2018 DFJ Female Athlete of the Year: Cassidy Nerland

Determined 4-sport star proud to represent Lynx, Trojets

Cassidy Nerland (center) is presented with the 2018 Daily Freeman-Journal Female Athlete of the Year trophy by DFJ Sports Editor Troy Banning (left) and Fareway General Manager Matt Shannon. Nerland graduated from Webster City High School in May. DFJ photo/Anne Blankenship

WEBSTER CITY — The sneer, it can be intimidating. Eyes squinted, jaw set, shoulders raised, chest out, it all comes naturally.

It’s not calculated, it’s just her demeanor when she’s between the lines. She’s not there to make friends, she’s there to compete and win. And if she has to dish out a little punishment, well, that’s fine, too.

Get in Cassidy Nerland’s way and prepare to suffer the consequences. It’s nothing personal.

“I’m a huge competitor. I hate losing. It sucks,” Nerland, a recent graduate of Webster City, said. “When people say ‘hey, just let it go,’ well, no, you can’t. When you lose, you lose. And that mean face comes naturally. A lot of people are scared of me because of that, but maybe that’s a good thing.”

Her drive, her determination, her competitiveness and her work ethic have all served her well. She’s the poster child for a success story.

And today, after three consecutive years of being a finalist, she’s the 2018 Daily Freeman-Journal Female Athlete of the Year.

The sneer, it’s gone. In its place is a smile. A wide one.

“It’s really special,” Nerland said of taking home the award. “When I was in the eighth grade I saw this award and thought I want to be like that, I want to win it and I’m going to do everything I can do to win this because that’s freakin’ cool. It shows all of the hard work has paid off.”

Nerland joins the illustrious class of former winners that includes Webster City alums Kaylee Schnathorst, Hannah Myers and Allie Flaws, as well as 2017 South Hamilton graduate Ady Wintermote.

But in many ways, Nerland is the first Northeast Hamilton athlete to pocket the award. Williams raised, she spent her formative years as a Trojet in a class of 16 kids. She knew the first, last and probably even middle names of all of her classmates.

Sports are what helped her thrive in her new environment at WCHS after the doors to Northeast Hamilton High School closed for good. They brought her friends, a sense of belonging and fulfillment.

“When we came to Webster City when I was in the eighth grade, we could fit our whole freshman through seniors classes on one bus to take us to our classes,” Nerland said. “It was weird how one whole school could fit on one bus. I miss the small school because it was another family, but I personally love taking on new challenges, it makes me feel more accomplished.”

If the jump from Class 1A to 3A or 4A competition was daunting, Nerland hid it well. In fact, she thrived.

All-conference accolades. State medals. She’s got both.

But none of her successes came by accident. She worked her butt off, season after season, year after year.

In a day and age where focusing on one, maybe two sports has become the norm for a lot of athletes, Nerland continued to tackle four sports throughout her prep career.

Volleyball transitioned right into basketball, basketball right into track and field, and track and field right into softball.

Was it hard? Absolutely. But it’s the path she chose, and she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

“She’s the epitome of what I would hope any high school coach would want in their program,” WCHS head girls’ track and field coach Clint Howard, who mentored Nerland in the throws for four years, said. “She’s worked extremely hard for four years, she bought into everything and never missed a training session.”

About those training sessions in the weight room. With practices after school pretty much 24/7, it meant making the drive to WCHS as the sun was still rising to put in the work. That 20-minute drive Nerland made more times than she can count might not sound that difficult, but you try doing it at 5:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning in January after getting home in the wee hours of the night following a basketball game at Algona.

Nerland did it without complaint. Why? Because she knew it would make her better.

“It’s not easy being a four-sport athlete, I can tell you that,” Nerland said. “But I didn’t miss weights and I didn’t miss speed training. It was really hard, but I’m glad I did it.”

The payoff came during her senior year.

Nerland admits that volleyball was never her favorite sport, but she never wavered in her commitment. Last fall, she led WCHS in blocks, ranked second in service aces and third in kills and digs from her spot on the outside.

During the basketball season, the records began to pour into her coffer. The court was where she was able to use her power and intimidation to her advantage. The cringes on opponents’ faces were noticeable as they prepared to absorb a Nerland screen.

“I’m not the fastest girl down the court, but I can do some damage,” Nerland said while laughing. “I probably set over a thousand screens for Taylor (McKinney) and those girls would go flying.”

Nerland and rebounds simply went hand in hand.

Against Iowa Falls-Alden last December, she yanked down 19 caroms to set the single-game school record. And in February she chased down the WCHS single-season school record that now stands at 255 and career mark of 612.

Add the 207 rebounds she collected during her freshman year at Northeast Hamilton and she put away her high tops for good with 819.

“They all add up I guess,” Nerland said. “I just knew that I was always going to get that ball. That was my job. Some people don’t like when they have a role like that, but it’s what you have to do to win games. It’s not just shots that win games.”

Nerland averaged a double-double — 10.4 points and 11.6 rebounds — per game during the 2017-18 season that brought her second-team all-North Central Conference accolades. She led 4A in rebounds per game, put up 12 double-doubles and recorded 17 double-digit rebounding games.

It led to an invitation to the Iowa Girls Coaches Association Larry Niemeyer All-Star Games in Cedar Rapids in April. Playing for the 4A/5A Gray Team, she registered 13 points and eight rebounds in a win.

And then came the spring and Nerland’s last ride in the shot put and discus rings. A Grand View University recruit in the throws, she won 15 gold medals during the spring track and field season and failed to finish first only one time outside of Drake Stadium in Des Moines, the site of the Drake Relays and state meet.

Think about that for a minute. Let it sink in. And then marvel.

Following a throwing sweep at the NCC meet in early May, Nerland turned her attention to state and her last crack at a title.

She came up short, but just barely.

May 17, 2018, is a day she will remember forever. That was the afternoon when it all came together inside the discus ring.

A solid throw early in the preliminary round guaranteed her a spot in the finals and a fourth career state medal. Third entering the finals, she popped a heave of 128 feet, 5 inches on her first of three attempts and it catapulted her into second where she remained.

State silver medalist. Hugs that lasted for minutes, not seconds, with her teary-eyed mom, Dedra; it was what she had dreamed about for years.

“That was amazing,” Nerland said. “Everyone was there and my teammates got to watch me, so it’s something I’ll never forget.”

The fairy tale doesn’t always come to fruition though, something Nerland found out later in May when her final softball season was abruptly halted after just eight games because of an ankle injury that eventually required surgery.

Instead of hitting home runs, she was relegated to a supportive role in the dugout and it was hard, at times more painful than the injury itself.

“I’d go home and cry just because I missed it so much,” she said. “I couldn’t do anything to help them, I could only say do this or do that, but that was the role I had to play this year.”

Nerland was able to say goodbye though. On Senior Night, with her parents in the stands, Lynx head coach Jess Howard let her go to the plate for a curtain call.

And now it’s on to the next chapter at Grand View. Her commitments will still be substantial, just not so varied. Her classwork and the throws will become her salvation. Just how good can she be when she focuses all of her attention on one sport? The possibilities are endless.

“I think the sky is the limit for her,” Clint Howard said. “I’m excited to see what she can do.”

Her legacy at WCHS is set in stone, that’s for sure. She walks away as one of the toughest, most versatile athletes in school history. Her records will eventually fall, just like all records do, but the memories of her talent will live forever.