By RICK PETERSON
Most of the names are probably already familiar to anyone who follows local sports, but a long and growing list of athletes who call Topeka/Shawnee County home have made a big impact at the college and/or professional level.
Here's a look at just some of the stars who continue to make their hometown proud:
CARLY BACHELOR, Washburn Rural/Creighton -- Bachelor earned All-State recognition in basketball, volleyball and soccer at Washburn Rural, leading the Junior Blues to the Class 6A state basketball title and a runner-up state finish in soccer in her senior year (2019). A 6-foot guard/forward, Bachelor has gone on to carve out a successful basketball career for Creighton, which advanced to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight in 2021-2022 and is 6-0 this season. Bachelor is currently averaging 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 49 percent from the field and playing 27.5 minutes per game.
COREY BALLENTINE, Shawnee Heights/Washburn/Green Bay Packers -- A 5-11, 199-pound cornerback, the former Shawnee Heights and Washburn star was promoted from the Packers' practice squad to the active roster on Nov. 12 and has played in three games, recording two tackles and forcing a fumble. The fourth-year pro has played in 35 career regular-season games for the Giants, Jets, Lions and Packers, recording 48 tackles, including 38 solo stops.
ELIJAH BROOKS, Topeka West/North Dakota
A 6-4 freshman guard, Brooks was named Mr. Kansas Basketball as a senior at Topeka West, helping lead the Chargers to a second straight 5A state tournament berth and finishing his career as the Chargers' single-season and career scoring leader. Brooks has missed four games with injury/sickness but has started all four games that he's been available, averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game. Brooks has helped the Fighting Hawks open the season 5-3 and North Dakota is only one win away from equaling last year's victory total in a 6-25 season.
DeSHAWN HANIKA, Hayden/Iowa State -- A 6-6, 238-pound junior tight end, Hanika played in all 12 games for 4-8 Iowa State this fall, catching 17 passes for 244 yards and four touchdowns. Hanika, who helped Hayden win a state championship in basketball, caught three passes for 49 yards and a touchdown in the Cyclones' final game of the regular season against TCU, which will play Kansas State for the Big 12 championship on Saturday.
TEVEN JENKINS, Topeka High/Chicago Bears -- After starring at Topeka High and earning All-Big 12 honors at Oklahoma State as an offensive lineman, Jenkins, 6-foot-6, 321 pounds, was drafted in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft by the Bears. In preseason of his rookie year Jenkins was forced to undergo back surgery which sidelined him for a big chunk of the season, but he returned to action late in the season and has played 10 games this season with eight starts at right guard for the 3-9 Bears..
DESMOND PURNELL, Hayden/Kansas State -- A 5-11, 214 redshirt freshman linebacker, Purnell has saw action in all 12 games for 9-3 Kansas State, which will face TCU in Saturday's Big 12 championship game. Purnell, who was named the Shawnee County Male Athlete of the Year as a senior, has been in on 17 tackles (six solos) with one tackle for loss, two pass breakups and two quarterback hurries for the Wildcats.
TALAYAH THOMAS, Topeka High/Northwestern Oklahoma State -- A 5-7 point guard, the former three-sport Trojan standout has made an immediate impact for Northwestern Oklahoma State, which is 3-0 on the season. Thomas, who played football, basketball and soccer at Topeka High, has started all three games for the Rangers, playing 28.7 minutes a game while averaging 7.7 points, 3.0 assists and recording three steals.
AMAYA TILLMAN, Shawnee Heights/Louisville -- Tillman, a 6-3 senior middle blocker, helped lead Louisville volleyball to a Final Four appearance a year ago and the 26-2 and No. 4-ranked Cardinals will be at home Friday to open this year's NCAA Tournament against Samford. Tillman was named the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year for the second time in her career this season after helping Louisville win the ACC co-championship while leading the conference in blocks per set (1.53, 141 overall). Tillman, who is ranked No. 6 nationally, had a season-high of 10 blocks in a match and has had five matches with five or more blocks.
CAMRYN TURNER, Seaman/Kansas -- A 5-foot-8 sophomore setter, Turner has helped the Kansas volleyball team post an 18-10 record en route to earning a second straight berth in the NCAA Tournament. Turner, who earned second-team All-Big 12 recognition, has recorded 15 double-doubles this fall, including 40 assists and 12 digs against Iowa State. Turner has registered 959 assists, 272 digs, 97 kills and 22 service aces. Turner and the Jayhawks will open their NCAA Tournament appearance on Thursday in Lincoln, Neb. against Miami.
TY ZENTNER, Shawnee Heights/Kansas State -- Zentner was a basketball state champion for Shawnee Heights in 2017 as well as a standout in soccer and football before excelling for Kansas State as a punter and kicker. Zentner has played a big role this fall for the 9-3 Wildcats, who will face TCU on Saturday in the Big 12 championship game, including a 44.6-yard average on 47 punts, with a long of 72 yards, 17 punts of 50 yards or more and 22 punts inside the 20-yard-line. Zentner is also 8 of 8 on field goal attempts, with a long of 53 yards, while recording 48 touchbacks on 77 kickoffs for the Wildcats. Zentner was recently named a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, which is presented to the top punter in the nation.