It’s been a rough couple of years for UNLV’s football and men’s basketball teams, but some of the Rebels’ other programs have fielded highly competitive squads. UNLV is typically strong in the Olympic sports, and with fall seasons now in full swing, this year is no exception. Here are four standout Rebel athletes to watch this year.
Clayton Alenik Men’s Tennis
The UNLV junior tennis player enjoyed his best season in 2019, going 15-1 in singles competition, and he credits several reasons for his sophomore success. He fine-tuned his one-handed backhand, for starters. That allowed him to play a more aggressive brand of tennis and control matches.
But the more important development might have been mental. Alenik cites a daily yoga routine for helping him take his game to a new level. “I got a lot of confidence under me,” he says. “A lot of it was just buckling down. I was mentally stronger this season than I ever have been. A lot of it was all about routine, too. I was doing yoga and meditation every day, and that helped in getting my game more consistent.”
After leading the Rebels to the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament, Alenik was named to the academic all-conference team and spent his summer interning for the Las Vegas Rollers, an expansion franchise in the World Team Tennis league. The Rollers played their home matches at Orleans Arena, and Alenik did a little bit of everything, from office work to donning the mascot costume.
Although the Rebels’ team season doesn’t start until early 2020, top players such as Alenik spend this time of year representing the university in individual tournaments. Alenik is unsure about his tennis future beyond his remaining two seasons at UNLV, but he’s sure he’ll stick with the game in some capacity.
“I might want to turn pro, but it’s a big, bad world out there,” Alenik says. “Tennis has given me endless opportunities to travel around the country, to get into college on scholarship, and it’s allowed me to make so many connections as well. It’s a lifetime sport, so I could jump on a court with a CEO and talk over a game. I’m definitely going to leverage it for the opportunity it’s given me.”
2020 spring schedule to be determined.
Mariena Hayden Women’s Volleyball
Hayden’s season has started slow because of injury, but once she’s back on the court and up to speed, she’ll give the Rebels a serious edge around the net. The 6-foot outside hitter was one of the country’s top offensive players last year as a sophomore, leading the NCAA in aces while setting a school record for kills. Hayden, a Minnesota native, should be ready in time for conference play, and that’s when the Rebels will really need her. She was named All-Mountain West first team last year and should have UNLV primed to contend for a league title this fall.
Next home games: September 19, vs. Arizona State; September 21 vs. Kansas. Tickets: $5, unlvtickets.com
Avi’Tal Wilson-Perteete Women’s Cross Country
Perteete is better known for her exploits in track and field, where she set the UNLV record book ablaze during the 2018 season with a school-best time of 2:04.71 for the indoor 800 meters. Then, at the Junior Outdoor Championships, she finished third in the 800—a race she has already won three times at the Mountain West Championships (2018 and 2019 outdoor, 2019 indoor). Now the Weekly Best of Vegas winner will turn her attention to cross country; Wilson-Perteete competed in three XC events in 2018 and finished 76th at the Mountain West Conference Championships.
Next meet: Capital Cross Challenge (6K), September 28 in Sacramento, California.
Paige Almendariz Women’s Soccer
Few Rebels in any sport are as dependable as Almendariz, who is now in her third season as a starter on the backline for the women’s soccer team. She has racked up seven assists during her career, and last season she scored the winning goal in UNLV’s 2-1 victory over Fresno State. Almendariz is also a rising star off the field—an influencer with more than 70,000 Instagram followers.
Next home games: September 20 vs. Northern Arizona; September 22 vs. Utah Valley. Tickets: $5, unlvtickets.com
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.