MISSOULA — It's the second day of the KPAX Sports Awards finalists, and on Thursday we introduce the two candidates from Loyola Sacred Heart High School in Kelsey Esh and Nolan Iverson.
Esh has been a leader on the basketball court for the Breakers, as she helped lead Loyola to an undefeated season and the Class B co-championship in 2020. She was an all-conference selection in 2021, and earlier in her career she was part of Loyola's state championship winning golf teams in 2018 and 2019, the first of which she won with her sister, Kylie. She has also carried a 4.18 weighted GPA at Loyola and will attend Montana State after high school.
Esh and her family moved to Missoula from Idaho when Esh was in eighth grade.
She remembers it being a difficult adjustment in the move, but after involving herself in sports like golf, basketball, track and volleyball, Esh began to find normalcy in her new home.
"Moving here into this community my eighth grade year, sports helped a lot," Esh said. "It helped me get to make friends and really feel welcome into the community and it was nice being able to, my freshman year, play sports with my sister and win a state championship in golf and go on the next year to win another one. And it just feels really good to be able to represent Loyola."
Iverson was a team captain for Loyola's football team this past fall and was the team's leading rusher. He's also a member of the Loyola track and field team.
After graduation, he'll be attending the IMG Academy in Florida for football, where he'll spend next year before ultimately moving on to a school from there. He'll finish at Loyola with a 3.85 weighted GPA as well.
Playing football at Loyola was a dream to Iverson growing up, and one he was happy to fulfill.
"I remember being younger and coming and watching the Loyola games and always looking forward to playing for them," Iverson said. "And then I finally got to that point and I loved every second of it. Being part of the community and it was a good chance to stay in touch with my friends and it was just an outlet to get away from academics and just have fun."
That's all from our two finalists from Loyola. Read below to see the essays submitted by Iverson and Esh.
Coming from a family where golf tees sink to the bottom of our drier and clubs lay up against almost every corner of our home, it’s no surprise that I played golf in high school. My mother played golf in college, my father became a golf pro at a young age, and my sister currently plays for the University of Montana Grizzlies. You’d think being surrounded by a sport growing up would influence me to take on the same passions as my family, however, golf wasn’t at the end of the tunnel for me. After playing competitively until I was nine years old, I decided to quit competing in tournaments and focus on other sports, like basketball, track, and volleyball. My father wasn’t too thrilled about my decision, but I continued to pursue my own desires. Growing up, sports were always a huge part of my life.
I received the news that my family was going to move to Missoula my eighth grade year. My sister Kylie, who was going into her junior year of high school, and I both struggled to make friends and fit in at Loyola. I found myself leaning on Kylie, who was my best friend. We helped each other get through the transition. Sports played a huge role for both of us in settling into the new, intimidating community. I looked forward to sports even more my freshman year, in hopes of being able to find my place at Loyola by showing off my talent and work ethic.
Once spring sports rolled around the corner my freshman year of high school, I got pressured into dual sporting track and golf. I was told we had a very good chance of winning state; with the top three girls on our team able to shoot under 80, the team needed one more player who could score around 100. I felt unsure about taking up golf again initially, having not played competitively for six years. With Kylie on the team, I felt more comfortable playing, and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to win a state championship with my sister.
State was in Billings that year at Eagle Rock Golf Course. Our team was leading going into the second day of the tournament. I remember standing near the 18th green watching my sister, our last teammate to tee off, finish her round. As soon as she finished, she walked over to me and gave me the biggest hug, knowing right then that we were state champions. That moment defines what high school sports have meant to me. I finally started to feel settled down at Loyola, and accept that Missoula was my new home. After watching my sister battle cancer and having our relationship grow even stronger the past year, I cherish our opportunity to share a state title together even more to this day. My next two years of high school I contributed to another golf state title my sophomore year and a basketball state title my junior year. Without high school sports and my sister by my side, I wouldn’t have been able to get through our move to Missoula. Although my high school sports career has come to an end, I am blessed to have experienced memories and learn lessons that I will carry with me into the future.
Anyone could tell you that high school sports are about the thrill, the wins, and the glory...and they’d be right. Those are major aspects of athletics, but what doesn’t seem to be talked about much is the emotion that comes with it. Whether positive or negative, this intensity when on the field is unmatched.
I would not consider myself an emotional person. For the most part, I remain reserved and collected, rarely letting what I feel show outwardly. There’s nothing wrong with that in my eyes, it’s just how I am. However, there’s something about the sensation of putting on my pads, buckling my helmet, and stepping under those lights that gets it out of me. I really feel something out there. The lows and highs are what I live for when I’m playing the sport. There’s nothing better than the feeling of running a kickoff back for a touchdown, don’t get me wrong, but anyone would say that. How could they not? The real emotion, though, comes when things aren't so great. The frustration when you’re giving and have given everything you have but it still isn’t enough. The heartbreak of making it to the playoffs just to lose in the first, second, or third round, or even the chipper. The regret when you look back on that one play, that one thing you could have changed and maybe things would have gone differently. They don’t tell you about these things when you start. No one explains the complexities of the way you might feel out there. It’s a fantastic outlet though. For someone such as myself who is restrained, this is a great way to get it all out.
I remember noticing an instance of this happening during my junior season. I was starting to hit my stride at my position. I played the best game of my life so far against Whitehall, with 201 rushing yards and five touchdowns. It felt great. The next week we played Manhattan and I was ready to get things done. Within the first quarter though, while stiff arming a defensive end, I felt a rich pain tear through my hand. Now, I don’t want to bore anyone with another injury story, so I’ll do my best not to. To put it frankly, I had broken my thumb and part of my hand. This was a point where I could feel the frustration coming out. I was livid. I was angry at my coaches for not letting me on the field as often as I wanted when I had the cast on. I was angry at the trainer for making me go get the X-ray. I was angry at the doctor for simply doing his job. Most of all though, I was angry with myself. Luckily for me though, I was able to use this. The great part about being frustrated over football, is that it’s football. I could go run, hit, and be angry all I wanted between those white lines.
To put it in a nutshell, football is a way for me to tap into a side of myself I rarely see. From feelings of euphoria to those of frustration, the sport has created an outlet. Football is rarely associated with emotion, but I see no reason for it not to be. It provides a way of expression even when times are rough, and that’s just one of the many reasons why I love it, and why high school sports have been so important to me