by Scott Boyle
State Champs!! That is the familiar cry fans and friends and all of Blanding are once again trumpeting about the young ladies of San Juan.
Only this time, it isn’t the five-time defending state champion volleyball team, it’s the softball team, who rode the big coattails of senior Generra Nielson to San Juan’s first ever 2A state softball championship with a thrilling 5-2 win over the Wahb Wasps from Nephi.
This, despite dealing with a minor stroke and heart surgery that Coach Craig Swenson experienced in the past two weeks. Swenson’s amazing and inspiring quick return to the team after the surgery spurred the team to overcome adversity and prevail in some tight contests in the two weekend tournament held at the Spanish Fork Softball Complex.
Swenson first felt the twinges of the stroke back in late April, after trying to do the “wave” with some Blanding fans at a tournament in Salt Lake. “The pain went away though”, said Swenson, and he went on to coach a couple more games.
The next Monday. he went to the doctor and was told he had suffered three mini strokes and would need a heart procedure to close a 16 mm hole in his heart.
Not wanting to be a distraction to the team, Swenson was willing to put the surgery off until after the tournament, but was told it could be done in an overnight stay and he could return to the team if he behaved himself.
“I would’ve waited, if they wouldn’t have let me do it Wednesday,” he said.
“It’s all about the kids,” he added. “Coaching and high school sports are not about softball or winning or losing. We’re a big family and I wanted them to stay focused on their goals.”
As a result, Swenson, who says he’s about 70-80 percent recovered, coached the Broncos final three games from the dugout, not from his customary third base coach spot. Now, he is supposed to take it easy for a month or two.
Meanwhile, the Lady Broncos celebrate their first softball state title. Nielson, the MVP of the 2A tournament, was razor sharp. In the five Bronco victories that brought the title, she struck out 71 batters and allowed only six runs.
The pitching/catching tandem of Haven Webb and Nielson closed their stellar Bronco careers with nine straight wins and a 23-5 season. Swenson thinks Nielson might have broken the state record for strikeouts in a season-which is 320, set by Brittnie Whipple of Grand last year-although he is still tallying them up for the season.
Her 17 strikeouts in an extra inning win over Beaver last week is third best all time for an extra inning game.
The title came as the Broncos went undefeated in the double elimination tournament, besting the Wahb Wasps twice, 2-1 on Friday night and 5-1 Saturday afternoon.
Nielson mowed down 22 Wasps in the two games and hit the game winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth inning of the first game, after sophomore Brionna Laws hit a double that brought in the tying run in a low scoring affair.
Then, after Juab beat three-time defending champ Manti for the second time to oust them and earn a Bronco rematch, the Broncos jumped to an early 2-0 lead, only to see the Wasps tie the game in the top of the sixth on a home run.
But the Broncos rallied with three runs in the bottom of the inning on a Nielson single, a Heather Meyer ground rule double and another double by Laws.
Fittingly, Neilson capped her high school career and the state championship with two strikeouts in the top of the seventh. For their efforts, Webb and Laws were named to the all-tournament team.
Ok, the Lady Broncos held up their part of the bargain. Now, it’s the Lady Buckaroos’ turn. Both the boys and girls teams of the Bucks captured region championships last Friday in Moab.
The Lady Bucks got first place finishes in 12 individual events and two relays, including double winners Miriam Reay (100 & 200m), Nichole Freestone (300m hurdles, long jump), and Ashley Dowell (javelin, discus) to dominate the team score.
Annie Anderson (100 meter hurdles), Bettina Benally (3200m), Shantel Musselman (400m), Macee Nielson (1600m), Emmanuelle Reay (high jump), and Loren Randall (800m) were the other Buck individual winners.
All in all, the girls qualified 29 individual participants in 12 events and three relays. Will we hear the “state champ” refrain in Monticello?