Dalton McNeff goes for a layup.
Dalton McNeff goes for a layup.
If you stop by the gym any day after school, you’ll see several basketball players working out. They’ve been at it for a couple of months. You might not recognize all of them because they’re wearing masks, but nothing slows down their moves. 

“It’s pretty much a normal practice with a little less running,” says Dalton McNeff, a senior with three years of basketball under his belt. He’s hoping for a fourth, even if it only lasts six weeks. “The only time we’re allowed to take off our masks is during water breaks.”

Many of their masks feature the school colors, red and black. They also depict the PCHS mascot, the Mustang.

Varsity boys coach Jesse Canchola makes sure his players follow the NIAA rules, including health screens before workouts. “We don’t scrimmage, so there is no sort of body contact,” he says. 

Mike Brooks, the athletic director, ordered water bottles over the summer. Goodbye water fountains, at least for now.

“We’re supposed to socially distance as much as possible,” continues McNeff. “It can get kind of tough, but I love the chance to be in the gym working even during a pandemic.”

He and coach Canchola would like more players to take advantage of the after-school workouts. 

The boys train every day after school from 3:30 p.m. until 6 p.m. Canchola estimates that, on the boy’s side, an average of eight to ten athletes participate daily.

“We’ve got a few new guys like Diego Gonzalez who have been coming to the open gyms pretty consistently,” says McNeff. 

Other frequent flyers include Victor Flores, Jordan Gentry, Ashton Nolf and even one Lady Mustang, Aledda Sam. 

“Usually it’s Diego, Ashton and I and then the other few change, sometimes it’s Victor, or Jordan or Ezekiel. Aledda almost always comes to our practices,” says McNeff.

Aledda Sam, a junior, also pitches for the softball team. 

Last winter, her volleyball coaches named her their Most Improved Player. 

As a middle schooler, Sam won a lineman of the year award. 

She’s happy for the chance to get in some extra training. The girls basketball team trains twice a week after school.

Gonzalez, a junior, joined the football and track teams his freshman year. At last year’s Lovelock Invitational, he led Pershing County in the triple jump, with a leap of over 30 feet. He competed in the 800-meter dash and the mile.

Last football season, Gonzalez kicked a 47-yard field goal against Battle Mountain, possibly a JV first. He’s decided to give basketball a try.

“He’s shown up to the open gym every day and is putting in the work,” says the coach. Sophomores Noel Zaldivar and Seth Provstgaard are also trying basketball for the first time in their high school careers.

Zeke Jackson wrestles and plays cornerback and wide receiver for the football team. 

In 2019, he won a state wrestling title in the 106-pound division against fellow Mustang Devin Moura. 

Jackson and Moura were part of the team that earned Pershing County’s first wrestling championship in school history. 

The Mustangs stopped Battle Mountain’s run of six straight state titles. In 2020 the Longhorns won back the trophy.

The Mustangs will have to wait until at least 2022 for a rematch. There will be no state championships this year.

Victor Flores stepped into a high-pressure role last basketball season when a roster shakeup resulted in a leadership vacuum. 

He grew into a leader on and off the court. Before that, he’d only scored six points, and those were on the JV level. 

According to his coaches, Flores rose to the challenge. He also plays football and throws the shot put and discus for the track team.

Last year, Ashton Nolf’s coaches awarded him the Larry Donaldson Memorial basketball award. Nolf, now a junior, covered Pershing’s JV and varsity teams. He also plays baseball and football.

The season is still a ways off, but so far the returning seniors include McNeff, Jackson, Flores, Jordan Gentry, Tim Fecht, Blake Barter and Logan Oberman. Younger players like Conner Fecht, Aaron Kienbaum and Blake Burrows round out the group.

Official practice begins Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. The season will run from Jan. 15 through Feb. 20.

“The kids are ready for sports,” said the coach. “We’ll continue with the basics of ball skills, footwork and shooting. We also work on developing an IQ for the game itself. We should have a bigger show out this year and the years to come. This will help the program tremendously.”