Santa Fe's Dierking excels on court
There's something about watching Santa Fe senior Nicole Dierking with a basketball in her hands that elicits pure joy in the heart of a true basketball fan.
Dierking, a 5-foot-11 guard-forward, takes to the sport as though born in a gym -- although her skills have been honed over years of hard work. Although she received her first all-state award from the Missouri Sportswriters and Sportscasters only last year, she's truly posted those type of numbers since her freshman season.
Although hoops were her first passion, Dierking has evolved into an excellent volleyball player as well -- and, as an all-Central Region middle hitter, is among the nominees for all-state selection when the list is announced by the Missouri High School Volleyball Coaches Association after the first of the year. It is for her prowess in these two sports that Dierking is the Democrat-News' top female prep "athlete of the year."
Over 150 female student-athletes took part in varsity sports in the five local high schools during the current calendar year, with 16 lettering in at least three different activities. A points system is used to quantify individual performances, with team success and the athlete's leadership role factored in where applicable. In the final tally, Dierking was clearly on top.
1. Nicole Dierking, Santa Fe, Class of 2003:
Even on a team as talented as the 22-3 Lady Chiefs, Dierking stands out. She led the squad in scoring (17.4 points per game), assists (3.1), steals (4.6) and shooting percentages from three-point range (34.1) and the free-throw line (73.1) last year.
Dierking's 1,055 career points entering the present campaign are impressive in their own right, but would have been higher had Santa Fe not enjoyed increased scoring balance during the past two seasons. Therefore, she won't threaten Yvette Buhlig's school-record 1,907 points set in '88.
The 27-8 Lady Chiefs' volleyball team, as in basketball, shared the I-70 Conference title and entered the playoffs for the ninth year in a row. Dierking led the group with 2.4 kills, 6.2 digs and 0.8 blocks per game -- routinely coming up with big hits when most needed as Santa Fe advanced to the state quarterfinals.
2. Shelley Rennison, Sweet Springs, '04:
Speed is Rennison's stock in trade, a two-time Class A all-stater in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, picking up two more state medals by running legs in the Lady Greyhounds' sprint relay teams. During the same season, she also led the Sweet Springs softball squad with a .500 average, nine runs and six runs batted in.
Rennison was an all-conference point guard in basketball, topping the Lady 'Hounds in scoring (9.9 ppg), assists (4.2) and three-point field goals (45).
3. Becca Arnold, Santa Fe, '04:
In her all-around abilities, Arnold seems to be Dierking's clone on the hardwood. A 5-11 forward-guard, she can handle the ball and rebound with like proficiency -- although neither quite as polished nor as good a pure shooter. However, with her fast rate of development, Arnold may yet post Dierking-like statistics.
Also an all-region hitter, Arnold racked up 4.7 kills and 4.6 digs per game for the Lady Chiefs. She contributed to Santa Fe's 15-2 softball season last spring with a .368 batting average and 18 runs scored.
4. Linzi Leimkuehler, Marshall, '04:
For the second year in a row, Leimkuehler made the finals of the MSHSAA Class AAA Championships in the 100 and 200 sprints. She won nine gold medals during the season in those two events.
Leimkuehler also played a solid role in the Lady Owls' 14-14-1 volleyball campaign, pulling up 2.5 digs per game as a defensive specialist -- even moving to middle hitter when needed during Marshall's march into the finals of the Carrollton Quad.
5. Ashley Fann, Marshall, '02:
No longer eligible in tennis, where she was a two-time state qualifier, Fann -- the "athlete of the year" for 2000 and '01 -- is recognized for leading the 13-13 Lady Owls' hoops squad. She was an all-district guard, signed by William Jewell College after averaging 19.0 points per game.
Fann also scored five goals and logged five assists for Marshall in soccer, where she was an all-NCMC midfielder.
6. Kinsey Crutchfield, Santa Fe, '03:
Crutchfield won the I-70 Conference titles in the long and triple jumps, medaling at state in the latter event. She also batted .468 with 27 runs and 19 RBIs on the softball field.
Starting at point guard for the Lady Chiefs last season, Crutchfield dished out 3.1 assists per game. She followed that up with 0.7 kills, 0.8 digs and 0.5 blocks per game as an outside hitter in volleyball.
7. Nicki Erickson, Marshall, '05:
Erickson had a nice rookie season as the Lady Owls' "sixth man" at guard, scoring 3.1 points and coming up with 1.5 steals per game. She led the Lady Owls with 11 goals and five assists during an all-conference soccer season and qualified for the state tournament in doubles, posting a 12-3 record in doubles with senior Kayla Barr -- while going 17-4 in singles for the 15-4 district champions.
8. Linsey Johnson, Sweet Springs, '04:
Johnson ran the kickoff leg of the Lady Greyhounds' two medal-winning spring relay teams at state. As a slashing guard, she averaged 8.2 points and had 2.3 steals per game during the basketball season and was second on Sweet Springs' net team with 1.7 kills per game and 30 aces.
9. Sam Narron, Marshall, '03:
Narron had an outstanding volleyball campaign, second on the Lady Owls with 1.7 kills and 1.0 blocks per game. However, her greatest accomplishments were in the high jump, medaling every time out -- winning three golds -- and qualifying for the state meet.
10. Jennifer Hall, Slater, '02:
Hall's forte was strength and intensity, leading the Lady Wildcats with 15.0 points and 7.6 rebounds a game. Hall earned all-state honors in the discus.
The Next 10:
11. Emily Melies, Sweet Springs, '03 (track, volleyball); 12. Aimee Bredehoeft, Santa Fe, '02 (softball); 13. Jerica Johnson, Slater, '04 (track, basketball, softball); 14. Ashley Lewis, Marshall, '03 (basketball, soccer, volleyball); 15. Lauren Bray, Sweet Springs, '03 (volleyball, basketball, softball); 16. Stephanie Campbell, Slater, '04 (basketball, softball); 17. Loralee Duvall, Santa Fe, '04 (basketball, volleyball); 18. Kayla Barr, Marshall, '02 (tennis, soccer); 19. Amanda Baker, Malta Bend, '05 (track, basketball, softball); 20. Leslie Keesaer, Sweet Springs, '05 (track, basketball, volleyball, softball).
Marshall -- Lynn Nelson (volleyball, soccer), Gynnah Hawkins (golf), Gerri Ravenhill (tennis), Emily Chevalier (tennis), Ashley Schlotzhauer (track); Santa Fe -- Jenna Tieman (volleyball, softball), Christine Forbes (softball, basketball); Slater -- Deanna Wright (track, basketball); Sweet Springs -- Allison Staples (basketball, volleyball); Malta Bend -- Stephanie Malter (basketball, softball).