Mercer, Veenis earn school’s Clendenen Award

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By Mike Cote

Amanda Mercer isn’t deterred by being told that something’s hard. Like, for example, when she was told it was very difficult to win a varsity cross country race.
In November, in the next-to-last race of her career, Mercer won the District 2-4A championship race.
“That was a huge accomplishment for me,” she said. “I remember at the beginning of the season I told Mrs. (Kathy) Hipwood one of my season goals was to win first place in a race. She told me that is extremely difficult to do. She’s had people on the national cross country team that didn’t win first place in a varsity race.”
That’s one reason, but hardly the only reason, Mercer not only won that race, but won this year’s Clendenen Student Athlete Award.
Mercer, a cross country and track standout was named the girls 2013-14 winner at a ceremony Thursday honoring the Los Alamos High School seniors’ accomplishments.
On the boys side, Skyler Veenis was named this year’s recipient. Veenis was this year’s leading scorer on the basketball team and was also a state track and field participant.
Veenis has been one of the leaders of the boys basketball program for the past two years despite being two of the roughest the program has ever endured. In those two season, the Hilltoppers have managed a grand total of three victories.
Along with that, Los Alamos went through a coaching shakeup in January. Fil Dominguez abruptly left the program and Mike Kluk was installed as the interim head coach — his “interim” tag that was dropped during the spring.
Veenis said he and the rest of the team was able to make the best of a bad situation.
“It gave us a chance to improve,” he said. “We knew we wanted change, but we didn’t know it would come that suddenly. We wanted to do our best with it. We had to control things we could control and leave those things we can’t control out of our minds.”
Despite now being on his way, Veenis said it was important to him to try to leave what he could for the next generation of Hilltopper basketball players. That’s why he felt it was important to get involved with the Jr. ’Toppers youth program and help develop upcoming basketball talent.
To be considered for the Clendenen Award, athletes must be graduating seniors with grade-point averages of at least 3.0, exhibit community involvement and leadership, and have abstained from alcohol or drug use throughout their high school careers.
It was a big field of girls nominees this year — nine in all — but even among a top crop of student-athletes, Mercer stood out.
Mercer is a four-time letter winner with her involvement in Key Club, which involves at least 30 hours of service per year. She was an auxiliary volunteer in Los Alamos Medical Center’s physical therapy department and was a member of the National Honor Society for her sophomore, junior and senior years.
Mercer said she was surprised to receive the award among the big group of nominees, but was very proud of all that she’s accomplished.
“To me this means I’m a well-rounded student-athlete who has shown dedication to my community and I give back everything I’ve had these last four years,” she said.
This fall, Mercer will attend Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. Along with planning to compete in cross country and track at Whitman, she also wants to study pre-med and hopes someday to become a pediatrician.
Along with her win at the district individual title in cross country and qualifying several times for state during her track career, Mercer also had to overcome a stress fracture in her foot late in her junior season. Mercer cross-trained for nearly two weeks — something she said she didn’t enjoy at all — to stay off her foot in preparation for state.
Her work paid off, she said, as she finished sixth in both the 1,600 and 3,200 races.
Veenis, for his part, is planning to attend Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., and try out for the Skyhawks basketball team — Veenis was hoping to get collegiate offers to play basketball but didn’t receive any.
He’s planning on studying both biology and philosophy.
This season, Veenis was Los Alamos’ lone district first-team selection. He had 11 points, including hitting a pair of big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, to lead Los Alamos to its only district win of the season over Capital in late January.
He said he’ll look back on his Los Alamos career fondly.
“It was fun, a lot of fun, fun and meaningful,” he said. “Los Alamos, everyone says it’s isolation up here, but it’s a great place to grow up. The school system’s phenomenal, athletics are good, the teachers are great. Everything works up here and it’s so much fun…I’m never going to forget this place.”