September 14, 2004
Three different girls. Three different plans. One unified goal.
The Desert Vista volleyball team boasts an accomplishment among high schools around the Valley — three players who will be playing three different sports next year at the Division I level.
Leah Lathrop (volleyball), Kalei Nance (basketball) and Jennifer Newman (softball) hope to combine the different aspects of their specialized sports into a Central Region title for Desert Vista after the Thunder finished in second place the last two seasons.
“This is our best opportunity this year, especially with all these seniors,” Desert Vista coach Molly West said, alluding to the seven seniors she has on her roster.
Lathrop is the unquestionable leader of the Thunder. She was the Central Region player of the year last season when she had 947 assists and set school records in digs (408) and aces (73).
“She makes that team go,” said Gilbert High coach Joe Hesse, who added that Lathrop is among the best setters in the state.
A varsity player all four years at Desert Vista, Lathrop has already verbally committed to play at San Diego State next season. After narrowing her list down from Boise State and Wyoming, the decision to stay relatively close to home was simple.
“It’s California, man. Come on,” Lathrop said.
The potential all-state setter’s ability partially comes from her genes. Her father Kit played in the NFL and USFL and coached in the Canadian Football League, while her uncle, Jeff Van Raaphorst, played at Arizona State and is currently a radio color analyst for the university. Lathrop is also very close to her sister, Renee, who played for Yuma Kofa and the Thunder and currently is a middle blocker for Northern Arizona.
When Lathrop won player of the year honors last season, she joined her sister who won it in 2001, the only year the two played together at Desert Vista.
“They all helped me understand the sacrifices you have to make and that you have to prioritize when you want to go past the high school level,” Lathrop said
Lathrop and Nance urged Newman, a starting shortstop on the softball team, to join the volleyball team because of her athleticism and jumping ability around the net. Newman originally played club volleyball in junior high before taking time off to focus on softball. She said playing the infield helped with her footwork on the volleyball court.
“That’s what it’s all about — moving your feet,” Newman said.
The 5-foot-7 Newman will be visiting Colorado State in October and also plans to visit UNLV and Michigan.
Nance rivals Lathrop in the athletic pedigree of her family tree.
Her uncle, Alton Lister, played at ASU and had a 16-year career in the NBA
and is the current men’s basketball coach at Mesa Community College.
Her second cousin, Larry Nance, played for 13 years in the NBA, including seven with the Phoenix Suns, and won the 1984 Slam Dunk Contest.
Nance said that having professional athletes in the family helped illustrate the dedication needed to advance.
Nance, who will play both forward positions this year for the Thunder, has visits planned for New Mexico State and Denver later this month. She is also interested in USC and Kansas State but will probably wait for the end of the volleyball season before she seriously considers any team.
Despite having a full load of schoolwork and social lives, all three athletes treat their sports like jobs and understand the dedication and commitment needed in order to move on to the next level.
All three have been playing club sports on top of their school activities, sometimes sacrificing fun outside of school for extra digs or ground balls or free throws.
“I think when you’re a student athlete and you want to go to the next level, you understand that you have to do what you have to do,” Newman said. “You have to get your schoolwork done, you have to get your practices in, and you have to go to the games.
“A lot of the time, your social life is with your teammates.”
The trio’s relationship isn’t limited to just the volleyball court.
Off the court, they’ve spent hours watching movies at Newman’s house, a consensus pick for top recreational activity. “We’re a goofy bunch,” Lathrop said.
That’s definitely one thing the three have in common.