Comparing Conner Henderson and Brandon Cramer is like comparing apples to oranges.
Henderson is all about distance. Cramer is all about sprints. Henderson is all about speeding down the slopes. Cramer is all about speeding down the basketball court or football field.
Completely different athletes, but both were instrumental to the three teams they were a part of this year. Henderson and Cramer are the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s Male co-Athletes of the Year from South Tahoe High School.
“They’re both incredible athletes and phenomenal kids,” track coach Jake Hurwitz said. “Smart, charismatic and I think they’re going to do a lot in the time to come. As a coach, to have that as my senior leadership was more than I could have ever asked for.”
In spring, Henderson and Cramer were both co-captains of the track team. Henderson specialized in the one and two-mile distances, Cramer the hurdles and sprints.
Henderson set new personal records in both the one mile and the two mile at state. He snagged silver in the 1600, shaving 4 seconds of his best time by running a 4:34 mile. He shattered his two-mile personal record by 13 seconds (9:53.51), and was ruled second place by one one-hundredth of a second.
“Connor’s a very smart runner,” Hurwitz said. “For running two miles you have to put together the race of a lifetime. Each lap he’s been able to push himself to a new limit, separating himself from the pack when it seems to be early on, but that’s a great strategy of his. He also really developed a strong kick this year. Last year he had some great marks, but this year was just above and beyond what we expected as coaches.”
Cramer also exceeded expectations on the track this year. He led the Northern Nevada Division I-A field in the 300-meter hurdles, and also medaled at state in the 110-meter hurdles despite an injury.
The senior took third at state. It wasn’t his fastest time this season, but he still managed to medal among the speedy sprinters that Southern Nevada is known for.
Cramer also dabbled in the 100-meter dash and quickly set South Tahoe’s season best the first time he ran it in a meet. He took eighth at state with 11:83.
“When Brandon was injured he still came to every practice. He would take charge of the freshmen and sophomores,” Hurwitz said. “Connor and Brandon would never act above anyone else. Both of them are quite humble. They’re willing to help coach, and it says so much about their character and willingness to be part of the team.”
In the winter, Cramer was a leader on the basketball court and Henderson on the ski slopes.
Cramer willed the Vikings into the semifinal round with an unbelievable quarterfinal performance. He posted 24 points in that game, with 12 of those in the fourth quarter to push the Vikings to Round 2.
“In my 15 years of on-and-off coaching at STHS, Brandon is probably the closest thing to a true Athlete of the Year that we have had,” basketball coach Chris Proctor said.
Aside from being a leading scorer, Cramer was a leader on the court. He was the cornerstone of a group of 11 seniors who have played together since fourth grade.
“Over that time group dynamics and roles change, and I started to witness that transformation when Brandon was a sophomore and was able to see it completed as a senior. As a junior he took over games with occasional good outcomes and tried to take over other games with an occasional poor outcome. At Incline he totally took over the game and scored 29 points, but we lost,” Proctor said. “As a senior, he learned to help elevate his teammates’ game instead of trying to do it all, and I think he realized that the success rate was much higher and rewarding with this approach.”
Cramer’s court work earned him first team All-League and All-State. He also was the only Lake Tahoe basketball player named to the senior All-Star game.
Cramer led the Vikings basketball team, averaging 12.2 points a game, 317 total for the season. He also threw 72 percent from the line.
Meanwhile, Henderson was part of a ski team that took gold at state.
“It’s pretty versatile to go to state in two sports and come out with a medal in both,” ski coach Mike Shreve said. “He was part of our depth on the ski team.”
Henderson’s commitment to the ski team meant missing a few cross-country invitationals this winter, but the senior was part of the ski team’s backbone and never let his teammates down.
In the fall, Henderson led the boys’ cross-country team to state, and Cramer turned in an astounding first season on the football field.
Henderson blew away the competition at both regionals and state cross-country finals in the fall, outrunning some of the fastest kids in Northern Nevada by more than 10 seconds. Henderson torched a field of 52 elite runners at the state finals. He cruised in 13 seconds ahead of the nearest runner, averaging 5:22 per mile. It was nothing new. Henderson also won the state meet as a junior.
“I think it’s an attitude,” Hurwitz said. “Not necessarily, I’m the greatest or I’m the best, but almost an unsatisfied characteristic. He knows his capabilities, he knows he can do better and continues to do that every single week. He’s not satisfied with breaking his old records. He really has the drive to want to continue to get better.”
In addition to the back-to-back state titles, Henderson helped lead the Vikings to a team state title in 2011.
The list goes on. He claimed first at the Northern Division I-A Regional meet, 11 seconds in front of the second-place runner.
“He’s a true competitor,” Hurwitz said. “He knows when it’s on the line and he really knows when to put forth the best effort when he has to. He’s a skier and a distance runner and a cyclist. He’s just got so much on his plate and he handles it really well.”
Meanwhile, Cramer was tearing up the football field in his first year of playing.
“His talent to go after the ball and his competitive drive really showed through,” Hurwitz said. “It’s tough to run across the center of 200-plus pound guys and stick your neck out and pull them out of the air, and Brandon continually did that.”
On any other team, Cramer’s 636 yards and five touchdowns would have been enough for second or even first team. The Vikings were loaded with stellar receivers this year, however, Cramer still walked away with an honorable mention.
In the Vikings’ final game, the senior came through at a key moment with a 63-yard touchdown catch against Truckee, the state champions.
“The term natural athlete is used a lot now days, but it really applies to Brandon. Not only is he exceptional at basketball and track, he would be exceptional at just about any sport,” Proctor said. “The proof was this fall when he stepped onto the football field and had an immediate impact after a month of preparation.”
Cramer will attend University of California, San Diego in the fall. He will majoring in structural engineering and run track. Henderson will join the Cal State Monterey Bay cross-country team on a partial scholarship.
Honorable Mention: Senior John Cefalu was also considered for this award. Cefalu was a standout on the football and basketball teams. The quarterback was offensive MVP of the league and led Nevada in passing yards during regular season.