Prep Sports: Darien and Olivia Rankin named Athletes of Year
By Ronnie Gallagher
Know the best way to tell if you’re a candidate for the Salisbury Post’s Rowan County Athlete of the Year award?
No. 1: You must have the stats, the all-star games, the all-state teams, the state championship rings and the Division I scholarships.
Hey, they’re both named Rankin, right?
No. 2: Athletes of the Year are so familiar to the local sports fan that they don’t need a last name. Just mention the first name and everyone knows who you’re talking about.
No.3: The real tale of the tape, however, may be the scrapbooks.
When you have enough photos and articles to fill one, you know you’ve often been in the spotlight.
Take this year’s Salisbury Post Rowan County Athletes of the Year, Darien Rankin and Olivia Rankin, both of Salisbury High.
Darien’s father showed me his scrapbook. It was thick and packed with articles and photos.
Darien seemed proud of that until Olivia announced at the Athlete of the Year photo shoot, “I’ve got four.”
“Four?” Darien chirped in amazement.
Open those scrapbooks and you know why the cousins were recognized as having the best overall sports year in the county.
The 6-foot-1 Rankin helped Salisbury to a 2AA state title as a safety in football. He was a tenacious defender and a ferocious hitter. At the end of the Hornets’ 12-3 season, he was the only Salisbury player named first-team all-state. He earned a scholarship to North Carolina.
In basketball, he led Salisbury to a 20-7 record despite coming out late. He owned the Moir Christmas Classic, winning MVP honors for the third straight year. He was named Rowan County Player of the Year after averaging 15.1 points. He led the Hornets into the Western Regional.
In track, he won county titles in the long jump and high jump. He tied for a state title in the high jump (6 feet, 6 inches), the only Hornet to sniff first place (Rankin lost by criteria and was officially second). His best leap of the season was 6-8.
He proudly shows off his two state title rings, one in track last year, and the one in football this year.
And then, there’s Olivia.
The 6-1 center was so good in basketball, it was easy to forget how talented she was in volleyball (all-county and all-conference) and as a soccer goaltender (all-county and all-conference) for Matt Parrish.
“Basketball’s my favorite sport but I have fun playing volleyball and soccer,” she noted.
Olivia displayed her two state title rings in basketball. Always consistent, she averaged 12 points and helped the Hornets to 56 wins in 57 games over the last two seasons. She received a full ride to Charlotte and will play in the East-West All-Star game in July.
“I don’t know if you can put into words what each of them meant to their teams as far as leadership and attitude and being a winner,” athletic director Joe Pinyan said.
The photo shoot was a chance to relax. They went against each other in the other’s sports. There was plenty of laughter and cajoling.
Darien hesitated when asked if he could take Olivia in soccer or volleyball.
“We’ve played a couple of volleyball games together,” Darien said. “She definitely knows a lot more than I do.”
Could you score on her in soccer?
Basketball is another story.
On defense: “I’d definitely make her go left,” he said.
On offense: “I’d bring her out to the perimeter and blow right past her.”
They tried arm wrestling but not before Olivia pulled up Darien’s sleeves to show some bulging muscles, the same muscles he used to become a force in football.
“I’d miss the first quarter because volleyball did parking,” Olivia laughed. “But I supported my cousin. I had his number (2) on my cheek.”
Pinyan said both Rankins are role models off the field, too. Olivia has very good grades. Darien realized as a sophomore he had to step it up in the classroom.
“The coaches instilled in me to be a student-athlete, not just an athlete,” Darien said. “They told me, ‘You won’t go anywhere if you don’t have the grades.’ My family encouraged me and I didn’t want to let them down.”
Rankin missed some football time as a sophomore for breaking a rule, but Pinyan pointed out adversity makes you a better person.
“Darien had to realize books are an important part of this thing. He could’ve pitched a fit and said, ‘I’m never playing again.’ But he became a better person in the classroom.”
Because of the classroom, we were able to enjoy them in sports. And they were big names in every season.
“We stress you need to be more than a one-sport athlete and Darien and Olivia rank high in my book,” Pinyan said. “It has been non-stop for them.”
That’s non-step playing and non-stop watching each other.
“It’s a great thing to know that two family members can have outstanding accomplishments in the same year,” Olivia said.
And with that, Darien and Olivia walked off, already thinking of where to put their Athlete of the Year plaques.
And where they can buy another scrapbook. There’s more photos and articles to remember two sensational high school careers.