Incline Athletes of the Year | Nelson, Tonking had senior years to remember
Kerrie Tonking and Elise Nelson are simply not into losing.
They proved as much their senior years.
Competitive and athletic with natural leadership ability, the Incline seniors combined to help lead the Incline girls soccer team to back-to-back state championship titles, then went on to help lead the Highlanders to their first girls basketball state title in 29 years.
“They both definitely led by example all the time,” said Indra Winquest, head coach of the Incline girls basketball team. “They both are outstanding athletes.”
For their athletic prowess and success, Nelson and Tonking were selected as the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza’s Co-Female Athletes of the Year from Incline High School.
“(They are) great players and characters to have on the team,” said Incline girls soccer coach Tom Canino, whose Highlanders posted a final record of 20-2-1. “They, along with the rest of our very superior senior class, will be very difficult to replace.”
After the winter, Tonking swam on the girls 200-yard freestyle relay team in the state championship meet, placing sixth. Nelson rounded out her high school athletic career with a dominant offensive season in softball, as she tallied a .579 batting average en route to earning first-team All-League honors.
Their successful senior campaigns started in late August, when it was already evident that the Incline girls soccer team was favored to win a second consecutive state championship.
Tonking and Nelson were integral parts of that juggernaut squad, with Nelson providing offensive firepower as a skilled striker, and Tonking solidifying the Highlander defense as an aggressive-minded sweeper.
“Both players were very important members of our back-to-back state championship teams,” Canino said. “Both were first-team All-League players, but for different reasons.
“Elise was a scorer, and if not scoring herself, she was creating opportunities for other players. Very productive in both scoring and assisting.
“Kerrie did what we needed her to do last year and played out of position to cover our defensive end as our sweeper. Kerrie is a very strong player both physically and mentally, the kind of player every team needs to anchor the defensive end. She understands the possession game we like to play, and everything went through her.”
While competitive, Tonking also provided comic relief and helped keep the mood light with her outgoing personality. Nelson was pure determination.
“She loses a ball, she will get it back. She battles for a 50-50, she is going to win it,” Canino said of Nelson. “It just makes the game very easy when a team has a player like Elise who can receive the ball at midfield and hold it as the attack coalesces around her.”
The Incline girls defeated Whittell 1-0 in overtime of the state championship game.
Nelson and Tonking carried that success straight into basketball season.
They helped the team jump out to a 20-1 start, with the one loss coming against Division I Galena. After falling to Pershing County in the regional championship, Incline bounced back to defeat the Mustangs 53-38 with a sound performance in the state championship. Both Nelson and Tonking received All-League honorable mention for their crucial roles on the team, which finished 25-3 overall.
“Elise just wants to be on the floor. She’s a competitor,” Winquest said of his versatile, 5-foot-9 forward/guard. “She always took the toughest defensive assignment. She’s the type of player who sets the tone as far as her effort. She plays hard every second she’s on the floor, and it’s infectious. That’s really what made us so good defensively. It’s a joy to coach someone like that.”
Tonking, at 5-8, had no right being as effective as she was in the paint as an undersized power forward/center. Yet she was effective, relying on her strength, aggressiveness and resolve to handle larger opponents in the post.
“On the court she’s just a beast,” Winquest said. “She’s always been undersized, but she’s super strong and is always battling. She just figured out ways to make things happen. She was super aggressive and her determination is insane.”
Winquest added that Tonking was instrumental in the Highlanders’ state championship victory, as she stepped up to contain state MVP Melissa Gonzalez, a 6-footer, when center Kira Porter got in foul trouble.
With a couple of state titles under their belts, both athletes wrapped up their senior years with fine spring seasons.
While Tonking advanced to her third state championship, this time in the pool, Nelson swung a hot bat on an Incline softball team that narrowly missed a playoff berth.
Aside from her .579 average, she slugged five doubles, two triples and two home runs, and posted a slugging percentage of .842. She had 18 RBIs and 31 runs scored in 18 games, and stole 18 bases in 20 attempts. A first baseman, shortstop and pitcher, she had a .991 fielding percentage and was voted to the All-League first team.
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Students from North Tahoe and Truckee recently made the trip to Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley to compete in the annual Kays Ostrom Invitational.