a leadership role and are already taking over the planning and mentoring duties for the team, the coach said, before the season has even started. With all of the program’s high school-age gymnasts, including the two best friends, at regional competition soon, 4A gymnastics should have a good idea of what Beshore and Button should bring to the table this season.
In addition, Danae Goldsberry is expected to fly, giving the Cardinals some tough powerhouse-level talent for a third state championship team title.
Cody Weitzel, Valor Christian
This incoming senior at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch walked away from the 130-pound championship Class 4A bracket at the Pepsi Center last February with the bronze medal. As a junior, he was eliminated from the championship tournament after two bouts, but in the consolations, he fought back to defeat three opponents by pinfall and take the third spot on the podium in his weight with a 10-4 decision over Northridge’s Dylan Steffens.
Since then, Weitzel has worked about 80 percent of his off-season and with other high school wrestlers who compete at the highest levels two or three times a week. He recently finished first in his class in both freestyle and Greco at a high school-age state championship meet in Pueblo. Along the way, he beat some high caliber wrestlers, Eagles coach Tim Welch said.
“He’s just a hard worker,” Welch said. “He leads by example in the wrestling room. He works harder than anybody, and he runs faster than anybody. He’s just always giving 110-percent to getting better.”
Welch said Weitzel is not only committed to his own development but also the development of younger kids in the program. He’s also, despite years of learning, is known to be very coachable.
“He’s willing to drill techniques with anybody,” the coach said. “He’s works with the younger kids and teaches them so many things he’s learned along the way.
“Sometimes when kids have been wrestling as long as he has, they think they know everything, but not Cody. ... He’s very exciting to kid to watch. In an individual sport like wrestling, he’s very much a team guy.”
Dani Urman, Cherry Creek
Dani Urman could eventually be the future of Cherry Creek High School girls golf.
The incoming junior Bruins finished the Class 5A state championship meet in a tie at 16 last season as a sophomore. However, she missed her entire freshman season while she battled back from cancer.
At state, she shot 90 in the first round, but she came back to drill a 79 in the second, including two birdies on the day.
“For Dani Urman to have survived cancer and surgery and come back to shoot a 79 on the second day, it was simply awesome,” Bruins coach Bob Kubiak said of the then-sophomore’s performance.
Urman bounced around the No. 3 and 4 spots with the Creek girls golf team last year. With teammates state champion Shinwoo Lee returning for a senior season and the Bruins’ No. 2 player Calli Ringsby back for her sophomore year, Urman should be continuing her best fight to help Creek possibly repeat as the 5A state championship team.
Lexington Leitmayr, ThunderRidge
ThunderRidge High School boys soccer had a breakout season last year with a Final Four appearance in the Class 5A state championship playoffs. Lexington Leitmayr was one of the players responsible for that.
His junior season, Leitmayr led the Grizzlies in scoring and as a junior forward led the team to three crucial victories with two game-winning goals and one game-winning assist against Ralston Valley, Abraham Lincoln and Pine Creek. Leitmayr was a second-team All-Continental League selection and earned second-team All-State honor as a forward. Grizzlies coach Chris Smith said Leitmayr has unique speed.
“He’s insanely fast and hard to catch,” Smith said. “His acceleration is pretty ridiculous. Once he takes the corner, the other team is in trouble. He’s a good finisher too.”
Leitmayr will be seen playing up top at striker or at outside midfield depending on the team’s rotation scoring-wise. He may also help out the central midfield as well, depending on T-Ridge’s needs at the time.
“He’s definitely a leader,” the coach said. “He likes to give instruction.”
Another part of Leitmayr’s game that makes him exciting to watch is, he’s a clutch player.
“He’s like Carmelo Anthony or John Elway,” Smith said. “He’s just there when you need him the most. When it comes to it, he finds a way.
“Overall, he’s well rounded. He’s got size, and he’s got the mentality to win. He’s there when you need him the most.”
Kendra Reily, Legend
In what was only her sophomore season, soccer standout Kendra Reily emerged as a definite force for the Legend High School girls team last year leading the team in goals with five and assists with three.
“She is definitely a gifted athlete and a natural fit for the game of soccer,” Titans Coach Jordan Ivey said. “But it is her work ethic and team mentality that really set her apart as a player; she is just constantly busting her tail to help her team win.”
Reily plays striker for Legend a position at which she excels due to her natural ability to see through runs and balls and create havoc for opposing defenses.
“She works well with pretty much everyone I pair her with up front” Ivey said.
Reily will again be a team captain this year and Ivey expect her to continue assuming more of a leadership role as she moves into her junior season.
“Last season was a learning year for us because we were a young team and it was our first year playing in Class 5A,” Ivey said. “But now we have a Class 5A season under her belts and she is one of our team’s veterans so I am definitely expecting Kendra to step up and lead our team.”
Soccer is a year around sport for Reily, who competes for the Colorado Storm club team in addition to playing with Legend during the school year. Having recently returned from a regional tournament in Utah, Kendra now begins to prepare for the spring season. With half of her Legend career still in front of her, it seems safe to say we have probably yet to see the best of Kendra Reily.
Makenna Wilson, Chaparral
Makenna Wilson of Chaparral High School is one to watch, but not because of her efforts with Chaparral girls swimming. Although her times have been impressive especially last season, Wilson has decided not to swim for Chaparral the coming season and instead focus on training for the Olympic trials next July in Omaha, Neb.
In the high school season, Wilson qualified for Class 5A state championship competition in pretty much every event she undertook. Last season, she took the bronze medal in the 100-yard backstroke. That and the 200 individual medley have been her strongest events.
“Makenna has great stroke technique and always come to race when she is competing,” Wolverines coach Brooke Westall said. “[She] is a great girl, always making everyone feel appreciated. However, she also knows how to put on her ‘game face’ and win when she gets behind the blocks.
“We wish her all the best.”
Christian Nicolosi, Mountain Vista
Two goalkeepers aided Mountain Vista High School boys soccer to the Class 5A state championship finals and overtime last season. One was Trevor Obering who graduated. The other was Christian Nicolosi.
Nicolosi is expected to return to the pipes for Vista soccer after posting 42 saves over 495 game minutes last season. He helped the Golden Eagles pull out a few gripping wins last year against Grandview 2-0, where he had nine saves, a 2-0 win over Chaparral, where he had seven saves, 2-1 against Rock Canyon, and 1-0 over Mountain Range, both with again seven saves. He was a part of nine shutouts Vista put up last season.
He finished the season with a goals-against average over 80 percent and a save percentage just under 90. In those 495 minutes, he only had five goals against him. As he gets older, Nicolosi is expected to be pivotal in Mountain Vista’s follow-up to its state runner-up season of 2010.
Jack Bobzien, Arapahoe
Last season, Jack Bobzien led the Arapahoe High School lacrosse team in assists and put 18 shots to the back of the net, including four goals in a game against Colorado Academy.
With Bobzien’s help, the Warriors reached the state championship Final Four. For his performance at midfield, the then-junior earned the right to play in the state All-Star game. As a sophomore, Bobzien had 12 goals and 12 assists for the Warriors.
As a senior this coming spring and possibly filling a leadership role, and along with fellow high-producing seniors as Bryce Parietti and Connor McHugh, Bobzein may not only be one to watch but one of which to be reckoned.
“When I watch Jack, I just think he’s a fierce competitor,” Arapahoe athletic director Steve Sisler said. “He’s fun to watch, and he makes things happen. He’s a great kid around the school and always smiling.”
Bobzien is also a hoops athlete at Arapahoe and was a substitute player for the Warriors’ Class 5A state championship Final Four run earlier this year.
“I think he’s a catalyst,” Sisler said. “He brings a lot of confidence, and when its on the line, he wants to make it happen.
“I’m sure he’s going to sign [a college commitment] early in lacrosse. He’s a stud.”
Jamel Crocker, Englewood
Senior Jamel Crocker plans to be a three-sport athlete for Englewood High School again this year.
At 6 feet 6 inches and 235 pounds, he will be on the offensive and the defensive lines in football. He said last year, he liked defense best. Maybe that’s because he repeatedly overpowered the blockers in front of him and went into the backfield to disrupt the play or sack the quarterback.
But when the winter prep sports season comes, he gets to play his favorite sport, basketball.
He has good agility and when he is in the middle, it makes it hard for defenders to get off a shot. Likewise, when he is on the post, he is hard to stop when he drives to the basket. He’ll be a key player this season as he is the team’s only returning starter.
In two seasons as a starter, the statistical average is almost 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots per game.
“Jamel brings a physical presence to the court. He is one of the top rebounders returning this year and brings an improved skill set offensively,” Pirates coach Stu Howard said. “He was dominant at times like when he scored 20 points and had 20 rebounds against Ft. Lupton. He is an imposing shot blocker and runs the court well for a big man.”
On the track and field team, Crocker will throw the shot and discus.