Picking a Top 10 anything is always a tricky job for a journalist. We want to be objective, but the ranking of items to put some in and some out on that list obviously requires a significant measure of subjectivity.
Utah Valley is filled with outstanding high school athletes, and in the sports that get less of the fall season spotlight than football, the list of athletes with the potential to excel at the next level is long. Take a look at my list of 10 girls’ fall sport stars destined to make a difference at the next level, and then let me know who I missed. The debate is half the fun.
1. Kate Cusick, Timpview girls tennis
Girls tennis is not necessarily the first option when looking at sports that send Utah Valley athletes on to the collegiate level. According to Lone Peak tennis coach John Lacognata, the entire state of Utah produced just five girls tennis scholarships of any kind last year.
Timpview sophomore Kate Cusick looks like one destined to beat those odds. Then again, when she does, it won’t really count as a win for Utah Valley, as this tennis season will be her final one as a Thunderbird. With her parents called to preside over the Tampa, Florida Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cusick will be joining them in the Sunshine State in a couple of months, where she will attend high school at tennis prep school, the Saddlebrook Preparatory Academy.
After reaching the Class 4A State Semifinals a year ago as a freshman, Cusick has her eyes on a state title this season to send her off, but her long-term goals include a collegiate career (at UCLA if she has her way) and a professional career beyond that.
“When I was about 10 years old my family took a trip to Europe and one of the places we stopped was London,” Cusick said. “We had the chance to visit Wimbledon. We were able to tour around and go into the stadium at center court. I told my dad right where he and the rest of my family would be sitting when I reached that point in my career. Ever since then, playing at Wimbledon has been my dream.”
2. Jaiden Ackerman, Lone Peak volleyball
High school sports fans in Utah Valley may be denied any chance to see talented Lone Peak senior Jaiden Ackerman during the fall season, so the Smith Fieldhouse at Brigham Young University might be the next opportunity to see her do her thing.
Ackerman committed to play collegiately, as a libero, for BYU, during the club volleyball season, but then tore up the ligaments in her knee soon thereafter. A talented outside hitter and libero for the Lady Knights, Ackerman is struggling as she takes on the role of coach and cheerleader for a young Lone Peak team this year.
“She can’t wait to get back and play, but the chance to watch and observe from a coach’s perspective is going to make her a smarter player,” said Lone Peak head coach Deanna Meyer. “I don’t know about this season, but she has been a huge leader for us even without being on the court.”
3. Rachel Gale, Pleasant Grove volleyball
If not for an announcement by Lady Viking head coach Allyce Jones, no one at Pleasant Grove High would even know that talented hitter Rachel Gale has earned a college scholarship for her skills on the volleyball court.
“When she received her scholarship (offer) from Utah State, she kept it very quiet,” Jones said. “I was the one who had to announce it to the team. Rachel is one of the most humble athletes I have ever met.”
That humility and a desire to work that seems endless are what will drive Gale as she completes her high school career and moves on to play for the Aggies.
“Rachel is a fighter,” Jones said. “She comes to practice every day with a smile on her face and ready to work. She will do anything to get the job done and right now she is one of the best outsides in the state.”
4. Rachel Bingham, Maple Mountain girls soccer
Another athlete with a tireless work ethic, Maple Mountain girls soccer star Rachel Bingham will next lace up her boots for one of the top college soccer teams in the nation — BYU.
Bingham is an outstanding scorer for the Golden Eagles, but her greatest skills come as a strong ball-handler with excellent field vision and passing skills when playing in the Maple Mountain midfielder. While others might jump off the stat sheet more than Bingham, few make more of a difference from kick-off to final whistle.
5. Jessie Jorgensen, Timpview volleyball
Her presence and love for volleyball since the day she walked onto the court at Timpview has made senior Jessie Jorgensen a transformational player for the Thunderbird program. After seeing her play during a club volleyball tournament in Reno during the summer, the University of Utah offered Jorgensen a scholarship that will take her to Salt Lake City to perform at the next level.
“They want an athletic player who loves the game,” said Timpview coach Kristen Bailey. “Her athleticism is what they like, but they also know she is a hard worker.”
6. Wesley Hamblin, Lone Peak girls soccer
Another player on the injured list for her senior year of high school, but far from finished on the local sports scene is Lone Peak girls soccer player Wesley Hamblin. The Lady Knight star, who committed to Utah State during her sophomore season, is currently recovering from a stress fracture in her foot.
“Wesley is a very dynamic offensive player who can also bring a spark to her team,” said Lone Peak coach Heather Dahl. “She is a player who can continue to lift and lead your team when the game gets extremely tight.”
7. Cydney Lund, Lehi volleyball
Lehi libero Cydney Lund is the leading playmaker for a Pioneer team that has made some early noise on the volleyball scene. The senior has committed to play collegiately at Utah Valley University.
“Cydney is a very hard worker and goes the extra mile to be the best in her position,” said Lehi coach Jaime Ingersoll. “As a libero she is quick, makes good reads and reacts to every play. She makes others around her better players and is a strong a leader on and off the court.”
8. Emily Lewis, Lone Peak volleyball
The interest from the college coaches is extremely high in 6-foot-4 junior Emily Lewis of Lone Peak volleyball. She has been officially offered by Utah State and Colorado State, but the list could be much longer.
“Emily has been very selective with colleges and she is very honest with colleges,” Meyer said. “She is open with them about her level of interest and that limits the number of official offers.”
She has been moved to outside hitter to pick up for the injury to Ackerman, but she is athletic enough to play right side and could even move to the middle if needed.
9. Madison Wolford, Pleasant Grove volleyball
Relentless pursuit of an opportunity is perhaps the most obvious character trait of Pleasant Grove’s Madison Wolford. Lacking scholarship offers, Wolford put in the work and earned one, from UVU coach Sam Atoa during the team camp he hosted in July.
“Maddy gets in the gym and gives 120 percent,” Jones said. “She makes sure that she will outwork anyone. She wasn’t getting any offers from D1 schools and so she decided that she needed to put in the extra work.”
10. Rachelle Warner, Timpanogos
Two times, Timpanogos multi-sport star Rachelle Warner has had to rehab from serious knee injuries, but those setbacks have not stood in her way. Warner has committed to play soccer collegiately at Utah State.
The senior has been an anchor for the defense of one of the state’s top programs since her sophomore campaign.
“She is a valuable asset with her speed and strength and she will do well at the next level,” said Timpanogos coach Natalyn Lewis.
Also worth mentioning — Another top Timpanogos girls soccer star, Amanda Marshall, has committed to play locally at UVU. Kennedee Tracy of Maple Mountain soccer has signed to play at Cal State-Bakersfield. Westlake soccer star Brittney Houghton has signed with NAIA school The College of Idaho, and her Thunder teammate Cassidy Watkins is being recruited by Alabama State and other schools. Lehi cross country’s Jackie Heaps is being recruited by a number of Division 1 schools, including Utah, Nebraska and 2013 women’s track and field national champion Kansas.