High school is a platform, not only for learning, but for self-discovery and a jumpstart to a future goal. Creating the spark that ignites one’s future is exciting, but finding and developing the tools to do so is no easy task. That’s why these five student-athletes make up a special group. Approaching their senior year, they’ve already sketched the blueprint to success on and off the field and in and outside of the classroom. Now they just have to ignite the flame and discover what lies ahead.
Ryan Killion: ExCELing at Everything
Well-rounded is an adjective Providence Academy High School principal Kevin Ferdinandt refuses to throw around. “I think it’s overused,” he says. But in the case of Providence junior Ryan (Killion), the administrator admits it’s a rare fit. “He’s got priorities in all different kinds of arenas, and he balances them well,” says Ferdinandt, who nominated Killion for the ExCEL Award, which stands Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership.
The nomination form was no match for Killion, who had multiple honors and accomplishments to boast in categories such as athletic activities, fine arts activities, general contributions to the school and volunteer community service. So although it wasn’t a huge surprise to Ferdinandt when Killion was chosen as one of 32 juniors from across the state to win the 2011 award, it still took time to sink in for the former class president. “It was huge for me,” Killion says. “I’m not really the type of person to gloat about the things I’ve done, but when I won, I felt pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished over the last couple years.”
Those accomplishments are many. The honors student played varsity football, was all conference in three different track events as a sophomore and two as a junior, was first chair trombone in band, and went to state as a member of the debate team—which may have the most influence on Killion’s future. “That’s a big reason why I want to go into law,” says the upcoming senior co-captain of the Varsity debate team. “I really like the feel of being able to make your own case, being able to defend it and just completely taking down other people’s cases.”
But Killion doesn’t fit the negative, slimy image some people associate with lawyers. Not with a resume that includes over 1,000 volunteer hours, spread through everything from Feed my Starving Children, Eagle Scouts and the Breast Cancer Foundation to serving as an altar server mentor and redoing the landscape for his church. “I think he’s a shining example of what represents our school in the best sense of it,” says Ferdinandt. “We want our kids to be involved in a lot. We want them to be active in the community. We want them to be active in their faith. We want them to be active in the sports fields and in the arts classrooms. And that’s what (Ryan) represents.”
Mikayla Bailey: Beyond the Numbers
In sports, stats have a way of making the world turn. Especially in high school, when athletes are auditioning to prolong their career to the college level, the truth behind a player’s talent more often than not is in the numbers. Osseo senior Mikayla Bailey breaks the mold. Individual stats are flying so low on her radar, she couldn’t even recite her numbers from this past winter. “You’d have to ask my coach,” Bailey says. “I don’t really keep track.”
Bailey, who averaged a little less than 10 points per game this year as a junior, wasn’t the Orioles leading scorer or rebounder. In fact, she wasn’t even in the top two in either category. Yet, it was Bailey who caught the eye of Minnesota Gophers coach Pam Borton, who offered her a scholarship going into her junior year. How, you may ask? “Defense,” Osseo coach Joey Waters says, “is definitely her biggest asset. In any game since her freshman year, she could guard the best player. It doesn’t matter if it’s a forward or guard, she takes on that challenge.”
As team captain, Bailey led the Orioles to a stunning 23-3 regular season record and a conference title last winter, while also leading the team in two sneaky and unselfish stats—assists (3) and steals (2) per game. “I’ll dive on the floor for any loose ball,” says Bailey, a varsity player since ninth grade. “I just love the game so much, I’ll do anything.”
But anything doesn’t include sacrificing her school work. Bailey, who battled through a challenging class schedule that included AP English and HP Chemistry, finished her junior year with a 3.4 GPA. “(Academics) always come first,” Bailey says. “I’m always challenging myself because I want to prepare myself for college.”
Waters thinks other girls will be inspired by Bailey’s path to the next level. “She works hard. She knows her role, and I think that’s good,” Waters says. “It’s been really valuable for the kids in our program to see that they can go to college and play—they don’t have to be that big time scorer to get there. I think that’s important now days.”
Rachel Cooper: A Humble Hero
Rachel Cooper speaks softly, but she carries a big stick—a couple of them, actually. The Osseo incoming senior’s two weapons of choice are a lacrosse stick and a hockey stick, and in most cases, she lets both do the talking for her.
As a junior, Cooper led the North Metro Stars hockey team with 17 points and led the Osseo/Park Center Mustangs lacrosse team with 52 goals. She’s played varsity in both sports since ninth grade, but is leaning towards pursuing her “passion” of lacrosse in college. Mustangs coach Martha Trumble believes Cooper, a three-time all-conference player, definitely has the skills to play at the next level. Trumble believes it so deeply, she encouraged her junior captain to try out for the Minnesota Lakers select summer team, which gave her the opportunity to travel all over the country to play in top college recruiting tournaments.
“She is just a natural,” says Trumble of Cooper. “She is just unbelievable. She will play any position she is asked to play and do anything she is asked to do... She just has an uncanny ability to get open, get the ball and put the ball in the net.”
Cooper is also a standout performer in the classroom, where she maintained a 3.7 GPA as a junior while taking AP and HP classes. “School is very, very important to me,” says Cooper, who is on the Junior Class Committee and National Honor Society. “It’s definitely challenging, but I’ve learned to take the time out of hanging out with friends and to stay up a bit later to get that work done.”
If history serves as evidence, Cooper will continue treating goalies to sleepless nights as a senior. But it won’t be her mouth making the noise. “One thing about Rachel is she doesn’t realize how good she is,” Trumble says. “She’s just maybe starting to see it. She is modest.”
Dylan Steman: Packing a Punch with Touch
It’s one thing to be a three-sport athlete in today’s prep uni-sports landscape monopolized by elite traveling teams and year-round tournaments. But the true rarity of Dylan Steman lies within the unique set of abilities he uses to excel in his sports of choice.
He packs the hard-hitting punch to be a standout cornerback on the Maple Grove Crimson football team. He has the touch and vision to be a varsity tennis player. And he combines a little of each to be one of the finest hockey players in the state. “You don’t see that combination,” says Crimson hockey coach Gary Stefano. “It is a little different. We haven’t had many tennis players in the past. When you play three sports now days, it’s awfully tough, and you have to be a great student and have a lot of discipline.”
Steman, who had a 4.0 GPA while earning all-conference and St. Paul Pioneer Honorable Mention All-State in hockey as a junior, fits the bill. He enjoys and excels in math and science, and is considering engineering as a possible area of focus in college. But no matter what path of study he chooses, it’s very likely Steman will be playing Division I college hockey somewhere. “I want to go to a pretty prestigious school,” says Steman, who points to his near-perfect GPA. “I wouldn’t really want to waste it.”
Steman, who open enrolled at MGSH from Buffalo to come play hockey with his friends, was forced by Minnesota State High School League rules to sit out of varsity sports as a sophomore. But he proved to be worth the wait, leading the Crimson hockey team in scoring (16 goals, 33 assists for 49 points) during a magical 2011 season that included an 18-game unbeaten streak and the program’s first conference title. Not surprisingly, he was voted as a team captain in his upcoming senior season.
“He works awfully hard, and when the guys see that, it’s kind of a takeoff for the whole team,” Stefano says. “He plays physical for his size. He sees the ice well, and he’s just a tenacious worker in the corners and a good playmaker. He’s very personable. He is no doubt respected by his peers, and he doesn’t put himself ahead of the team at all.”
Phifer Nicholson: An Unanimous Leader
When it came to electing a team captain for the 2011-12 season, each of the 50 members of the Providence Academy/Heritage Christian Academy Lions football team had a vote. All but one of those votes was for upcoming senior offensive line Charles Nicholson. “He didn’t vote for himself,” says Lions coach Nate Harrington.
That says a lot for a team coming off back-to-back 8-0 conference seasons, and even more for Nicholson, who goes by his middle name, Phifer. “He’s very easy to follow,” Harrington adds. “He’s a natural leader.”
At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Phifer fits the description of an athlete, and he acts the part. Known as a hard-hitting linebacker and a student of the game, he was all-conference as a sophomore and all-conference honorable mention and all-section as a junior. He also played varsity basketball for two years and was a thrower for the track team for one.
But his scholarly ways in the classroom are what makes him special. “The balance in him in terms of being an outstanding student and an athlete is what stands out,” says Heritage athletic director Chris Laird. “He’s an excellent writer. There’s a really nice contrast to being a physical athlete and an exceptional student, and his personality is great.”
Phifer, who sports a 3.9 GPA, was class president as a freshman, a representative as a sophomore, was chosen to represent his school at a math contest at St. Cloud State University twice, and was also picked to participate amongst a select group of area students in a business ethics workshop ran by the local Rotary Club.
Phifer is aiming to play college football, it’s just a matter of where. He attended a recruiting camp at Wofford College in June, a Division I private school in Spartanburg, SC. his father (known as Dr. Phifer) played football for, but he said he’s also looking at the Division III MIAC schools here at home. No matter where he decides to go, he’ll pack his work ethic. “I feel like I’d rather be scolded for making a mistake instead of being told ‘you weren’t working hard enough,’” Phifer says. “That’s the way I go about playing sports and anything in general. I don’t want to be considered lazy. I want to try and push myself to be the best I can be.”