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The 19 most interesting Wolf Pack athletes to watch in 2019

Rebecca Murray
Rebecca Murray. Good last name. And a good swimmer. (Ryan Levine/Nevada athletics)

The changing of the calendar from one year to the next brings resolutions and a renewed spirit of what is possible. From the Wolf Pack’s perspective, the start of 2019 isn’t actually a starting point as the school’s winter sports are in the middle of their seasons, but we can still evaluate Nevada's calendar year to come. Here is NSN’s look at the 19 most interesting Wolf Pack athletes to watch in 2019.

* The Martin twins: These guys are always a package pairing for me. Nevada basketball went through non-conference play unbeaten and the aspirations are sky high – a Final Four appearance. The Pack has plenty of quality players, but Nevada needs Caleb and Cody Martin to play at the highest of levels for some of these lofty goals to become reality. After that, the twins make a run at the NBA later in 2019.

* Kenzi Goins: Nevada’s best player, Erika Hansen, is departed due to graduation, but the Pack softball lineup is still stacked in 2019. That cast is led by Goins, a Reed High graduate who hit .353 with seven homers and 10 doubles last season. She got on base 43.3 percent of her plate appearances and slugged .551. A two-time All-MW honoree, Goins enters her junior season as one of the West’s top hitters.

* Joey Vrzich: After helping Nevada golf reach an NCAA Regional as a freshman in spring 2018, Vrzich had a spectacular fall in his sophomore season, winning two events and finishing runner-up in two others. The Wolf Pack also won two of those events as a team. Vrzich was one of only 21 Division I golfers to average under 70 strokes per round in the fall, so he could realistically make an NCAA final as an individual.

* Owen Sharts: The lanky right-handed pitcher could have turned pro straight out of high school (he was a top-100 prospect in the 2018 MLB draft), but he opted to go to college and will have to wait three seasons before being draft eligible again. That’s good news for Nevada, which would love to put Sharts in the starting rotation and ride his right arm to its first NCAA Regional appearance since 2000.

* Rebecca Murray: For starters, awesome last name. Also, Murray is arguably Nevada’s best swimmer – right there with Andressa Cholodovskis – and one of its most versatile. She won the Wolf Pack’s lone swimming event at last year’s MW Championship, taking the 100 free, and was a member of the MW-winning 800 free relay. With Nevada’s diving team no lock to dominate at the MW Championship like in previous years, it will be up to Murray and the Wolf Pack swimmers to carry a bit bigger load than usual.

* Toa Taua: After a strong rookie season in which Taua was named the MW freshman of the year (the first in Nevada football history), Taua will return for his sophomore season as the guy in the Wolf Pack backfield. With Nevada becoming a more run-oriented team and breaking in a first-year starting quarterback, don’t be surprised if Taua puts up a big 2019 season, something like 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns.

* Terae Briggs: After reaching the MW Tournament title game in 2018, the start of this season has not been kind to a younger Wolf Pack women’s basketball team. Nevada is 4-8, with its victories coming off a Division II team and three D-I squads that are a combined 7-32. However, the Wolf Pack has played better of yet and Briggs has been the Wolf Pack’s most reliable player. If Nevada is able to make a midseason turnaround, she has to lead the young Wolf Pack.

* Mitchell Van Patten: Nevada announced last month it is ending its rifle program and replacing it with men’s cross country. That doesn’t mean the team has been dissembled yet. Rifle will finish the season and it’d be great to see one of the Pack shooters make a run at the NCAA Championships. Van Patten, a decorated senior, has the best chance of doing that. He’s one of the best shooters in school history.

* Hiley Dobbs: Dobbs made the All-Region team for her performance at November’s NCAA Mountain Regional cross country meet and was the team’s strongest runner late in the season. Dobbs was the first Wolf Pack runner to make the All-Region team since EmKay Myers in 2015 and she will play a big factor in trying to get Nevada to its first NCAA cross country championship ever in 2019.

* Jordan Caroline: Easy to overlook, Caroline is a double-double machine who should end up in the top five in program history in points and rebounds. Caroline’s teammate, Caleb Martin, was the MW player of the year last season, but Caroline is the frontrunner to win that award this season, although his first and foremost goal is helping the Wolf Pack make as deep a run in the NCAA Tournament as possible.

* Josh Zamora: Nevada baseball had two freshmen All-Americans last year in Zamora and right-handed starter Jake Jackson. Zamora, an infielder, is among the preseason favorites for MW player of the year if he can avoid the sophomore slump. He hit .355 with nine homers and 11 doubles last season while posting a .430 on-base percent and .563 slugging mark. Nevada would take a repeat of those numbers.

* Julia Jensen: The highly decorated Reed High alum had an up-and-down freshman season in the circle for the Nevada softball team, starting out strong before wearing down by the end of her rookie campaign. After posting a 13-12 record and 4.27 ERA last season, Jensen aims for a more dominant season. Whether Nevada takes the next step as a program really comes down to finding a reliable ace.

* Nicola Ader: A freshman track and field standout from Germany in 2018, Ader returns for her sophomore season and is one of the Pack’s top threats to make the NCAA Championships. She is already second in program history in the outdoor high jump (5 feet, 11.25 inches), sixth in the indoor long jump (19-2.5), fourth in pentathlon and seventh in heptathlon. She’s an excellent all-around athlete.

* Carson Strong: The Pack quarterback battle will be heated in 2019. You probably wouldn’t be wrong if you said the team will start more than one player at the position next season. Cristian Solano and Kaymen Cureton have both started games for the Wolf Pack, but Strong, who redshirted this season as a true freshman, is the most interesting prospect to keep an eye on. He has the highest ceiling of Nevada’s quarterbacks.

* Victoria Gailey: A freshman from Oregon, Gailey led the Nevada women’s golf team in stroke average (72.7) during the fall semester while posting top 10s in two of the four events. That’s good work from a rookie and Nevada will need her to play well if it is going to make some noise in the Mountain West Championship. She also lists “playing bass guitar” as one of her hobbies, and I can get down with that.

* Julien Evrard: A junior from France, Evrard was 7-3 in singles and 5-5 in doubles this fall, including a trip to the singles and doubles championship matches of the ITA Mountain Regional in Las Vegas, the first player in school history to make it to either. Evrard was first-team All-MW in singles and doubles last season and should repeat in both categories as long as he continues the form he showed this fall.

* Kayla Afoa: Nevada volleyball had a rough 2018 season, posting an 8-21 overall record and 1-17 MW mark, but it was not the fault of Afoa, a sophomore standout was named All-MW honorable mention in 2018 and should be even better in 2019. She led Nevada in sets played, points, kills and aces, among other stats. She’ll play a big part in Nevada trying to surge back up the standings in 2019.

* Jordan Brown: The McDonald’s All-American hasn’t gotten big minutes in his first season playing basketball at Nevada, but he could still play a big role for the Pack in March Madness and should be a focal point of Nevada in the 2019-20 season as the team loses its five starters. Brown’s impact might not have been as immediate as many thought, but it will be intriguing to see how his career plays out.

* Lindsey Sickler: The Douglas High alum (formerly known as Lindsey Adams) nearly reached the NCAA Championship last season in the steeplechase, which has become an event of expertise for the Pack. She is third in Nevada’s history in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and eighth in the 2,000-meter steeplechase. Teammate Cora Gallop is second in both and, if healthy, could make a run at nationals with Sickler.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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