Most high school athletes never get to wear a state championship ring.
Kristen Nuss has now won five of them.
So who can blame the Mount Carmel senior point guard for wearing her uniform from Hammond to her New Orleans home Friday night after capturing state championship No. 5?
She deserved to wear her No. 3 Cubs jersey just a little while longer.
This was her swan song as a Cub.
Friday night’s performance was her exclamation point on a career that includes three volleyball state championships and two more in basketball.
Nuss, who’s listed at 5-foot-6 but plays so much bigger, saved her best for last, scoring 20 points and dishing out nine assists in Friday’s 58-49 championship win over Denham Springs.
Simply put, she was the engine that made the Mount Carmel machine go.
She was gutsy, even when her guts didn’t want her to be.
She started battling a stomach illness Wednesday.
It got worse by Friday during the shootaround before the Class 5A championship game.
“It was rough, up and down, like waves,” Nuss said of the illness. “But during the game, it felt pretty good. I guess the adrenaline kicked in.”
Nobody in the crowd would have ever known she was sick as she constantly darted through the Denham Springs defense and found open teammates as the Cubs led from start to finish in the 11-point victory.
She was an obvious choice for Most Outstanding Player, giving her a rare double. She was also named Most Outstanding Player at the volleyball state championship last fall.
She came oh-so-close to winning another state title as a junior when she played on the soccer team. But the Cubs lost in the championship match.
Mount Carmel coach Jamie Thomatis isn’t surprised by Nuss’ success.
“She’s soft-spoken and incredible athlete with such a high basketball IQ,” Thomatis said.
But the one thing that stands out the most is her competitiveness.
Thomatis recalled a pencil-flipping tournament that the team played before the playoffs began. The game requires players to put pencils on the back of their hands, toss them in the air and try to catch them. You start with two pencils and work your way up to 10.
Nuss struggled in pool play. But during a break, Thomatis noticed Nuss and her playing partner on the side, trying to come up with a better strategy.
“They came from behind to win the tournament,” Thomatis said.
Nuss said competitive nature is just in her blood.
“I think I was born with it,” she said. “It’s on both sides. Everyone was an athlete. Growing up in that environment definitely helped.”
Her parents, George and Audrey, both were athletes in high school. And her grandfather, Ralph “Putsy” Caballero, played in the major leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies, making his debut at the young age of 16. Nuss wears No. 3 just like he did.
But Nuss doesn’t give all the credit to her parents. She dishes out compliments to her Mount Carmel teammates about as willingly as she gives out assists. She had 21 total assists in the semifinals and championship.
“It’s really a team effort,” Nuss said. “There is no individual play on our team. Ellie (Holman) and Lauren (Bodino) and Mal (Gardner) get the rebounds. Megan (Donaldson) and Paige (Franckiewicz) shoot the shots. Jordan (Berry) and I are more of the point guards. It’s just a collective effort. It’s great to do it with this team.”
It was her last time playing with those teammates. And her last time wearing a basketball jersey period.
She has chosen to instead play beach volleyball at LSU.
Both coaches who watched her play Friday night agree that she could help some college team out on the hardwood.
“She is one of the smoothest guards I’ve ever seen on this level,” Denham Springs coach Shelly Laprairie said. “She is tough. The best one I’ve seen in a while on this level.”
Thomatis, an assistant at Davidson College at the time, watched film of Mount Carmel’s state championship win from two seasons ago on film.
“I thought I may have found a steal for us,” Thomatis said. “That was short-lived because I found out she was just as incredible on the volleyball court.”
She has three state championship in that sport to prove it, winning state titles as a freshman and back-to-back as a junior and senior.
Oh, and she named Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year in volleyball as well.
She wears one of the volleyball state championship rings on her left hand. She wears the basketball one from her sophomore year on her right hand. She keeps the other two in a jewelry box.
After Friday night, she’ll be adding one more to her collection.
One last one for the thumb.
At the end of the night, it was bittersweet, especially when it came time to take her Mount Carmel uniform off one last time.
“It was a sad feeling taking it off,” she said. “These teammates have been such good friends. We’re like sisters. It’s been an incredible journey.”