Stellar winners have demonstrated resilience, humility and work ethic
The USA TODAY High School Sports Awards are the nation’s largest high school sports recognition program, celebrating the best high school sports in cities and states across the country.
Honors will be presented to dozens of elite student-athletes in a myriad of sports during the July 31, 2022 national broadcast broadcast via the USA TODAY High School Sports Awards website, YouTube and the USA TODAY Channel available at most TVs and smart devices.
During the national broadcast, viewers will be introduced to stellar performers who have shown resilience, determination, humility, competitiveness and work ethic to a great extent – representing their families, schools and their communities.
Here’s a look at some of the top performers who will be recognized at the national exhibition:
The Lakeland Regional High School (NJ) cross-country dynamo capped off a dazzling senior season by winning the 2021 New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Meet of Champions gold medal. And she came within five seconds of taking top honors at the Eastbay Nationals in San Diego in December. University of Florida Perez is nominated for All-USA TODAY HSSA Women’s Cross Country Race of the Year.
“I feel like this sport has changed me in the best possible way and given me opportunities that I never would have had,” she said. “It helped me gain confidence and overall fairness as a person.”
Hartland High School (MI) cross country star Riley Hough ended her senior campaign earning a second straight Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 individual cross country crown. And he’s the first racer to record a time under 15 minutes twice at Michigan International Speedway – the venue for the state championships.
The Michigan State University-bound Hough, nominated for All-USA TODAY HSSA Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, is passionate about preparing and chasing challenges.
“I like being able to test myself,” he said. “I like to push myself to the limit – figuring out if there’s anything I can improve on and working to get to that point.”
West Orange High School (NJ) senior Kieryn Knox had seven perfect games, which takes 12 straight hits to hit 300. He ended his senior year with the Mountaineers by winning the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Boys Bowling Individual Finals Title.
Knox will continue his academic and athletic pursuits at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Atlanta, Georgia, earned first-team All-State honors for his lane exploits and is a nominee for All-USA TODAY High School Sports Awards Boys Bowler of the Year. He topped a field of 100 bowlers to become the state champion.
“I would like to be remembered as someone who worked hard,” he said. “It wasn’t easy to get here and between the help I got from my coaches and others, I was able to help my team succeed.”
When the Eastern Regional High School (NJ) field hockey team’s state championship streak was cut short at 21 in a row via the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Vikings didn’t been discouraged. Led by All-America midfielder/forward Heck, the team proceeded to return to championship form in 2021.
Stellar play and resolve are why Heck, who earned National Field Hockey Coaches Association All-America first-team honors and helped Eastern Regional High School to a 25-2 record, is among the nominees for All-USA TODAY HSSA Field Hockey Player of the Year.
The University of North Carolina Heck is determined to boast a result derived from one unit working as one.
“We all have the same goal,” she said of the Vikings. “It’s about working hard and winning with my teammates. The goal is to achieve the goals of the team. It’s about the team and focusing on what we want to do as a team to to succeed.”
Walter Nolen III
It has often been said that there are countless life lessons to be learned from the sport of football. For Powell High School (TN) defensive tackle Walter Nolen III, the game’s greatest asset is perseverance.
“The game taught me to never give up on anything,” said Nolen, a TODAY HSSA All-USA Defensive Football Player of the Year nominee. “It’s important to keep working and to stay humble. The goal is to improve every day as a team.”
Nolen had 85 total tackles (74 solo) to partner with 31 tackles for loss and 14 sacks en route to helping the Panthers to the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Class 5A State Championship in 2021. After accumulated dozens of college scholarship offers, he chose Texas A&M University as the place where he will pursue his academic and athletic pursuits.