Athletics of year ra1

Troy’s Kyle Whitley and Crawford’s Ann-Marie Dunlap flourished in every athletic endeavor.

Staff photo— Rod Aydelotte

Nothing great has ever been accomplished without hard work.

Just look to Ann-Marie Dunlap, who put in mile upon mile, and Kyle Whitley, who picked up one sport as soon as the other finished. These two athletes were going to make sure they did everything in their power to be the very best they could be.

It worked out well for both of them.

Dunlap won seven Class 2A state gold medals in her career at Crawford — three her senior year — claiming four in track, two in cross country and one in softball and earning first-team Super Centex honors as a basketball player, while Troy’s Whitley was a first-team Super Centex performer in football and baseball, helping the Trojans reach the 2A state championship game as a catcher, and second-team Super Centex on the basketball court.

Their level of brilliance didn’t change with the seasons, and that’s why they’re the Super Centex Athletes of the Year.

Dunlap was at her absolute best when it truly mattered, and she didn’t just beat her opponents, she made sure from the beginning of the race to destroy any hope they might have had.

Nowhere was that more true than at the state cross country meet her senior year, when she won her second straight championship — this time by more than a minute with a new 2A record time of 10 minutes, 59.72 seconds. That made her the first 2A runner ever to break 11 minutes, and lowered the old record by more than 18 seconds.

“The high point would be cross country this year,” Dunlap said. “I had a good track season last year, and I just kept on running, did a lot of local meets and AAU stuff and cross country came, and I was pretty fast. My coaches did an outstanding job of pushing me.”

That pattern continued itself on the track, where she claimed the state crown in both of the long-distance events — the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.

She jumped to the front at the start of both races and never looked back in securing easy wins. The 1,600 title was her second straight, while she added the 3,200 title to the one she notched in the 800 as a junior.

On the basketball court, she was just as dynamic, scoring 17.7 points per game, a mark that jumped to 24 in the playoffs. And her quickness also made her a supreme defender who could take the ball away at any time.

“Basketball was the fun sport because I was with my friends,” Dunlap said. “In cross country and track, it’s just you running by yourself. There’s really no team. But basketball practices were harder than cross country and track, because we’d go for three hours and then do cross fit.”

With all of her success, it’s noteworthy that her first gold medal came in the sport in which she contributed the least. That was in softball her sophomore year, and she was a base-runner.

“It counts,” she said with a smile.

There was a time when Dunlap thought softball was going to be her sport of choice. She was the shortstop on Crawford’s team that reached the Little League World Series championship game, and she was also a sprinter throughout junior high and early in high school.

Things changed, but it all worked out for Dunlap.

“Her first few years, we limited her mileage,” Crawford cross country and track coach Jason Buie said. “She might have a little injury pop up, like shin splints. But her junior and senior year, she developed where she could add extra miles and handle it.”

Dunlap is far from finished with her running career.

She signed to run for Baylor, and she’s had a taste of the college competition when she finished fifth in the Bear Twilight Invitational last fall.

No matter how her college career turns out, she’s left an indelible mark in Crawford.

“It really has been amazing working with her over the past six years and seeing all she’s accomplished,” Buie said. “She’s a great example of what it means to be a Lady Pirate. She’s a great kid. . . . Junior high kids come to watch her run, and she’ll take off a medal and give it to one of them. To see their expression on their face and for her to give them the medal she just won, it says a lot about the kind of person she is. To be as good as she is and as humble as she is, it’s really rare.”

Nonstop success

Kyle Whitley doesn’t like to waste time.

As soon as one season was over during his career at Troy, he’s already on to the next one. Now he’s focusing on one sport as a walk-on with the Texas A&M football team, but his work ethic hasn’t waned at all.

“I love competition. That makes it easy,” Whitley said. “It’s nonstop, but I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t playing sports. That’s why I want to play in college. I don’t know what it would be like to just be a student. I love being busy like that. There never was a day off. That weekend after football ended we were shooting baskets. After we lost (in basketball), we’re hitting off the tee, so that’s just how it’s always been. I love the competition. I love all the sports.”

That willingness to get a jump on the next season served him well.

He was the quarterback and free safety on the Troy football team that went 9-4 and advanced three rounds deep in the playoffs before falling to district rival and eventual state champion Cameron Yoe.

It was a remarkable feat considering the Trojans had been an average team each of Whitley’s previous three years, and their skill-position players were actually bigger than their linemen.

“I mainly just remember how hard we worked in practice because my first three years we were like 5-5,” Whitley said. “We’d had enough, so we worked hard every day. It finally paid off. It felt good to get Troy back in the playoffs, because we feel like that’s where we should be. . . . Football was my favorite. Everybody goes to football games, so it’s more exciting. Some people say I’m best at baseball, but I like football. That’s why I chose to play it (in college).”

Whitley was a first-team Super Centex player on the defensive side of the ball, but he’s working as a slot receiver with A&M.

He hopes his size at 6-foot-3 will help him as a pass-catcher and blocker in the Aggies’ wide-open spread offense, a huge change from playing quarterback in the slot-T scheme Troy used.

“It’s tough, but every Division I sport is going to be tough to train for, so I’m getting used to it,” Whitley said. “I can’t wait until two-a-days start. I don’t know about my playing situation right now, but I’m working hard and doing everything I can.”

The Trojans’ football success was no match for what they accomplished on the baseball diamond.

For only the second time in school history, Troy reached the state tournament with a hard-fought, 1-0 win over Salado in a one-game regional final playoff.

But the Trojans took it one step farther than that 1983 team that reached state by moving on to the championship game. They couldn’t come away with a win against Sunnyvale in the title tilt, but it was still magical finish to Whitley’s high school career.

He finished his senior year as the Trojans’ catcher with a .441 batting average, and he provided plenty of pop in the middle of the order.

“He was huge for us,” Troy coach Steve Sebesta said. “His senior leadership, but not just his leadership but his performance with stats and the way he plays the game was phenomenal. He was able to take some of our younger guys and lead by example, and he did a great job of handling our pitching staff.”

Whitley, a three-sport varsity athlete since he was a freshman, also helped the Trojans to a district championship on the basketball court as a forward.

And it was his work ethic and attitude made it all possible.

“He’s a great kid,” Sebesta said. “He’s always ‘yes, sir,’ ‘no, sir,’ and willing to do whatever you ask of him. He played a couple different positions (in football). He gives everything he’s got and focuses on whichever sport he’s in.”

Whitley said he was surprised when he learned of being named the Super Centex Athlete of the Year.

“It’s an honor,” he said. “I know there are tons of great athletes around Central Texas that are deserving. I feel so special that I got this. I’m very blessed, because there are tons of athletes that could have received this.”

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