There are quite a few upper-class Native athletes in the college ranks who are casting large shadows: Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig and New Mexico’s Tesha Buck in basketball, Denver lacrosse star Zach Miller, and South Alabama’s All-American pitcher Kevin Hill.
Next year, the landscape changes a bit. We’re going to see some newer faces enter the limelight. They come from pockets of Indian country that span from Alaska through Canada and to the inland United States. They are adding bricks to the road of athletic and academic success that future generations will walk on, making the step up much easier.
They are: the new class.
Football - Papi White
Papi White runs (and jump) like a deer. The Creek/Seminole/Chickasaw running back brought Ohio University to the attention of ESPN last year with his leap over an Akron defender. At 5-foot-9 and 171 pounds, the elusive back – with track and field heritage that traces back to Haskell Indian Nations University – averaged a gaudy 5.5 yards per carry last season in a backup role. He’s a redshirt sophomore due for a breakout 2016.
Volleyball - Lauren Schad
Lauren Schad caught the eyes of Team USA last year as a junior for San Diego. She earned a tryout after entering the record books in blocks and block assists. (Courtesy Brock Scott)
Lauren Schad, a 6-foot-2 Cheyenne River Sioux is the University of San Diego’s prize middle blocker that had a breakout season last year that led to an invite to a Team USA tryout. With one more year to go, the Rapid City, South Dakota product has a chance to move up in the record books. Her single-season tallies 122 blocks and 104 block assists were 10th- and fifth-best all-time for the school. Schad’s defensive play helped lead the Toreros to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Women’s Basketball - Morningrose Tobey
MorningRose Tobey (Assiniboine Sioux) is a weapon Nevada knows it will need to utilize to find success. More than half of her shots last year were from three-point range. As a true freshman, the 5-foot-7 guard played in all 30 games, starting one, and logged 11.6 minutes per game. She’s a scrappy guard who hustles on both ends of the floor.
Baseball - Elliott Barzilli
While the Nooksack Tribe of Washington state has been battling disenrollment issues with its membership, so, too, has its greatest athlete. Elliott Barzilli left Georgia Tech as a sophomore for Texas Christian, where he played a critical role this season in getting the Horned Frogs to the College World Series for the third-straight year, which begins June 18. The third-baseman was one of four players to start all 61 games thus far. He hit .362 with seven home runs and 47 RBIs. He will have the choice to sign with the Astros or stay for another year after the season culminates.
Cross-Country/Track and Field - Brittany Brownnotter
Brittany Brownotter has moved up the ranks in North Dakota. She was a former Gatorade Track Athlete of the Year for the state, before starting at Division II University of Mary in Bismarck and transferring up to Division I North Dakota State in Fargo. She, notably, was first on her team for two of its six cross-country races, placing first overall at the University of North Dakota’s Ron Pynn Classic on Oct. 17. In Track and Field, she earned All-Conference honors by finishing third place in the 1,500 meters.
Softball - Hailey Lunderman
If you didn’t know who Ole Miss shortstop Hailey Lunderman was prior to this year, you’re not alone. The freshman from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Lakota Sioux tribe was a finalist for the Schutt Sports Division I National Freshman of the Year award. She was the only player on her team to start all 63 games, where she logged a team-highs in double plays (nine), runs scored (43), hits (76), doubles (6) and strikeouts (just nine in 205 at bats). Lunderman led her Rebel squad to a 41-22 record. They fell just short of the College World Series this year, but look to have success for years to come.
Men’s Basketball - Kamaka Hepa
Kamaka Hepa (Inupiat) isn’t your typical top recruit in the country. He comes from a town – Barrow, Alaska – that has just one high school. While a few players are lucky to be named Gatorade Player of the Year in their respective states, Hepa’s already experienced such twice – and he’s just a junior this coming year, where he announced his transfer to a Portland, Oregon high school. College programs are drooling over the prospect of adding Indian country’s next big name in basketball. He’s got size (6-9, 210-pounds) and skills (he’s been touted for his 3-point range and court awareness).
Lacrosse - Brendan Bomberry
Brendan Bomberry had the rough task of watching his Denver Pioneer team win the national championship last year as a freshman, due to academic suspension. The 6-1, 200-pound midfielder came back strong, scoring 33 points – including an NCAA leading 11 man-up goals – in leading his team back to the NCAA Tournament. He entered the record books with three man-up goals in one game, good enough for second all-time. Bomberry (Mohawk) also serves as the captain of the Minto Cup-winning Six Nations Arrows.
Cary Rosenbaum (Colville) is a correspondent and columnist for ICTMN. He can be contacted via Twitter:@caryrosenbaum