STHS female athletes of the year: Barcellos and Smith
One became the first South Tahoe High School runner to capture a second state cross country title. The other realized an athletic scholarship in a school sport that struggled and hasn’t sent many ball players to college.
Leadoff hitter Brittany Barcellos, who made the highlight reel catch in center field look normal, and two-time Nevada state cross country meet champion Kelsey Smith have been selected as the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s female athletes of the year at South Tahoe High.
Barcellos, a five-foot senior, left behind a legacy for all of the incredible catches she made in the outfield for the Vikings’ softball team over the past four years.
“She catches balls nobody can catch,” said STHS coach Anneliese Neitling. “We’ll definitely miss her … her speed, determination and leadership. She was really perceptive of what the girls needed to hear and learn.”
She capped her STHS career by making the All-Sierra Division first team and the All-Sierra Nevada team. The Vikings’ leadoff hitter batted .452.
Boise States finds Sierra gem
College recruiters from afar took notice. Prior to her senior season, Barcellos signed a letter of intent to play for the Boise State University softball team. In order to make that happen, Barcellos challenged herself early in her high school career.
“The best choice I made throughout my whole career is going off the hill to play ball and seeing the competitive level I needed to be at,” Barcellos said. “Going on a club really prepared me and made me a better player, especially for next year.”
Barcellos could have been a three-sport star if she desired. In the fall, Barcellos proved to be one of the top girls’ soccer defenders in the Northern 4A League. She made both the Sierra Division first team and the All-Sierra Nevada team.
Smith and Barcellos’ success was attained through hard work and by listening to their support team.
“We put in the extra hours, and we have what it takes to really strive to be better,” Barcellos said. “A lot of it has to do with our coaches, how we have been taught and our parents and how they have helped us become better players.”
Smith goes back to back
For the second successive year, Smith won the individual title at the Nevada 4A state cross country championships. In doing so, Smith became the first South Tahoe runner to win the title twice.
“We are really dedicated to it. We love competing. We put our whole heart into competing,” said Smith, offering a reason why the athletes of the year accomplished the desired results.
Smith, who finished the 5-kilometer state race in 18 minutes, 59.88 seconds, trimmed more than 50 seconds off the time that she ran on the same Boulder City course as a freshman. Her Vikings’ team took third overall.
“Without question her best race ever, which is saying a lot, seeing as how she is a four-time state champion and all her great races in California over the past three years,” said STHS cross country coach Dan Wilvers, counting Smith’s two track titles and two cross country championships.
Smith became only the second runner to break the 19-minute barrier on the Boulder City course. The first was Reno’s Mel Lawrence, a three-time state champion who was a key member of the University of Washington’s national championship team last fall.
“Part of what made this race so special was she beat two quality opponents down South convincingly,” Wilvers said, referring to Smith’s 35-second winning margin over Leah Leedy and 1:12 difference over Michealanne Laurent, the recent winner of state 1,600 and 3,200-meter track titles. “In doing so, I think she rose to a new level of competitor that will bode well when she steps into the national races in her senior year.”
What made Smith’s repeat title all the more remarkable was that she had to overcome a common genetic disorder known as Celiac Sprue disease. The disease impairs a person from absorbing nutrients properly and causes an adverse reaction to gluten (wheat, rye and barley products). Celiac causes a variety of side effects, including vomiting, abdominal bloating and pain, fatigue, bone or joint pain and depression or anxiety.
“For three-quarters of the season she was completely unpredictable in her ability to either train or race,” Wilvers said. “After the late-season diagnosis, we, of course, got her on the strict gluten-free diet, but even then it takes several months to restore her to a healthy place. She entered regionals and state with that condition firmly riding over her head, and the fact that she didn’t use it as an excuse or allow it to psych her out is testimony to the heart of a champion.”
Smith credits Wilvers for making her a better runner.
“He’s been pushing me when I didn’t want to run. He’s gotten me through all of the stuff that I had to deal with this year, and my teammates, too. I just love to do the best that I can to just help my team, and my parents have been there helping me get through,” Smith said.
In the spring, Smith was unable to duplicate the two state distance titles she won as a sophomore. Then again, few of her competitors knew that Smith took off three months from training to strengthen her body after learning she had a form of Celiac disease.
“Only when I eat wheat do I feel the effects of it,” she said.
The junior was still able to set a personal-best time of 5:10.49 in the 1,600 meters to place third in regionals, then a week later placed third at state with a similar time.
“Had she not suffered a heat stroke in the 3,200 (at regionals), I have no doubts she would have won the (state) 3,200, which is her preferred event of the two,” Wilvers said. “She had the state’s fastest 3,200 at 11:12 this year, well off her 10:54 from last year, but that was due to the three-month layoff.”
Smith has one more season to leave behind a legacy that will be arduous to top. Wilvers, however, isn’t quite ready to call her the school’s greatest runner ever.
“Jennifer Owens can lay some claim to that title,” Wilvers said. “Kelsey has had an amazing first three years. Two titles and a runner-up to Mel, who is Nevada’s greatest distance runner ever. I would never want to diminish the past greats; they deserved their just due, so let’s just say if by chance she isn’t the best, she’s as close to being the best as one could be.”
Both athletes have bright futures ahead of them.
Barcellos is being counted on to make immediate contributions at Boise State, which just concluded its first season of NCAA softball.
“We feel that Brittany will bring tremendous athleticism and speed to our lineup,” said Boise State coach Erin Thorpe on the school’s Web Site. “We also feel that Brittany has the ability to be an impact player immediately, and we expect great things from her.”
Those expectations have put pressure on Barcellos before she even leaves South Lake Tahoe.
“I’m really nervous because I’m expected to be one of their key players next year, so I have a lot on my shoulders,” Barcellos said. “I know how hard I’m going to have to work.
“Everything is a lot more intense. The game is a lot faster, and school is a lot harder. I’m just more excited than nervous and ready to play a higher level of ball and be able to be on a winning team.”
Smith is undecided about which college she’ll attend, but there are many schools pursuing the talented runner. Among those interested are UCLA, Brown, Pepperdine and Arkansas.
“Wherever I will fit in the best and wherever I’ll be the happiest if I can’t run, but that’s important,” Smith said.
For young athletes aspiring to become a scholarship player or college prospect, Barcellos has some advice.
“Follow your heart,” she said. “If you have a dream of playing, you can play anywhere. There’s all different levels, and you really have to believe in yourself. A quote I always go by is ‘Work hard but play harder.'”
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