Pau-Wa-Lu student wins Youth Champion Award

Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School eighth-grader Natalie Freitas was honored for her academic and athletic acheivements Tuesday night at the University of Nevada's 12th annual Salute to Champions Dinner.

Freitas won the Pack PAWS Youth Champion Award, given annually to the top middle school student-athlete in Northern Nevada chosen by a committee of voters.

She became the first Douglas County student to win the award, although Douglas High grad Brittany Puzey won it in 2001 as a Carson City middle school student.

Puzey currently starts in left field for the University of Nevada softball team.

Puzey wasn't the only big name that Freitas shared the night with, however.

Olympic softball gold medalist Jennie Finch, considered to be one of the top softball pitchers in the world, was the speaker at the event and Freitas got to spend some time with her before the event at a VIP reception.

As one of the honored guests at the event, Freitas got to share a table up front at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks for the dinner, which drew an attendance of more than 500 people.

"This year we received quite a lot of nominations for the Youth Champion Award," event organizer Heather Pennington said. "We send out applications to all the junior high schools in Northern Nevada in late December, early January.

"Counselors, coaches or principals can nominate anyone who has excelled in academics, community service and athletics.

"All the nominations we received had done very well in what they participated in. It was a very strong class of nominations and they were all accompanied by some pretty good letters of recommendation."

Freitas' nomination rose to the top.

She is a 4.0 honors student and a three-sport athlete. She plays point guard for the Pau-Wa-Lu basketball team, plays volleyball for Pau-Wa-Lu and plays soccer with the Carson Valley Elements soccer club.

Her favorite subjects in school is history, but also excels in English, math and science.

Along with school, she also enjoys skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding and knitting - a hobby she recently picked up from her grandmother.

Freitas will be a freshman at Douglas High in the fall and hopes to play in the Tigers' soccer and basketball programs.

Ultimately she hopes to attend the University of Nevada and become a veterinarian.

The Salute to Champions Dinner is presented annually by Pack PAWS with all proceeds going to women's athletics at the school.

"I think with Jennie being the speaker, we drew more high school girls than had ever attended the dinner before," Pennington said.

Past speakers have included fellow softball Olympians Lisa Fernandez and Dot Richardson, Olympians Julie Foudy, Picabo Street, Bonnie Blair, Mary Lou Retton, Janet Evans and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, WNBA star Sheryl Swoops and broadcasters Bonnie Bernstein and Robin Roberts.

-- Joey Crandall can be reached at or at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.


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