Prep notebook: North Platte’s Rice signs with Saint Mary

With a trio of NAIA offers to consider, Grace Rice settled on one thing — comfort. 

That’s what the North Platte senior felt with the University of Saint Mary coaching staff. And because of that, she chose to play college basketball with the NAIA Spires, who are based in Leavenworth, Kan.

“I felt like it was a place that I could see myself being successful and it was just a really welcoming environment,” said Rice, who officially signed her college letter at a signing ceremony on April 5 at North Platte High School.

Citizen file photo  North Platte’s Grace Rice shoots a 3-pointer against Mid-Buchanan in a playoff game earlier this year. Rice will play basketball at University of Saint Mary next year.

Citizen file photo

North Platte’s Grace Rice shoots a 3-pointer against Mid-Buchanan in a playoff game earlier this year. Rice will play basketball at University of Saint Mary next year.

Rice, a 5-foot-10, 150-pound forward, chose St. Mary over two other NAIA programs that extended offers — Ottawa (Kan.) and Graceland (Iowa).

“I visited quite a lot of schools actually starting at the end of last year,” Rice said before listing Ottawa, Graceland, Benedictine (Kan.), Missouri Valley and William Jewell. 

But, in the end, she went with the Spires and second-year coach Katelyn Loecker, a native of McPherson, Kan., and a former Oklahoma State standout. Loecker, a former senior captain for the Cowgirls, appeared in three NCAA tournaments and one Sweet 16.

“I will strive to continue pushing the program in the right direction both on and off the basketball court,” Loecker said in a press release announcing her hiring in June of 2018.

Rice appeared to have received a similar message from Loecker on the recruiting trail.

“I was very impressed with her style of playing and her wanting to change the culture of the program as a young coach,” said Rice, an all-KCI pick.

MORE HONORS

Former Park Hill pole vaulter Chris Nilsen continues to take the pole vaulting world by storm during his junior season at South Dakota.

Nilsen improved his highest mark of the outdoor season with a vault of 19 feet, 2 ¼ inches to win the Drake Relays event on April 27 in Des Moines, Iowa. Despite the improved vault, the title of world leader was taken over by LSU freshman Mondo Duplantis, who went 19-5 ¾ at a different competition on the same day. Nilsen had the world’s top mark of 19-1 for one week.

However, Nilsen was recognized as the Drake Relays Most Outstanding Performer after setting a new meet record and tying the Drake Stadium facility record. He also finally beat Olympic medalist Sam Kendricks in head-to-head competition in their fifth meeting.

“I feel like I’m in high school, just jumping for fun,” Nilsen recently told The Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan. “I don’t really feel like I get up every day and go to work. I come to practice every day and do what I love.”

Additionally, The Summit League and South Dakota recently honored Nilsen. He was recognized with league honors for the 20th time on April 23 and he received the Dr. John Van Why Award as the Male Student-Athlete of the Year by South Dakota on April 24.

Nilsen was named the Summit League April Athlete of the Month by the league on Tuesday.

WRESTLING NOTES

Former Platte County High School wrestler Matthew Schmitt and four Park Hill wrestlers competed in the USA Wrestling’s Marine Corps U.S. Open Senior Greco-Roma April 25-26 in Las Vegas.

Schmitt, who wrestles collegiately at West Virginia, placed sixth in the 60 KG weight class after falling in the fifth-place match to Taylor LaMont of Utah Valley University.

After receiving a first-round bye, Schmitt pinned seventh-ranked Daniel Dennis of Iowa. In the quarterfinals, Schmitt was pinned by No. 2 Ildar Hafizov of U.S. Army WCAP club. LaMont then handed Schmitt a loss via a 4-4 decision for fifth place.

In the USA Wrestling Western Regional, Park Hill’s Trey Crawford claimed a championship, while Cael Keck and Ethen Miller were third and Kal Miller was fourth.

The Trojan quartet also competed in the freestyle portion of the tournament, as Crawford and Keck both claimed titles in their respective divisions and Kal Miller was runner-up.

NOTEWORTHY

Former Park Hill wrestler and Minnesota signee Devin Winston recently gained another postseason honor, landing on the 2018-19 All-USA Today Boys Wrestling third team. … Former Platte County wrestler Ethan Karsten, the top-ranked NJCAA wrestler in the 157-pound class for Iowa Central this past season, has signed with American University. ... Platte County freshman Amaya Blake was accepted to play on the USA U16 Women’s National Team for the upcoming team trials at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. … Platte County’s outgoing senior forward Shayla Kohler has committed to play basketball for Pittsburg State. … Two Park Hill South seniors have recently committed to collegiate track and field programs. Ben Owere is headed to the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Addison Snowball is bound for Central Missouri. … Platte County senior Grace Heater recently committed to MidAmerica Nazarene’s softball program.