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Staying On Top Of The Game

East Athletes Graduate To Bigger Fields

By Adam Uribes

GPHN Intern

Many an athlete has walked through the doors of Denver’s East High School with great ambition. Then, after four years, much sweat and sometimes a few tears, they’ve walked out the doors, having carved a niche in Angels sports history. Indeed, since Denver’s first high school opened in 1875, the halls of East High have been graced with the likes of Olympic long jumper gold medalist Jerome Biffle (Class of 1946), along with Ron Shavlik (Class of 1952) and Joe Barry Carroll (Class of 1971), who both went on to careers in the NBA. Many more athletes have broken national and state records, and helped to fill the bursting athletic hall of fame display in the gym lobby.

Indeed, East High has enjoyed success in athletic competition that no other school in Denver’s high school league can match. The boys’ soccer team has made the state finals three times since 2013, establishing itself as one of the premier teams in the 5A landscape. The girls basketball team has won four out of the past five DPS titles. And, the Angels softball team has dominated teams from 2013-2015, winning a DPS title of their own in that same time frame.

In recent years, several standout East High athletes have gone on to enjoy success at the college level and beyond – both in their chosen sport and their chosen careers. We recently caught up with four recent grads. Daylen Kountz, Will Palmquist, Kenya Lindstrom and Francesca Sally, each tell a unique story about the transition from high school to college and beyond.

Daylen Kountz: Gaining talent and speed

For people who follow high school basketball in Colorado, Kountz needs little introduction. The reigning USA Today Colorado and Denver Public Schools Player of the Year led both East High and the state’s largest classification in scoring, averaging 23.2 points a game in the 2017-2018 season. A multi-faceted threat who can shoot the ball or take it to the cup with ease, Kountz also averaged 3.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals a game in his final high school season.  In a year that saw the Angels make the Sweet 16 of the Colorado state basketball tournament, Kountz led East in points (25) and assists (3) in a losing effort to Smoky Hill that same year. Following in the steps of another great East player in Dominique Collier, Kountz took his game down the road to Boulder, committing to play for the University of Colorado.

Although Kountz is still getting his bearings, transitioning from high school boys’ basketball to the Division I level, he has found playing time in Head Coach Tad Boyle’s rotation for the Buffaloes. Coming off the bench, Kountz has played in all the team’s contests in their early non-conference schedule and put up a career high (so far) of 11 points, in a Nov. 24 win versus Air Force.

Going from playing in high school to playing against the best in the nation, while being the best student you can be, involves a steep learning curve. “Make sure you get enough rest and enough time put in academics and at the same time, make sure you’re still working on your game [and] making sure you set aside time for yourself,” Kountz says, describing how he balances both school and basketball.

Kountz also advises against misconceptions regarding what to expect playing basketball in a Power 5 conference. Everyone on his team and in the Pac-12 are looking for a competitive edge, he says. “Once you get to this level, everyone is working hard,” he says. “You have to do your work outside of just practice and get in extra [work].”

Will Palmquist: Taking the road less traveled

Denver East soccer has established one of the better programs in the state of Colorado in recent years, making deep playoff runs in each of the last three seasons and finishing as the runner-up in 2017. For his part, Palmquist was a standout during his time with the Angels, earning the starting goalkeeper job on the way to First Team All-Colorado honors in 2014. Moving on to high school club soccer the next year, Palmquist found a home with the Colorado Rush U17 and U18 club team. With a bigger pool of scouts scanning the region for talent, Palmquist’s play caught the eye of the coaches at the University of Denver and helped him earn a scholarship.

After taking a redshirt year in order to get acclimated to the rigors of playing Division I soccer, Palmquist solidified himself as the starting keeper for the Pioneers down the stretch during this last season. Starting 12 games, Palmquist earned a shutout in four of those contests and made 28 saves for a solid 0.76 goals against average, good enough to lead the Summit League conference. Palmquist was the goalkeeper of record for a Pioneers team that won the conference on the strength of a 15-4-2 record. On top of being a calming and mature presence between the sticks despite his sophomore status, Palmquist was also named to the 2018 Men’s Soccer Academic All-League Team.  Making the 2018 NCAA tournament, eighth-ranked DU lost a closely-fought second round battle 2-1 to in-state rival Air Force.

Palmquist has taken the road less traveled in going to playing sports in college. Lightly recruited from the onset, the DU goalkeeper has now found his groove on the team and counts the persistence in sticking to his craft as the quality that has gotten him to this point in his collegiate career. “From a mental standpoint, college soccer was quite a bit more demanding, and there was more to it than just playing soccer,” he says.

“It’s acclimating to the culture of the team, including gaining their buy-in … That’s why it took me a couple of years to start playing at the college level,” Palmquist says. “You have to have that judgment period as a freshman, you got to get bigger and stronger, more in shape but the mentality aspect of it like not taking days off, not taking plays off.”

Kenya Lindstrom: Ready to strike out on her own

While the Denver East softball team has lately endured some rocky times, pitcher Kenya Lindstrom  last Angels team to capture a DPS title. During her four years at East, Lindstrom racked up several awards including being named to the CHSAA/MaxPreps All-State for the 2014-15 year, and earning an honorable mention on the Denver Post’s All-Colorado team for the 5A Classification. Lindstrom’s performance that season helped the Angels to a 16-5 mark overall and a perfect 8-0 record within the Denver Prep League. Lindstrom’s pitching boosted the Angels into the sectional round of the playoffs as the University of Pacific-bound hurler went 13-5, compiling a stellar 0.77 ERA.

Since moving on to bigger challenges at the college level, Lindstrom has continued her success both on and off the diamond. As a junior for the University of Pacific, in the Spring fall of 2018, Lindstrom led the Tigers in hits allowed (38), runs allowed (34) and earned runs (28). Lindstrom also attained her first career shutout, a one-hitter, versus the Stanford Cardinal on April 18 2017.  She also earned West Coast Conference All-Academic recognition in her sophomore campaign. Lindstrom explains that college athletics has helped her grow as a person.

“I’ve learned how to lead a wide variety of personality types and people,” Lindstrom says, She also credits her experiences during her time at Pacific as helping her see the big picture in managing her time playing softball and excelling as a student. “If you have the desire to play in college, there is a college out there for you,” is Linstrom’s advice to those looking to play in college. “If you want to play, you can.”

Francesca Sally: Life after college

Former East girls basketball star went on to play Division I hoops at Northeastern University, while simultaneously pursuing a degree in electrical engineering.  During her senior year at Northeastern, in the 2016-2017 season, Sally led the Huskies in scoring at 12.7 points per game as well as rebounding at 8.2. Always a threat to post a double-double (double-digit totals in two categories), Sally had 10 of those games during her senior year on top of a monster performance against the College of Charleston. The 6 ft. 2 in. center had a great night, collecting 30 points, 14 rebounds and going 9-10 from the free throw line. Sally wrapped up her collegiate career with the Huskies by earning a spot on the 2016-17 All-Colonial Athletic Association’s Second Team.

During her time at East, Sally was a four-year starter in two sports (forward in basketball and a goal keeper in soccer) and was a two-time DPS player of the year in basketball for 2012 and 2013). Sally was also part of a 2010 team that went 23-5 during the regular season and won East’s only state girls basketball championship. To cap off her senior high school season, Sally was named a First-Team All-State selection in 2013.

Sally graduated from Northeastern University with a Bachelor’s Degree in electrical engineering, and is now an engineer for Jacobs Engineering Group, working on airfield electrical systems for airports.  Sally credits her time as a student athlete with helping her learn to manage her time with projects, including as she has moved into her professional life. Additionally, she credits having to earn playing time early on in her college career as time that helped her grow as a person.

Sally offered sound advice to students getting ready to leave college to venture out on their own in the professional world: “The best times aren’t necessarily behind you. There are still good times ahead.”

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