Whitney Skabelund is a wonder to behold.
The reincarnation of a warrior princess, she dazzled the fans and terrified the opposition on the volleyball court in the fall while putting the team first in every match. In the spring, she continued her path to greatness by successfully defending her two state titles in the long and triples jump while adding a third-place medal in the 100-meter hurdles.
But in the classroom, she thrived even more.
Skabelund completed the Western Nevada Jump Start Program to earn an associate’s degree, while receiving many honors from the Dean’s List to the NIAA Top 10 Student-Athlete award this year. Involvement with her church and striving to help others in times of need in the classroom or in the arena, Skabelund is Fallon’s own Wonder Woman.
For her accomplishments in volleyball, in the track and field arena and in the classroom, Skabelund has been named the Lahontan Valley News Female High School Athlete of the Year.
“Sports are therapeutic. They have always given me an escape from the day’s problems and worries by giving me something that I can channel all of my effort and concentration into,” Skabelund said. “Participating in athletics while still prioritizing schooling has taught me how to budget my time. I have learned to work with other people, even those that I do not agree with. I have also learned that watching others succeed is much more exciting and satisfying than finding personal success.”
The unselfishness and care for her teammates since arriving from New Mexico three years ago with her parents, Carmen and Hoyt, carried her to greater heights in Fallon. It showed on the volleyball court when she was named to state’s first team and more so on the track when she defended her state titles.
However, it’s the friendships she made along this journey in sports that have the greatest meaning.
“Sports have helped me to acquire the greatest group of friends and mentors that I could ever ask for,” she said. “I have learned how to work hard physically and mentally. Knowing that I can accomplish hard things in sports gives me confidence that I can accomplish hard things in the classroom, and vice versa. I have no idea where I would be or who I would be without the influence that sports have had on my life.”
Skabelund’s plan for her final year was simple although it yielded spectacular results.
She didn’t want to compromise her work ethic, so there were no regrets with the last volleyball she spiked or in the last pit she landed. Above all, though, she wanted what was best for her teammates, a reflection of her growing leadership.
“Become a better leader of the teams that I was on,” Skabelund said. “I also wanted to get to know my teammates better so I could make more memories. Even though I might leave CCHS and its sports teams behind, I can always take the memories with me wherever life may take me.”
A MESSAGE FOR
THE NEW SENIORS
Skabelund was in this freshman class’ shoes once before but in New Mexico. She remembers the challenges transitioning from middle to high school but one thing stuck out the most: excellent leadership.
“I was just a scrawny, quiet girl, fresh out of junior high who had managed to be placed on the varsity team with them,” Skabelund said of her New Mexico team. “I was terrified and felt unworthy to say the least. These seniors not only welcomed me with open arms, but they were also not afraid to skip the ‘sugar coating’ and correct me when I needed to be corrected. They treated me as an equal even with the gap in knowledge and maturity four years brings.”
Holding teammates accountable and to a high standard resonated with Skabelund as she progressed in Fallon. She wanted to become a leader and spent every minute of her day acquiring skills to be the most effective role model on campus. Whether it was leading her church group in prayer, rallying the volleyball team during a timeout or comforting a teammate on the track after a heartbreaking result, Skabelund was determined.
“This not only helped me to quickly mature as a varsity athlete, but it helped me to understand that the truly greatest leaders are those who are willing to love you, correct you when you need it, and encourage you to work your hardest by working their hardest right beside you,” said Skabelund, whose role models included the Sorensen sisters (Rachel Lewis, Carly Sipherd and Tonya) and Tristin Adams Johnson. “These characteristics are things that I truly sought to emulate as I embarked as a senior team captain in both volleyball and track this year.”
Skabelund doesn’t expect the track runway to be named after her in 20 years after her four state titles. She doesn’t want to be remembered for the number of kills against Truckee. She wants something more.
“I would much rather people in Fallon remember me as a friend, as someone who worked their hardest every day, and as someone who expected the best from her teammates and classmates,” Skabelund said.
It’s not about how many accomplishments in her career but how she earned them. Skabelund wanted to achieve the best on her own through determination, grit, patience and compassion.
“This is why I hope with all my heart that in these past three years, I have worked hard enough, loved well enough, and laughed often enough to be remembered as a person, and as a friend, rather than just as a student-athlete.”
With these actions, Skabelund’s hopeful that the class of 2018 is listening.
Take nothing for granted, enjoy the little things and above all else, appreciate the opportunities because time flashes between the first day of school and graduation.
“I advise you to treasure every moment,” she said. “The uncontrollable laughter on bus rides, the intensity and adrenaline during warmups, the joy of winning, the agony of defeat and failure and the particularly grievous days of conditioning when you look to the sides and see your teammates struggling right with you. Make it a point to even, or perhaps especially, appreciate the regular days.”
A THREAT AT THE NET
If jumping into dirt pits didn’t yield the state championship results, Skabelund had a fallback plan.
Enrolled in volleyball since she was 6, Skabelund grew into an all-state player by the time the curtain closed on her senior season last fall. Her discipline on the court and in the classroom helped define Skabelund this season. More importantly, it helped set her apart from the rest.
“Whit is one of those few athletes who I have had that truly defines mental toughness,” Fallon volleyball coach Patty Daum said. “She knows that when the tasks at hand are difficult, there is a way to overcome it rather than complaining about it.”
Skabelund led the team at the front by posting 151 total kills for a 2.4 kill/set average and 0.561 kill percentage. She was also second on the team with 92 total blocks and third with 21 aces.
“The volleyball team had one of its best seasons in recent memory,” said Skabelund, who was a first-team, all-state and two-time first-team, all-region selection. “I am so honored to have been able to compete with this group of girls during my final volleyball season, and I am so thankful for the success and memories we created as a team.”
Although Skabelund was among the top in offensive and defensive categories last year, her leadership truly defined her actions. She put herself before the team every day and wanted Fallon to succeed past its potential.
“Whit’s character defines who she is,” Daum said. “She recognizes leadership and knows what it means to hold teammates accountable. She never took her athletic talent for granted. She understood full well that she would have to earn everything.”
Fallon finished second in the league to Truckee but was upset in the regional tournament at home where a victory would have punched Fallon’s ticket to the state tournament. Skabelund, who will miss volleyball when she goes to college, felt before the season began that this rendition of Greenwave volleyball was destined for success.
“We powered through the peaks and valleys and worked our tails off all along the way,” Skabelund said. “Although we did not get as far as we wanted to, I would not have changed a single thing about volleyball. It is one thing that I truly have no regrets about.”
Despite Fallon falling short of its goal of making the state tournament (Fallon hasn’t been to the tournament in more than 10 years), Skabelund’s leadership has given a blueprint for the upcoming senior class to follow.
HAVING FUN IN THE PITS
When she moved from New Mexico three years ago, track coach Paul Orong wasn’t sure what to expect from Skabelund.
In came a scrawny, shy sophomore who wanted nothing more than to jump in the dirt. Her raw talent was enough to convince Orong that he would have his next prodigy in the making after guiding program record holders Olympian Aarik Wilson and Rachel Sorensen Lewis.
“I saw a girl that wants to be perfect. She really works hard,” he said. “She’s a hard worker from the beginning. She’s very coachable. In our program, she came in at just the perfect time. I was thinking about what we were going to have that year and then she shows up.”
After watching her jump for the first time, Orong said her skills needed refining but time was on their side. In her three years competing at Fallon, Skabelund won four state titles in both the long and triple jumps, and medaled in the 100-meter hurdles last month. She hit her personal best in the long jump (18 feet, 1 inch) at regionals last month and on the final attempt, no less. She jumped 17-3.75 in the long and 35-6.25 in the triple at state.
“She’s the second-best jumper of all time for the girls behind Rachel,” said Orong, whose Utah State-bound jumper came close to breaking Lewis’ records in the long and triple. “She’s in the top three with Aarik and Rach. All three of them hated to lose. They work that much harder at it than anyone else to achieve greatness. Champions do that.”
When basketball didn’t work out after her freshman year in New Mexico, Skabelund devoted more time to the track and jump pits. By her senior year, Skabelund incorporated long runs into her daily routine and it all paid off.
“I’ve always made an effort to continue working out through my offseason but I decided this year after volleyball ended, that instead of just staying in shape enough to not die the first week back in track, I was going to work out hard enough and often enough to go into my last high school track season in better shape than I was coming out of volleyball,” Skabelund said.
Once volleyball ended, Skabelund was on a continued quest to become the best jumper in the state. She endured sub-freezing temperatures with her offseason workouts where ice would build up on her eyelashes and her nose ran faster than her legs. She started weekend jumping practices in November and by the time it was the first day of practice in February, Skabelund was in immaculate shape.
“Looking back, I am thankful that I set the bar high for myself because I didn’t have to worry about getting in shape and was better able to concentrate on learning new events such as the 100 hurdles,” Skabelund added.
GROUNDED BY FAITH
When Mary Sorensen met the Skabelund family for the first time three years ago, they were still checking out the town after moving from New Mexico.
One of their first stops was at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Sorensen was pleased when she saw this quiet sophomore walk through the doors.
“She was quiet but she was sharp like she was smart and sweet,” said Sorensen, who teaches the Sunday instruction program and oversees the Young Women’s Program, which is geared toward girls ages 12 to 18.
“It just kind of guides the youth and gain a testimony of Christ,” Sorensen said. “We have a lot of activities we do. There’s our Sunday instruction and once a week, we get together and do other things. It keeps her busy if she’s not busy enough.”
Skabelund’s love, devotion and dedication to the church played an integral part into her daily routine.
With a full schedule that included taking classes at Fallon and in the Jump Start program at WNC, competing on the volleyball court and in the track arena, including her faith was key to her success. She was a member and graduate of the Early-Morning Seminary Class and secretary of the Fallon South Stake LDS Youth Council while being awarded the Young Womanhood Recognition Award as a sophomore.
“Part of my pre-competition routine includes reading one or two verses of scripture, and saying at least one prayer,” Skabelund said. “Church has kept me collected in situations that could easily be utterly overwhelming.”
But more importantly, it has made Skabelund look at the big picture and let everything else fall into place.
“Over the years, church has kept me grounded. It has helped me realize that there is so much more than just myself,” said Skabelund, who also volunteered for Lighthouse Mission in New Mexico and Fallon Daily Bread.
Sorensen said Skabelund’s faith played a major role last year when she was out for weeks with an injury, jeopardizing her season and a chance at winning those two state titles. Putting in the time every morning to help lead the younger girls with scripture study and devoting time every day toward her commitment to the church, Sorensen said it helped save Skabelund’s season last spring.
“That helped her get through that time because I know she was stressed about it,” Sorensen said. “She hardly ever fails but if she does, that helps her through it.”
And when she would win track competitions on Saturdays, not many would know about it the following morning at church. The focus wasn’t about her and the accomplishments. Instead, it was about her team.
“Something that has always impressed me about Whitney is her humility,” Sorensen said. “She would win state titles on Saturday and show up to church on Sunday and no one even knew. She has always been so quiet about her accomplishments. I admire that in her.”
BECOMING AN AGGIE
Before her track season began in February, Skabelund had already inked her letter to compete at Utah State.
Her parents both attended the Logan university, and her brother and his wife are currently enrolled. With extended family living in the Salt Lake and Cache valleys, it was a perfect fit for Skabelund to continue her career in Utah.
“Family is very important to me,” Skabelund said.
After visits to several universities, nothing felt more right than becoming an Aggie. The location and opportunity for many outdoor activities were a bonus.
“I love the atmosphere created by the people on campus, and I also love the campus itself,” she said. “I spend a ton of time outdoors, and USU has one of the prettiest campuses I have ever seen. It is very close to a lot of places to hike and participate in outdoor activities.”
Like her senior year in high school, this plan is simple when she steps on the Utah State campus this fall. With her associate’s degree in hand, Skabelund wants to continue her streak of perfect grades in her first two years.
“I feel as if I have an unfair advantage in comparison to most incoming freshmen because I have already been immersed in collegiate academics, so I think that this is an achievable goal for myself,” Skabelund said.
But on the track, Skabelund will be competing against her teammates for positioning and then against the rest of the Mountain West Conference in the indoor and outdoor seasons. Improvement is the main focus, as it was in Fallon, and Skabelund’s confident the rest will fall in place accordingly.
“My goals in the ways of track and field revolve mostly around training and working my hardest at all times,” said Skabelund, who might try high jump and javelin at USU. “I really want to improve my technique in my long and triple jumps so I can hopefully keep improving.”
This journey isn’t done alone and Skabelund is quick to point out many who have helped her reach this point in her life.
From her parents’ unconditional support to her coaches, teammates and teachers encouraging her to touch that ceiling of potential, Skabelund wouldn’t be the same. But it’s those long car rides with her parents and always having a shoulder to lean against that have stood out the most.
“They have inspired me to set a goal to be as faithful to my children’s activities in the future as they have been to mine,” Skabelund said. “If I ever need someone to look to as a model of how I want to live my life, I need not look farther than my parents.”
Skabelund’s excited about the new chapter in her life but at the same time, she has the same nerves as when she moved to Fallon. Balancing school and sports, along with making new friends have the state champ worried but if her career in Fallon is any indicator, Skabelund will become one of the most respected student-athletes on campus.
She is, after all, Fallon’s Wonder Woman.