We name the student athletes most likely to make their name in the county this year
By Brandon C Williams
RESOLUTIONS have inspired millions of young sports participants for the new year, even though it has barely scratched the surface of Grandfather Time. The potential for greatness lies in each of those who have declared 2016 to be “their year”, yet time’s trappings will eventually diffuse numerous well-intended aspirations.
On the other side of the coin, there are those whose talents overflow with the possibility of achieving the most lofty of goals. Be it a dual-threat softball player or a speedster ready to stake his claim to state-championship glory, the county has a half-dozen student athletes who stand on the precipice of altering their respective sport over the next 12 months.
Our Six for ’16 are:
Shelbi Sunseri, Santa Fe
THE WINNER of Vype.com’s Houston-area female athlete of the 2014-15 school year, Sunseri, below, is part of the foundation of an Indians team that will enter the season as a strong contender to reach the state finals.
Be it either at the plate or on the mound, Sunseri put together a dominant 2015 campaign in which she hit five homers and 38 runs batted in at a hit rate of 0.454, as well as striking out 329 batters in 222.1 innings en route to a 29-7 pitching record.
Santa Fe advanced to the class 5a, region III final last season before bowing out to fellow district 23-5a opponents Fort Bend Ridge Point in a three-game series. With all but four players returning for the Indians, coach Katie Bush’s squad is out for unfinished business, especially with a more-seasoned Sunseri, who has already caught the attention of top-end college softball programs.
Should the junior deliver a bigger follow-up to her breakout sophomore year, central Texas will be engulfed in green and gold in early June.
Landon Etzel, Clear Creek
ONE OF THE most underrated football players in the Houston area, Etzel caught 126 passes for 1,863 yards and 25 touchdowns in the past two seasons while earning first-team 24-6a all-district honors each time.
But, as good as he is on the gridiron, Etzel is even better on the diamond, where he will enter his final season ranked among the very best players in the state.
Etzel not only displayed his prowess on the mound but also played in the outfield and at third base for Creek last season as he helped the Wildcats advance to the 6a, region III finals, where they fell in a three-game series to Cypress Ranch.
His work earned him a spot on the Texas high-school baseball coaches’ association’s all-state second team, along with an honorable mention from the Texas sports writers’ association’s all-state list.
Etzel has already committed to play baseball at University Of Houston, but before he heads off to college, he will cement a senior-laden Creek squad that will enter the season ranked among the teams to watch in a very rugged region III.
He and junior catcher Parker Osburn, who has committed to Rice University, will be two key cogs in coach Brent Kunefke’s squad, which will seek another 24-6a title as the first rung toward a state title sprint.
Ashlynn Dunbar, Clear Falls
Sports: Basketball, Track and Field
IN THE PAST three years, few female athletes have been as versatile and productive as Dunbar, whose volleyball skills led to a commitment to San Diego State University in November.
She hasn’t stopped, as she leads the Knights in scoring and rebounding for a basketball team that entered the new year with a 14-3 record.
Clear Falls’ postseason hopes hinge on her ability to dictate the pace in the paint, yet team play is not her only strength. Once she’s done with hoops, she will head to the high jump, where she has advanced to the region III finals in each of the past two years.
Lauryn Rutherford, Clear Springs
THE KNIGHTS rolled through district 24-6a last season, winning the regular season title en
route to an appearance in the region III quarterfinals.
Much of the damage was caused by the play of winger Rutherford, who led the team by amassing 47 points for her team-best 20 goals and seven assists in a squad that will return all but four players from its 17-4-3 season.
Veteran coach Craig Foster is adept in maximizing talent and, with Rutherford as the focal point of a high-scoring team, the Knights are lining themselves up for a much deeper run into the postseason.
Rutherford has also had a strong year in club soccer playing for Space City Futbol Club, an experience that will surely carry over into bigger things for both her and the Knights this spring.
DeMarco Guidry, La Marque
GUIDRY EARNED an all-state honorable mention at linebacker this past season, yet it will be his skills at running back that will determine whether the Cougars will be contenders upon their return to class 3a in the fall.
He will become the featured back, replacing Daequan Jones, who set single-season and career rushing records for La Marque in 2015.
With the bulk of the offensive line departed and sophomore quarterback Kobe Gatson yet to play a down on varsity, coach Mike Jackson will give Guidry an extensive workload.
The senior, who ran for 684 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015, gave Cougars fans a sneak preview of his potential in the team’s loss to Caldwell in the class 4a, region III, division II area round, when he ran for 185 yards and four touchdowns on just 12 carries.
In the words of Jackson, the 6ft 1in 190-pounder “runs angry”, which could spell bad news for defenders seeking to slow him down.
Hunter Verlander, Friendswood
THAT THE virtually unknown Verlander makes this list is no surprise, as he has established himself as one of the world’s best flyboarders, a sport that involves riding a board-mounted jetpack that spouts high-pressure water from the end of a massive hose.
The pressure enables the flyboarder to rise up to 50 feet in the air and dive to a depth of eight feet in the water while looping the loop and performing other exotic movements.
Verlander began his 2015 competition career with a third-place finish at the North American championship last summer and finished it by winning the world championship in November.
One of three members of Austin-based Team Aquafly and ranked among the top four flyboarders in the world, Verlander literally catapulted himself to the top of his sport with a dominating performance after finishing fifth in the world event one year earlier.
Having begun his athletic career playing lacrosse and soccer, he has now focused his time entirely to flyboarding and, while football stars Tyler Page and Ty Shelby garner attention at Friendswood, he is the only student in the school – indeed, the county – sporting the title “best in the world”.