A pair of Park Hill School District students recently received top state honors with a prestigious annual award.
Park Hill senior Chris Nilsen (boys track and field) and Park Hill South junior Olivia Kinsey (softball) were named Gatorade Missouri Athlete/Player of the Year. The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character, qualifies both to have a shot at the national athlete/player of the year award.
Nilsen and Kinsey were both the first winners for their school in their respective sport.
A 6-foot-4, 200-pound recently graduated senior, Nilsen ended his career as a two-time Class 5 state champion, setting the Missouri State Track and Field Championships record at 17 feet. He made the big leap in the vault after entering the season with a 12-0 personal best.
Nilsen continued to up his marks during his senior season and set a national high school record with a vault of 18-4.75 in this year’s Class 5 Sectional 4 meet. He also medaled at state twice in the high jump and has signed to continue his pole vaulting career at the University of South Dakota.
Past winners of the Missouri boys track and field award include five-time NCAA Division I All-American Maurice Mitchell (Raytown South, 2006-2007).
Nilsen also maintained a B average in the classroom. A skilled parkour practitioner, which is an adapted obstacle course discipline, he is also a member of the Civil Air Patrol and his school’s concert band.
“Chris Nilsen is a great athlete and ambassador for the sport of track and field,” said Dan Davies, head coach at Liberty High School. “So many times you see a kid who is successful at a high level be consumed by an event and miss out on the team aspect of track and field. It’s Nilsen’s grin that I will always remember. He just enjoys life and makes others enjoy it too by witnessing his accomplishments.”
A 5-foot-8 right-handed pitcher, Kinsey led Park Hill South (25-4) to the district finals this past season after serving as ace on the first playoff team in program history as a sophomore. Kinsey posted a 17-3 record with a 1.03 ERA, striking out 236 in 122 1/3 innings and batted .429 with six home runs and 28 RBIs.
Kinsey earned first team all-state honors from the Missouri High School Fastpitch Coaches Assocaition and ranks as the nation’s No. 35 recruit in the Class of 2017, according to FloSoftball.com. She has verbally committed to the University of Oregon.
In addition to maintaining a 4.0 GPA in the classroom, she volunteers locally on behalf of youth softball programs.
“Olivia Kinsey is the toughest pitcher we’ve faced for the past two seasons,” said Jairus Tapp, head coach at Staley High School. “She’s a phenomenal player. I’ve been really impressed with her raw talent and her competitiveness. She’s just a bulldog.”
Past winners of the Missouri softball player of the year award include Truman’s Paige Parker, a three-time honoree who led Oklahoma University to a national championship this past season.
The selection process is administered by the Gatorade high school sports leadership team in partnership with USA TODAY High School Sports. They annually recognize one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track and field, and award one national player/athlete of the year in each sport. They work with top sport-specific experts and a media advisory board of accomplished, veteran prep sports journalists to determine the state winners in each sport.