Last season may have been a big success for many of our “Nifty 50” athletes, but the coming seasons are expected to be when they truly open up.
In this week’s installment of our 50 student athletes to watch in the coming preps sports year, we highlight a few individuals who have come back from injury — an injury that hindered their respective 2010-11 seasons.
However, health is now on their side and an outstanding and exciting season is anticipated.
In addition, several of the 10 selections mentioned in this second part of five are student athletes who have already been producing for their team for years, but this coming academic year will showcase each of them potentially in leadership roles.
The following student athletes are among many who are expected to have exciting campaigns in 2011-12. They are listed in no particular order.
Jeremy Baldyga, Douglas County
Now that Dustin Berg has graduated from Douglas County High School boys soccer, Jeremy Baldyga must step into the field’s spotlight. A junior with the Huskies last season, Baldyga and company helped County mount an 8-0 start and a 10-6 overall record.
The incoming senior, Baldyga returns after having put three goals away last season and assisted two others. New Huskies boys soccer coach Diego Montoya said the senior plays as a level above that of a teenager.
“From what I have seen of him on the field, from the four games I have gone and watched him play, his soccer knowledge and field vision is beyond his years,” Montoya said. “The way he sees the play developed before him is amazing. He has the tendency to know exactly where the player is going to place the ball or where he is going to go with the ball that most defenders or players of his age are not seeing yet.”
Baldyga is known as a vocal leader and is always trying to command the defense to help get players in the right spots to regain possession or deny penetration, the coach said. His knowledge is such, that Douglas County athletic director Jeff Gardella had Baldyga sit in on Montoya’s interview process to ask him specific soccer-related questions regarding philosophy and knowledge of the sport.
“Off the field, I believe he is respected as well by his players at the high school level, where I have seen him in action,” Montoya said. “He was also my point of contact to organize my meeting and get introduced to a lot of the players. Not only is he respected by [Gardella] but also myself.”
Jake Dysart, Rock Canyon
Rock Canyon High School track and field and cross country have benefited by having Jake Dysart for years. For his past three seasons, he has been a state track qualifier and placer. Last season, as a junior, was the only year he did not make the podium and it was due to a major injury at the beginning of the season.
Nonetheless, he still qualified for state. As a sophomore, Dysart placed in the 800-meter run and has been a qualifier and placed in the state cross country races as well. His leadership on and off the track is also well known.
“He has helped to shape the Rock Canyon distance program whether in track or cross country,” Jaguars track coach Chris Page said. “Along with being one of our best runners, Jake has also maintained a perfect 4.0 [grade point average] for the past three years, which truly makes him a ‘student’ athlete.”
Dysart’s smarts makes him a strong runner. He understands exactly how mental distance running is, so he never allows distraction to get in his way, Page said.
“When watching him during the mile, it’s amazing to see him find not only the perfect spot in the pack to ensure that he is running a great race, but he also picks the perfect moments to strategically attack his competition,” the coach said. “Lastly, Jake is deceptively fast, often people see him as this one-dimensional distance runner but in all reality Jake is also one of our fastest runners on the 4-by-400, and 4-by-800.”
Above all, the most exciting aspect of Dysart’s coming cross country and track seasons is seeing him fully recovered from his injury last seasons.
“Although he was able to come back this last season in time to qualify for state in the 4-by-800, he was never truly 100 percent, so this next season should be very exciting indeed,” Page said.
Steele Krause, Legend
There is a sea of seniors coming back to the courts for Legend next winter, and among them is Steele Krause. Krause finished his junior year with Legend High School boys hoops with 258 points, averaging more than 10 points per game. He shot 40 percent from the floor and hit 51 buckets from beyond the arc.
Krause also is not the player opponents want to foul, since he shoots 86 percent from the free-throw line. He also led the team last year in defensive rebounds.
“Steele is the kind of person I would want my son to grow up to be,” Titans coach Kevin Boley said. “Not only is he one of our hardest workers, but he is also a great teammate. When he graduates next year, Steele will hold the school record for three-pointers in a season and in a career. Obviously he is the first senior class, but his numbers would be higher than any player I had at Broomfield and would hold its own against most schools.”
Krause is also learning to score in other ways. He can post up and has developed a midrange jumper. He has become strong and athletic enough that he can attack the rim and finish through contract and in tight spaces, Boley said.
With senior players like Derek White, who led the team in almost every stat last season, Phil McNiff, Matt Laboda, Avery Carlson and Brad Dalby around him, Krause should be seen plenty during the coming Titans’ season.
“When I look back at this first graduating class, the thing I will appreciate the most about Steele, and Derrick [White] and Phil McNiff, would be that they were the perfect first class to start a program with,” Boley said. “They set the tone for each class after them in character, work ethic, commitment and quality. He [and] they have been role models for all future Titans [who] are currently in our program or in our feeder.”
Mitch Carter, Mountain Vista
Mountain Vista High School boys hoops graduated two of its highest scoring seniors last season. Among those who are expected to step up and be the Golden Eagles’ next hoop stars is Mitch Carter.
Carter finished his sophomore season with 188 points. He shot better than 52 percent from the floor and 50 percent from outside the arc. He is also better than 60 percent at the foul line. Carter was also the team’s leading rebounder for the past two seasons.
“Mitch is an excellent rebounder,” Eagles coach Bob Wood said. “Mitch is one of our best leaders. He consistently plays hard and leads by example.”
Carter has been spending a lot of time since last season working on his court skills. He has improved in every area and is expected to be one of Vista’s top players his junior year, Wood said.
“We will expect Mitch to score more next year,” the coach said. “We also will use him more on the perimeter than we did last year. He is one of our best defenders.”
One of the things that makes Carter unique is he equally has skills as a ball-handler, in scoring, passing and rebounding. He knows how to take care of the ball and commit to playing defense.
“His versatility makes him unique,” Wood said. “Mitch is fun to watch because he is one of our most unselfish players. He consistently makes the extra pass. He is a great teammate. The players and the coaches love Mitch.”
Alex Anthony, Arapahoe
Thanks to Alex Anthony, the Arapahoe High School girls soccer team made an impressive run to the Class 5A championship semifinals last season and incoming junior Anthony was a major reason why.
During what was only her sophomore season, Anthony scored 29 goals in 16 games and was ranked seventh in the state in both goals and points.
She also led her team in assists while contributing energy and leadership that was vital to her team’s success.
“She’s just a fierce competitor,” Warriors coach Kirk Bast said. “I’ve coached very few players who have brought the kind of drive and competitiveness that Alex brings to every game and practice.”
Alex plays forward for the Warriors, a position at which she succeeds because she is not only a great goal scorer but also a player who excels at setting her teammates up.
“Teams try to shut Alex down and that opens up other players and allows her to get the ball to them and create opportunities for them to score,” Bast said.
Bast also praises the leadership Anthony displays both on the soccer field and in the classroom.
“She’s very intense and tenacious, the type of girl who just always brings it and works hard in every facet of her life,” the coach said.
Jenna Pinto, Heritage
In the walls of Heritage High School, Jenna Pinto is already a sports star. Her senior year involving cross-country, track and girls soccer are coming up however, and as she continues to develop as a runner and athlete, this could end up being the year of the Pinto.
Pinto, as a junior trackster last season, qualified for the Class 5A state championship meet in six events. She placed in four of them, including a silver medal in the sprint medley relays where she and company have made the school’s Wall of Fame for two consecutive years. She’s also placed for bronze with her 400-meter relay team, and fourth place with both her 800 and 1,600 relay teams.
The Eagles senior was also her team’s top producing runner in the 200 dash with a time of 25.50 seconds and the 400 dash with 57.44, both times she booked at the 2011 Dakota Ridge Invite.
Pinto’s contributions to Heritage’s cross country program has led her to a 12th-place finish among 5A girls in the state championship races, which also earned her a place on Heritage’s Wall of Fame. Whether it’s sprint or distance, Pinto can run the event with confidence.
“She’s got great endurance. She also possesses the speed to tail kick many of her opponents a the end of the race,” Eagles cross country coach Lori Lee said. “There are some cross country runners who don’t possess both.”
Pinto will serve as a captain for Heritage cross country this coming season.
“She’s a great athlete and sets a great example for others,” Lee said. “I definitely enjoy coaching her. ... She always has a smile on her face.”
She has lettered in track for three years now and has also been a member of the Heritage varsity girls soccer team.
Kasey Griese, Ponderosa
Kasey Griese is a unique student athlete whose talents are spread all over Douglas County. She is a student at Ponderosa High School, is a starter with the girls lacrosse co-op team at Chaparral and is a starter on Mountain Vista’s co-op field hockey team, which won its first state championship last year. She also used to play competitive ice hockey but shifted her focus to lacrosse.
On the lacrosse side, Griese was a starter and a captain with the Chaparral hybrid team and was a first-team all-league selection. She was one of the team’s leading scorers, and she puts in time during the club lacrosse season. Outside of the preps season, Griese plays for one of the most established and competitive teams around, Team 180.
With her performance, the incoming senior has had looks from Colorado State University, San Diego State and others in New York and Pennsylvania.
“She’s a tremendous leader and a great camp director,” Wolverines girls lacrosse coach Dix Baines said. “She’s an incredible quarterback who really understands our offense. ... She’s always shifting the gears on offense.”
Griese is known for making good calls on the field and on the fly and for having what Baines describes as a “noble stick.”
“When she does make a move on the crease, she is all but unstoppable,” Baines said. “She’s on her way to doing some great things.”
Actually, Griese doesn’t have to wait until next year to do great things. She has already earned herself a U.S. Lacrosse All-Academic Team award, which is not only awarded for merits in the sport, but also for having an academic load with a majority of AP, honors and college prep courses. Only three girls on the Chaparral co-op team were eligible for the award.
Aaron Khoury, Elizabeth
Dealing with a bruised heal didn’t stop Cardinals track star Aaron Khoury from taking home the Class 4A state championship boys long jump title this past spring.
Not only was he a champ, but he also set a new Jeffco long jump record at state, which earned him the school record at Elizabeth High School. Khoury made the gold medal jump with a distance of 22 feet, 3.75 inches in the final heats.
He was named the 2011 Elizabeth High School co-MVP jumper his junior year, and now as he prepares for his senior year, he’s focused and determined.
“This summer I am working hard with two, two-hour workouts a day,” he said. “Now that I’m not injured, I can work a lot harder this season. My senior year I am focusing entirely on track, I don’t think I am even going to play basketball this year.”
Khoury already has a few colleges keeping an eye on him already. He hopes to earn a scholarship and take his jumping to the next level.
“I’m excited to see what records I can break and what I can get out of the hard work I am putting in now,” he said. “Now it’s just the anticipation to see what I can do next year.”
Natasha Habert, Littleton
A sophomore this coming preps year with Littleton High School volleyball, Natasha Habert could be one outside hitter who has a big season this fall.
As Laura Whalen graduated from the team, Habert, who had the second most kills last season as a freshman, is expected to step up. She killed 176 times last season out of 548 total attacks. She is also deadly with the serve, booking 35 aces her first preps season.
On defense, Habert came up with 178 digs and 11 total blocks, three of which were solo.
“Even last year, [Habert] had a big role, but she was behind Laura,” Lions coach Margaret Whalen said. “There wasn’t quite as much pressure. This year, she will fill that big role. She’ll be my point scorer.”
With a freshman year in the very tough Continental League which has produced the last two Class 5A state championship teams (Chaparral-2010, Ponderosa-2009), Habert has raked in a good amount of experience from her club program. Her club team qualified for junior nationals competition this year in an extremely tough bracket.
Whalen said her control is one thing that makes Habert unique already.
“She’s just a good ball control kid,” the coach said. “She is able to be in that outside position and to control the lanes and on defense. ... She’ll have to lead the team in ball control and scoring for me. Last year, in high school, she learned a lot and to have this other experience at club level, she is going to be really good for me.”
Mitch Kelly, Lutheran
Mitch Kelly is an incoming senior and two-sport athlete at Lutheran High School, formerly Lutheran-Parker. A football and baseball athlete, Kelly who transferred to Lutheran last year from Castle View, played outside linebacker and as an offensive lineman with the Lions gridiron. He put up two sacks on the season.
Kelly played Sabercats football at View his freshman year but suffered a broken leg in the sixth game of his sophomore season and was out the rest of the year. He finds Class A football far more relaxed than 5A.
“You don’t have the pressure of everyone going to a 5A school,” Kelly said. “There aren’t as many bigger kids on the teams, which makes teams like [Lutheran] faster teams.”
With Denver Lutheran High School closing, Lutheran in Parker should have many of its athletes come over to Lions programs. Coupled with senior Travis Smith as returning quarterback, Kelly and company have high hopes for the 2011 season.
As far as the diamond goes, Kelly has been playing since T-ball. Last year, he played every position except second base.
Offensively, toward the start of the season, he was hitting in the seven hole and moved up to the five toward the close of the year. A couple games had him in the second spot.
“I like how it’s tough,” Kelly said of the sport. “Not everyone can just pick up a ball and a bat. You have to work at it. It’s like a mind game.”
With a new Lions coach yet to be announced for his senior season, Kelly said he is excited about the change. With a lot of seniors gone from the team, a good amount of underclassmen are stepping up for the new season, which the senior also looks forward to. As he approaches his final preps seasons, Kelly sticks with his relaxed demeanor and style.
“I think you play better when you’re relaxed,” he said. “Obviously, I try and play my best, but I try to have fun and not be so serious all the time. I think I bring the relaxation level up. I work hard all the time. I don’t slack off. I try to set an example for everyone.”
The coming seasons will show what that example will be.