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Triple threats

Several prep athletes in the valley feed their competitiveness by playing three sports

  • 7 min to read

Each athlete treats their priorities differently while growing up.

Some make it their goal to specialize in one sport, believing if they dedicate all their time to that sport, they will become the best possible version of themselves in the heat of competition.

Then there are the athletes with the opposite mindset: those that believe the road to being a great all-around athlete involves numerous activities, trying to find the balance between cross-sport training and stretching themselves too thin.

For some, devoting time to multiple sports pays off later when they shift their focus to only one.

Former Grand Junction High School athlete Kenzie Younker is one of those multi-sport stars making the transition to a single sport.

Younker was a force on the basketball court the past few years, culminating with a senior season in which she averaged more than 15 points per game, led the Tigers to the postseason, and was selected the Southwestern League player of the year.

She'll continue her basketball career at Colorado Mesa University, which already has her excited. Not only is she thrilled to play college basketball, but she also will no longer have other sports diverting her attention.

It was quite a senior year for Younker. In the fall, she led the Tigers' volleyball team in kills, blocks and aces, and was selected to the All-SWL team. In the spring, she competed in several track and field events and qualified for the Class 5A state meet in the discus.

Despite all her multi-sport success, she will stick to the sport she's best known for as a Maverick.

"I'm really excited to just being able to focus on basketball because that's my main passion," Younker said. "I kind of think it'll be awesome to see my growth in just one year because I'll be putting the time I used to put into two other sports into one. I can't get tired of basketball. It'll give me so much more time. I won't have to rush from track practice to shoot hoops."

If other sports were eating into her schedule, why did Younker participate in them? She had several reasons, but the main one might have been family.

Younker's older sister, Madison, also competed in basketball, volleyball and track and field at Grand Junction. Kenzie was never pushed to meet Madison's threshold, but the younger Younker's natural competitiveness got the best of her.

"My sister was a three-sport athlete for four years, too," Younker said. "I was thinking, 'Maybe I should just focus on basketball this year.' But I'm overly competitive. I was like, 'Nah, if she did it, I'm going to do it.' She did three sports, I had to do three sports.

"Track was nice because it's more laid back and it keeps you fit, and I didn't want to leave my volleyball team my senior year. All these sports were a fun part of high school that kept me focused."

All about time management

Another former high school star in the Grand Valley who will soon suit up for Colorado Mesa is Palisade's Sebo Campbell. Campbell, one of the Bulldog football teams most explosive offensive players and solid defensive backs over the past couple of seasons, will look to bring that same explosiveness to the Mavericks.

Campbell also understands how to juggle three sports.

In addition to his gridiron success, he also played baseball and basketball for the Bulldogs. As a senior, he was an all-conference selection in all three sports.

In middle school, Campbell added track and field and wrestling to his sports plate, making him a five-sport athlete.

"If I'm going to be honest, it was tough, but usually, when you play a lot of sports, it's not like you're walking into high school not knowing what you're getting yourself into," Campbell said. "From a young age, I've been juggling my time with sports and school… Playing multiple sports and learning time management was very key for my success."

Despite the time-management issues, Campbell is confident his decisions will pay dividends when he's thrown into the grind of being a college football player.

"It's not for everyone, but neither is playing multiple sports," Campbell said. "I mean, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. I feel like playing three sports with the non-stop practices and little sleep will definitely be helping me with my football career, because it won't be a shock when sports are all year round like it is in college.

"I've been experiencing that type of commitment my whole life."

Another local three-sport athlete who will be continuing his football career in college is Tanner Hickey.

At Central High School, Hickey was a defensive force, averaging 9.3 tackles per game as a three-year starter. He also picked off five passes and forced two fumbles. He returned a fumble for a touchdown in the Warriors' playoff loss to Fruita Monument last fall.

After the season, the senior linebacker was a first-team all-SWL selection and made the Class 4A all-state second team.

He was also strong on the mat, closing out his wrestling career with an appearance in the state tournament in Denver in February. In addition, he ran on the Warriors' track and field team.

"Honestly, it was hard sometimes, but I also enjoyed it because it always gave me something to do," Hickey said.

Soon, Hickey will pack his bags and join the football program at CSU-Pueblo. He believes the sports he played at Central will give him the edge he needs to be a successful college football player.

The sport that helped him truly foster his competitive drive, however, wasn't football.

"Wrestling is just a tough individual sport that's hard to love if you don't find a way to enjoy competition, and it really takes grit to push through some of those tougher matches," Hickey said. "It will help me with wanting to get out and compete because I learned to love competition."

Loving all sports

Like Hickey, former Palisade star Alexandra MacAskill will leave the Grand Valley to continue her athletic career. She participated in basketball and track and field, but she was primarily a significant contributor for the Bulldogs in volleyball, the sport she'll play at Adams State University in Alamosa.

"I think it's nice to have the break between different sports, but when you play all three, it makes you better at all three and it makes you love something different about each one," MacAskill said. "I think it's so fun. It also teaches you to be balanced with school as well. Having a wide range of passions you can spread out makes high school really fun, to be able to do all those different things."

MacAskill finished her volleyball season with 448 kills and helped lead the Bulldogs to the Western Slope League title.

Her younger sister, Kendyl, competes in the same three sports for Palisade.

Alexandra was the third-leading scorer and was second on the team in rebounds for the Bulldogs' basketball team. She also qualified for the state track meet in the 400-meter run and some relays.

Not all the three-sport athletes in the valley are on their way to college.

Fruita Monument's Jacob Weaver, a rising junior, plays football, basketball and baseball for the Wildcats.

Weaver had a strong sophomore season on the diamond with a .293 average, 11 RBI and nine runs scored.

"I'm always busy at all times of the year," Weaver said. "After one sport finishes, I jump right into the next one. I am very grateful for the ability to play three sports though, because I get to become good friends with all kinds of people as well as travel around a lot.

"I'm very competitive, so playing all three keeps my competitive spirit going."

Another rising junior is Central's Mya Murdock. Murdock runs track and field, but she places more emphasis on softball and basketball.

On the diamond, she followed a solid debut as a freshman with an explosive sophomore campaign. The shortstop regularly made spectacular defensive plays and was a force at the plate, hitting .392 with eight home runs, 41 runs scored and 22 RBI. On the hardwood, she averaged 10.4 points per game this past season.

She was an all-conference selection in both sports and was the SWL player of the year in softball.

"(Playing three sports has) actually been a great experience for me because it keeps me in shape year round," Murdock said. "It's kind of tied between softball and basketball, but I probably work more on softball as I play in school and then competitive travel. Track comes last. I've been doing it to stay in shape and get me to run faster, although it has been fun doing track."

Busy is good

Fruita Monument senior Caleb Sakala runs track and field in addition to playing football and basketball. He's a cornerback and wide receiver for the Wildcats' football team.

Like many others, he realizes the importance of filling his schedule with sports.

"It has been really time-consuming, but it keeps me busy and I really enjoy all three of the sports," Sakala said. "They teach me skills that will help me be successful in life."

A pair of track and field athletes for Grand Junction are fully aware of the difficulties of juggling three sports.

"Playing three sports, you have to deal with a lot of adversity and learn to play with different teams and figure out how different teams act and how you're supposed to lead on those teams," said rising sophomore Ky Oday Jr. "It's quite a bit to deal with."

Senior Austin Hillie added, "It keeps me conditioned, definitely. I'm taught a lot being with several different coaches throughout the year. I learned hard work and how to keep grinding and putting in work, even if you don't want to."

One unique three-sport athlete is Central's Myah Arrieta. As a sophomore, she was part of the Warriors' softball team that advanced to the final four where she hit .421 with 35 RBI. Then it was off to the wrestling mat where she wrestled on the boys team, but suffered a season-ending injury early in the season. She also played on the Warriors' soccer team.

Grand Junction senior Breck Smith had a busy fall when she played on both the volleyball and softball teams. She was also on the Tigers' track and field roster.

Dolcie Hanlon was a four-sport athlete as a sophomore, running cross country in the fall, then playing key roles on the Tigers' basketball and soccer teams. She was also on the Tigers' track and field roster.

Grand Junction freshman Nina English got her high school career off to a busy start, competing on the Tigers' cross country, swimming and track and field teams. She placed fifth in the 100-yard freestyle at the Class 4A state swim meet.

There are some athletes who have a unique three-sport combination like Palisade freshman Judah Guajardo, who competes in soccer, wrestling and baseball.

As a junior, Ben Sargent pulled double duty during the fall where he a team captain on the Palisade soccer team and was one of the best kickers in the Western Slope Conference for the Bulldogs. He also played basketball for the Bulldogs.

Grand Junction junior Christian Hafey also did some kicking but was also a key player on both offense and defense on the football field. In the winter, he continued to show improvement on the wrestling mat, and on the diamond, he hit .352 with 22 RBI.

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