Commentary

ESPN RISE Athletes of the Week

Updated: October 1, 2009, 6:05 PM ET
By Mark Tennis | ESPNRISE.com

The ESPN RISE National Athletes of the Week are golfer Daffodil Sanchez of Xavier Prep (Phoenix, Ariz.) and cross country runner Zach Wills of Mason (Mason, Ohio).

[+] EnlargeZach Wills
Courtesy John NepolitanZach Wills won the Ohio state meet last year as a sophomore.

No flowery prose is needed when writing about Sanchez: The facts speak for themselves. Xavier Prep, which has won more girls golf state titles than any other school in the nation, was expected to have a long consecutive match win streak threatened last week by fellow Arizona powerhouse Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.). But Sanchez didn't let that happen. She fired a 3-under par 33 for nine holes as Xavier Prep won 144-146, extending its win streak to 137.

Xavier is looking to break the national record of 144, set years ago by Green Valley of Henderson, Nev.

Only a junior, Sanchez is regarded as one of the top amateur golfers in the nation. At 15, she was one of the youngest to play last summer at the U.S. Amateur Championships.

But her story is different from most young golfers.

Sanchez grew up in the Philippines and lived in a village with no running water. Her dwelling had a dirt floor, and one wall was exposed to the jungle. Her mother, Connie, met an American businessman, Troy Koon, and eventually they married. At age 6, Sanchez moved to the U.S. At 9, she learned to play golf.

Wills won a long-awaited boys cross country battle last Saturday at the Culver Academy Invitational in Indiana with Futsum Zeinasellassie, the top returning runner nationally from last year's Foot Locker Finals. He continued to establish his credentials as one of the country's top distance runners with a resounding victory (14:54.8) in the 5,000 meters. His time was the second-best ever on the course, trailing only the 14:47.9 of 2007 Nike Cross Nationals champ Chris Derrick.

Wills dominated Ohio cross country as a sophomore last fall, winning everything through the state meet, then finished a disappointing eighth at the Nike Cross Nationals Midwest Regional, which ended his season. He came back in the spring on the track, taking second in the Nike Outdoor 2-mile and qualifying for the World Youth Championships, where he was ninth and broke the national sophomore 3k record.

The complete list of this week's ESPN RISE Regional Athletes of the Week for fall sports (not including football):

East Boys
Francis Hernandez
Bishop Guertin (Nashua, N.H.), Cross Country
The senior took a big step toward gaining top runner status in New England and becoming a national contender with a victory in the Manchester Invitational last Saturday. His 15:25 for 5,000 meters was four seconds better than Bishop Hendricken (Warwick, R.I.) leader Jake Sienko.

East Girls
Jordin Pellerin
Waterville (Waterville, Maine), Soccer
Pellerin netted four goals in a 14-minute span as Waterville, the defending state champion, beat Mountain Blue (Farmington, Maine) 5-1. She also had four goals in a match earlier this season. Her 47 goals last season were more than any other player in the East.

Southeast Boys
Jake Hurysz
Eastern Alamance (Mebane, N.C.), Cross Country
The senior won his second straight major invitational last Saturday, gaining victory by just over a second at the Greensboro Invitational in 15:25. The previous week, Hurysz scored a narrow triumph at the Wolfpack Invitational on the same course in Cary, N.C., that the Great American and Nike Cross Nationals Southeast Regional meets will be held.

Southeast Girls
Carolyn Baskir
East Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, N.C.), Cross Country
After two losses to North Carolina freshman phenom Wesley Frazier, Baskir had an opportunity to race out of state and emerge from the tiny shadow of her new rival. At the multi-state U.S. Army XC Festival at Maymont (Va.), Baskir turned back tough challenges from the Stevens twins, Joanna and Kathleen, of Blacksburg, Va., and won the 5k race by two seconds in 17:42.

Midwest Boys
Zach Wills
Mason (Mason, Ohio), Cross Country
Also chosen as the ESPN RISE National Athlete of the Week.

Midwest Girls
Katie Flood
Dowling Catholic (West Des Moines, Iowa), Cross Country
The 2007 Nike Cross Nationals runner-up suffered through nagging injury problems for much of last fall but has returned to create a formidable 1-2 punch with teammate Ashlie Decker. Last Saturday, Flood won her third consecutive Roy Griak Invitational title, just a step ahead of Decker in 18:06.6 on the 5k course.

Southwest Boys
Thomas Schermoly
St. Thomas Aquinas (Overland Park, Ka.), Soccer
Schermoly became the first player to score more than once against a stingy Rockhurst (Kansas City, Mo.) defense in more than a year when he netted two in the Saints' 3-2 victory. Rockhurst had been riding a 21-match shutout streak.

Southwest Girls
Madison Thompson
Sand Spring (Sand Spring, Okla.), Softball
The junior went 4-0 and struck out 46 in 25 innings to lead Sand Springs to the title last weekend at the Yukon tourney. The rising junior was nearly flawless in victories against Jenks, Stillwater, Choctaw and Norman North. She also is No. 1 in her class academically with a reported 4.64 GPA.

West Boys
Erik Olson
Novato (Novato, Calif.), Cross Country
Like Zach Wills of Ohio, Olson was a World Youth finalist at 3k last summer and is one of several contenders for national honors. Olson had a modest start to the season until engaging the big boys last Saturday at the Stanford Invitational. In 100-degree heat, Olson outran a deep, fast field in 14:53 -- the second-best 5k time in the nation this fall.

West Girls
Daffodil Sanchez
Xavier Prep (Phoenix, Ariz.), Golf
Also chosen as the ESPN RISE National Athlete of the Week.

For the fall season, the national athlete of the week honors will be given to those who participate in sports other than football. The ESPN RISE Athlete of the Week panel consists of Steve Underwood (cross country), Sheldon Shealer (soccer), Christine Jinbo (volleyball), Garland Cooper (softball), Doug Huff (multi-sports) and Mark Tennis (multi-sports).