Improved academics pay off on soccer field |

Improved academics pay off on soccer field

A newfound dedication to academics has gone a long way for Douglas High senior Brian Leon.

After being ineligible to play soccer as a sophomore, Leon worked to improve his grades and last fall was rewarded with a spot on the Douglas varsity. And on Wednesday, Leon celebrated an opportunity to take his game on to college when he joined four classmates in a college letter signing ceremony at the high school.

The signees were: Leon at Southwestern Oregon College in Coos Bay, Faith Connelly with the cheer team at UNLV, Josh Gurule track and field at Concordia University in Portland, Ore., Jessica Withrow soccer at the University of Minnesota Crookston and Kylie Swan softball at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa.

Leon could not have envisioned himself playing community college soccer two years ago. He played for the Douglas JV as a freshman, then after sitting out his sophomore year, he returned as a junior for another JV season and moved up to varsity last fall.

“Soccer is the sport I love to play … that’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid,” he said. “When they told me I couldn’t play, I knew I had to work harder to get my grades up.”

Leon went on to add that he has carried a 3.8 grade point average the last two years. His work ethic also led him into the starting lineup toward the end of the 2016 season.

“He wasn’t starting, but he just kept working hard,” Douglas coach Chase Zumpft said of Leon. “With his work ethic, he is going to be a good attribute to any program.”

Leon got his first start on Oct. 12 and dished out four assists in the Tigers’ 4-1 win against Bishop Manogue. He also scored a goal on Oct. 22 in a 3-1 loss against eventual 4A state champion Galena.

“Coach said he was looking for a forward … he was the one who gave me the confidence that I could do it,” Leon said.

Connelly has pursued cheer as her sport for 12 years, primarily with Reno-based Five Star Athletics (she has assisted the program as a coach the last three years). In 2014, she was part of a team that took fourth-place at a national cheer competition held in Orlando, Fla., and she recently secured her spot on the UNLV cheer squad.

Even though she grew up in Northern Nevada, Connelly has no reservations about wearing the UNLV Rebels’ red colors.

“I love red; I’ve cheered in red for a long time,” she said, flashing a smile. “I’m super excited to be able to cheer at UNLV.”

Withrow received all-Sierra League honorable mention recognition as a midfielder in 2015. She wrote to inform the Minnesota Crookston coaching staff she was playing for her club team in a Las Vegas tournament in March — and got a response.

“Jessica gives us another threat on the left wing or can slot somewhere in the middle,” coach Joe Alianiello told Crookston’s website. “I was able to see her play in the Las Vegas Players Showcase and knew she would be a good fit for us. I am excited to see what she can do in the fall.”

Withrow also competed as a diver and placed seventh to lead the Tigers last week at the region championships in Reno. She was also a member of the Douglas bowling club team this winter.

Gurule has been an important part of the Douglas sprint team with bests of 11.54 for 100 meters and 52.43 in the 400 as a junior. As a sophomore in 2015, he was part of a 4×100 relay team that ran 43.61 at state.

Gurule played varsity soccer at Douglas before he switched to football last fall and was a second-team all-Sierra League kicker. He converted six of seven field goal attempts — the longest a key 42-yarder in the Tigers’ rivalry win over Carson — and was 30-for-33 on PAT attempts.

At Marshalltown, Swan will join Shaena Robinson, a former Douglas teammate who earned region Offensive Player of the Year honors this spring.

Swan was a second-team all-region selection for Douglas as a junior in 2016. Among her highlights this season came on Senior Day — and her 18th birthday — when she hit 2-for-4 with three RBI and four runs scored in a critical 10-8 win over Carson.

“We think Kylie will really bring us some leadership and defensive experience,” Marshalltown coach Garland Shirley told the website. “I have been following Kylie for a few years and knew when I first saw her play that she could be a difference maker for us right away.”