Honor returns after 52 years
Of all the great athletes to come out of Southwest Nebraska -- and there have been many -- only two have been honored as "Nebraska Athletes of the Year" by the state's largest newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald.
The first was "Hoppy" McCue of Arapahoe in 1951, the first year the Athlete of the Year Award for boys was presented.
And, now, after 52 years, this area has it second statewide Athlete of the Year recipient. The winner is Christina Houghtelling, a three-sport star and valedictorian of the Class of 2003 at Cambridge High School.
Christina's selection was announced Sunday in an article by Mike Patterson in the World-Herald's sports section. After beginning with the boy's award in 1956, the newspaper started the girl's award in 1976. The expansion of the award program came after athletics for young women gained widespread acceptance.
All contacted in the Cambridge community -- including coaches, family and friends -- agree that Christina deserves this award and all the other honors she has received. Typical is the comment of Andy Long, who coached Christina in basketball and the high jump and triple jump in track. "Christina is a once in a lifetime kid to coach," he told the Omaha World-Herald.
So what is it about this young lady that sets her apart and makes her worthy of statewide recognition? It begins with the natural talents with which she has been blessed. She has good height, standing 6-foot-2, and great spring in her legs, leading to her all-class Gold Medals in the high jump and triple jump in the state track meet.
But, throughout the state and nation, there are many female athletes with size and talent. What's different about Christina is that she is extremely focused, well organized, hard-working and such a great competitor. It has shown throughout her high school career, as she has risen to all-state status in both volleyball and basketball, and achieved championship state status in track and field jumping events. She has also been helped, greatly, by her family's support and the outstanding athletic tradition at Cambridge High School. When contacted Sunday evening for this article, Christina was in Chicago with her mother and father, Ken and Beth Houghtelling. Christina was playing in a volleyball tournament there with the Nebraska Juniors, who won the title in five sets over a team from Illinois.
As spectacular as her high school career has been, many believe she will achieve even greater stardom in college. She is going to the University of Nebraska on a volleyball scholarship, and is determined to play right away. "I know I have lots of room for improvement," she told the World-Herald writer, "but, I'm not going down there as a scared freshman. I hope to contribute right away."
Having watched her with awe these past four years, the people of this area know what Christina is capable of. Soon, volleyball fans on the national level will be privileged to see what we have seen. Thanks for the memories, Christina, and all the best as you move to the national stage as a member of the highly regarded University of Nebraska volleyball team.