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Sun, May 22

Playoff teams and state champs among top local sports stories of 2021

The Lee Williams High School football team earned its first-ever playoff appearance in Class 4A in 2021. (Miner file photo)

The Lee Williams High School football team earned its first-ever playoff appearance in Class 4A in 2021. (Miner file photo)

KINGMAN – The athletic talent of Kingman-area youths was on fine display in 2021, from state championships in wrestling and tennis to astounding football, soccer, barrel riding and CrossFit accomplishments, and more.

The Lee Williams High School football squad had its most successful season in years in 2021. Enjoying a winning stretch that started in October, the Volunteers ran with that momentum in securing a playoff berth in November. It was the team’s first playoff appearance since 2014, and its first ever in Class 4A.

The Volunteers also advanced further in the playoffs than ever before, making it to the quarterfinals of the tournament where they met the Mesquite Wildcats, the defending champions of Class 4A. The Vols fell 27-13 to the Wildcats, who again brought home the championship in 2021.

“This year’s group has just been really resilient,” said head coach Patrick O’Boyle, noting the team had starters ranging from freshmen to seniors. “They put in a bunch of time in the offseason and bonded really well with each other.”

O’Boyle said the team’s success resulted from a culmination of a few factors over the course of multiple years, including a run of talented classes and a squad that now knows what it takes to be a winning team.

“I’m just very proud of the way we handled ourselves all year, proud of the way we grew, proud of the way we competed all year,” O’Boyle said. “I’m proud of our fans and the administration team, and all the parents and everyone who’s part of our program in any way shape or form for rallying around our guys and really making this season a special season.”

The Lee Williams football squad was not the only local team to advance to the playoffs in 2021. The Lee Williams Lady Volunteers soccer team won the first playoff game for girls soccer in school history when they outlasted Seton Hill Catholic 1-0 in the opening round of the Class 4A playoffs in March.

“It was the best defensive game I’ve seen the girls play this year. They shut Seton Catholic’s offense down,” said Lee Williams head coach Chris Selby, adding that it was a “total team victory.”

The Lady Vols’ quest for a berth in the semifinals was snubbed by top-ranked Prescott in a 4-1 loss. Lee Williams did score a goal on the top-ranked team, which had surrendered only six goals as of that point in the season.

The boys soccer team from Lee Williams also advanced to the playoffs in 2021. The squad lost 4-1 to Walden Grove High School in the opening round of the Class 4A playoffs in March. It was the third year in a row that the Volunteers made the playoffs.

Also securing playoff berths in May were the softball teams of Kingman High School and Kingman Academy High School. Kingman Academy fell 13-12 to Morenci Junior-Senior High School in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs. The Lady Bulldogs suffered a 17-0 loss to the Payson Longhorns in the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs. Both teams were up against opponents seeded higher than themselves.

Payton Wayman of Lee Williams High School was state runner-up in wrestling as a sophomore. He decided to improve upon that marking as a junior, coming away with the 160-pound Arizona High School Division III State Championship in 2021. He did so without losing a single match all season.

“It just kind of happened,” he said. “Sophomore year I wasn’t expecting to get into the finals, and now this year I’m unbeatable. It’s crazy. It’s awesome though.”

Lee Williams head wrestling coach Thomas Jonseck said he had the pleasure of watching Payton and his brothers grow from kids to men as one of the individuals who started the organization 10 years ago.

“In certain sports, you can be the greatest coach in the world, but at the end of the day it comes down to that athlete,” Jonseck said. “And that is what Payton shows every single day, every year, he has grown. He has put in that work, he’s the one who takes those moves and perfects it, makes it his own. All we do is show him the tools and he’s the one who builds himself.”

Wayman wants to pull from his success and help the younger wrestlers at Lee Williams.

“I need to be more of a leader and I need to have more of a voice in the room,” he said. “I need to be more hands on with my other wrestlers; I need to help them, I need to guide them.”

Senior Logan Rosenbach and sophomore Kohen Juelfs of Lee Williams High School brought home the Division II state doubles championship in tennis in 2021. And they did so while remaining undefeated.

The pair went 5-0 while cruising to the tournament title, beating Zach Daniels and Jackson Fisher of McClintock High School 6-2, 6-4 in the finals on Monday, May 3 at the Paseo Racquet Center in Glendale.

Rosenbach and Juelfs were near perfect in the regular season, going 10-0 while winning four of their matches 8-0, and four more matches 8-1. They were also the top singles players for the Volunteers, who finished the season 7-3 as a team. Rosenbach was 9-1 at No. 1 singles, while Juelfs was undefeated at 10-0 at No. 2 singles.

Also advancing to the playoffs in 2021 were the Lee Williams Lady Volunteers tennis squad and Kingman Academy’s baseball team, both of which were knocked out early in the tournament. Kingman Academy’s girls basketball squad advanced to the playoffs as well, falling early. Kingman Academy’s volleyball squad advanced to the second round of the Conference 2A playoffs in 2021, with their season ending with a 3-0 loss to the Phoenix Country Day Eagles.

Barrel Racer

Kingman’s Taliyah Bowman Crook won a world title at the 2021 Indian National Finals Rodeo (INFR) in Las Vegas. The title from October showcased her hard work and made her an inspiration for Kingman youth. For the 15-year-old world champion junior barrel racer, barrel racing is not just a hobby, but a family passion.

The teenager trains on her horse, JDM Cinderella, each day and describes her win as the “best feeling ever.” She was the 10th rider to compete at the rodeo, so watching everyone before her was nerve-wracking.

“I had to wait for everyone, and I was literally the fastest time, but the whole time I was just thanking God,” Bowman Crook said with a laugh.

After years of training, she thanks her family and trainer for encouraging her passion. She also said God answered her prayers. Bowman Crook said she never prays to win, but this year's title was something she really wanted.

“I prayed the first day that I would get a clean run; I got a clean run,” Bowman Crook said. “And the second day I prayed that we would win, and we won. The third day I prayed that we’d win the world and we won the world.”

Prior to competing, she grew up riding horses at her grandpa’s house. She remembers riding and racing horses with her cousins, which sparked her love for riding that would lead her to competitive barrel racing.

“I’d always go over there and just ride, just for fun. I really like it, and I love going fast,” Bowman Crook said.

While juggling multiple sports, school and friends, it’s important for Bowman Crook to find time for fun.

“It’s all about making memories,” Cydnie Crook, mother, said. “It should be fun and not stressful.”

Gymnasts

The Kingman All Starz Academy Gymnastics team sent 14 gymnasts to the Amateur Athletic Union National Gymnastics Championships in Savannah, Georgia. The girls brought home six gold medals, 10 silver medals and eight bronze medals in the competition held June 23-27.

This year was the first year the gym of 400 gymnasts made it to nationals, bringing pride to the community and the gym owned by Brandee Proffit.

“We came away absolutely thrilled just to be able to medal at all,” Proffit said. “But to have so many girls hit the top three was ... on cloud nine.”

Competing against over 200 teams and over 2,000 athletes across the country, the Kingman girls earned their titles and helped put Kingman on the map.

“It takes a lot of effort,” said Payton Miller. “You have to be dedicated because if you leave and then you want to come back you have to catch up.”

While the sport takes time and effort, the girls learn structure and time management early on. The gym is also open to everyone and celebrates a diverse range of backgrounds and skill levels.

“I love that we have gymnasts of all levels,” Proffit said. “We have all ages from babies through older teens, all shapes, all sizes.”

Along with training and perfecting their skills, the friendships created at the gym motivate and bring joy to the gymnasts.

“Most of my friends are from gymnastics,” Miller said, and Emily Flummer agreed. “We’re here all the time.”

Proffit said it’s important for the girls to have fun while also developing their skills. She said the support the gymnasts receive from one another helps them improve their art.

“We all have different challenges we work through, but that’s what’s exciting about it,” Proffit said. “You can individually push yourself, but it can also be a team.”

CrossFit

Sixteen-year-old Hayleigh Kanthack of Kingman has made CrossFit part of her lifestyle. She trained to make her way to the renowned CrossFit Games, which she attended in Madison, Wisconsin in July.

After the 2021 CrossFit Games, Kanthack ranks the 13th fittest in the world in the 16-to-17-year-old age group. In 2021, at 15, she competed in the 16-17 age group based on where her birthday fell for the CrossFit Games.

At the CrossFit Open, Kanthack placed 21st, which qualified her to compete in the age group of online qualifiers where she placed 18th worldwide, 12th for the U.S and made the list of top 20 athletes worldwide to compete in the CrossFit Games.

As a high school student at Kingman Academy of Learning High School, Kanthack also juggles work and trains around four hours five days a week. Even though her main focus is on vigorous workouts preparing her for competitions, she enjoys the community that she’s built at her gym, State 48 Fitness.

“Everybody’s a huge family, especially here,” Kanthack said. “Everybody’s always gonna push you and make sure you’ve got what you need.”

While training brings an abundance of new obstacles, Kanthack said her hip impingement and various other injuries created new hurdles. However, Kanthack recovered and learned how to take care of her body through training and nutrition.

“Listen to your coaches, listen to your physical therapists, eat enough,” Kanthack said.

Kanthack said she can struggle to believe in herself and her capabilities since she doesn’t brag about her accomplishments, even though she understands she's an inspiration to young athletes in the area. In her opinion, being cocky gives off the wrong persona.

“I don’t like people who brag or are cocky with me,” Kanthack said. “It’s good to be confident, but confident and cocky are completely different.”

Kanthack finds motivation in being one of the younger athletes at her gym and at the CrossFit Games. Since she went to the CrossFit Games, she knows she’s capable of going again.

“I’ve already made it this year. I can make it next year,” Kanthack said.

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