Generally speaking, choosing between two outstanding things in life is never an easy task. But in the case of Incline High School's female Athlete of the Year, the decision was impossible.
The only solution was to honor both equally.
For their many superlative qualities, both athletically and from a leadership standpoint, seniors Grace Dolan and Tori O'Connor have been selected as the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza's co-female Athletes of the Year from Incline High School.
“They're both great kids,” said longtime Incline girls' soccer coach John Paganelli, summing up the consensus among every coach who ever encountered the standout three-sport athletes.
Dolan excelled in golf, alpine skiing and softball, while O'Connor displayed her talents in soccer, basketball and track. Both racked up numerous personal accolades, and both are sure to be equally missed by their respective Incline teams.
This past fall, Dolan capped a stellar senior golf season by winning the NIAA 2A state golf championship at Ruby View Golf Course in Elko — following in the footsteps of four-time Incline state champion Katie Wright.
Playing on a difficult course in rainy, windy conditions, Dolan posted a two-day score of 193, shooting a 94 on Day 1 and a 99 on Day 2. She finished three strokes ahead of the runner-up.
“It was a tremendous accomplishment for a very gifted and talented athlete,” said Incline head coach Joe Humasti, who was also Dolan's alpine ski coach.
Dolan finished second in the state championship as a junior and was the Highlanders' most improved golfer as a sophomore.
“Grace is an exceptional athlete,” Humasti said. “Not only did she excel at every sport she was in, but she also was a role model for her teammates and was very considerate of the underclassmen. She took them under her wing and helped guide them, just like Katelyn Wright and her predecessors did with her.
“She's one of the best overall athletes I've ever coached.”
O'Connor was as selfless a soccer player as she was skilled. The speedy senior started all four years on the Highlanders' varsity team, playing whatever position Paganelli asked of her — from forward to defender — and playing them well.
“She's a dedicated athlete, that's for sure. She's so coachable. She's just one of those great kids who gave 100 percent all the time. Just a wonderful kid,” said Paganelli, who moved O'Connor to sweeper her senior year. “We started her at forward as a freshman, then she played a lot of wing both as an attacker and defender, and then she went back and played second sweeper this past year because she's awesome and super fast. Everybody always wants to score, but there was never a complaint with her. She was easy to coach.”
O'Connor was recognized with a selection to the All-League first team as a defender.
“She exceeded my expectations in many ways,” said Paganelli, who retired from coaching after this past season. “Her speed and intelligence were amazing, and she really took on a leadership role her season year. She's just a solid kid.”
Incline girls' basketball coach Wayne Nash was fortunate. In his first season at the helm, the coach had a mature, versatile senior who shone as a natural floor general who helped lead the team.
“Being a top athlete isn't just what you do individually, and as a teammate, you can't replace her,” Nash said. “She made everybody better around her. Her maturity is many years beyond her age. It's unbelievable. I can't replace her.”
With good height to complement both her quickness and top-end speed, O'Connor could play any of the five positions on the floor, although she became the team's primary point guard as the season progressed.
“She had the ability to push the ball forward like no one else did,” Nash said. “She could hit the three, she could drive, she dished, she could play center for us ... She was like having another coach on the floor.”
Coaches awarded O'Connor with a selection to the All-League first team in the 2A/3A-mixed Mount Rose League. She also was voted to the All-State second team.
“Yeah, she's athletic, but her maturity is what really impressed me. She always knew what we wanted to do,” Nash said.
Dolan sat out the winter ski season to recover from an injury in time for softball — perhaps her top sport.
Her competition didn't mind, as Dolan swept through the Tahoe Basin League state championships her junior year, claiming both the slalom and giant slalom races to capture the overall title against some of the top Far West racers in the region. She won the slalom and was second in the GS as a sophomore, which tied her for the overall title.
“She was very tenacious and a hard worker,” Humasti said. “She's one of the best athletes to come through the system. I'm glad I had the privilege to coach her in two sports.”
Dolan may have performed well individually in all three of her sports, winning state title hardware for her personal efforts, but that didn't make her any less of a team player, Humasti said. Conversely, she always looked to help her teammates improve, whether leading by instruction or example.
“She was a great teammate. Other coaches always ask about how Grace is doing. They all respect her, not only for her athletic ability, but for her character,” Humasti said.
Dolan powered up in her senior softball season while serving as an invaluable teammate on a youthful squad.
The senior shortstop and cleanup hitter smashed the ball all over the field, finishing with team highs in nearly every offensive category, yet still found the time to lend her expertise to her greener teammates.
“I have nothing but great things to say about Grace. She's just so amazing, such a team leader,” said Incline softball coach Kelley Thompson. “She brings up the other girls around her. She challenges them to play better because they want to play like her. She's always the first to go in and pick them up, and she tries really hard to teach them. She's just a really incredible leader. You couldn't ask for a better senior to lead the team.”
Dolan led particularly well by example, evidenced by her prodigious offensive stats. She posted a .538 batting average (43 hits in 80 at-bats), with 14 home runs, 12 doubles and 47 RBIs in 27 games. She had a whopping slugging percentage of 1.263, with a .606 on-base percentage.
And she was just as solid with the glove, Thompson said.
“It's funny, everybody talks about Grace's bat. But if you see this girl field, it's amazing. She fields like no other,” Thompson said. “Every single game an umpire would come up to me and say something like, ‘Oh my God, that was like ESPN-worthy.' She would snag balls and turn and throw to first and my jaw would drop. She's an incredible shortstop.”
Dolan was voted MVP of the Mount Rose League and was named to the All-State first team. Thompson said Dolan was invited to walk on to the softball program at University of Oregon.
O'Connor's speed was welcome to the undersized Incline girls' track team, which won the Northern 2A regional championship with a group of only 10 athletes before placing second in the state championship.
O'Connor teamed up with Valeri Nix, Kate Ballan and Chloe Breider to win the 4x400 title in a time of 4:22.06 to White Pine's 4:22.45. O'Connor, who was fourth in the 400-meter dash, gutted out her performance over the two-day meet, as she ran through an injury to help lead her Highlanders to their runner-up finish.