Will Van Epps has been a great athlete at Kenyon-Wanamingo and maybe an even better person

May 26—KENYON — Will Van Epps has always wanted to do things the right way. And if there is something going on in the Kenyon-Wanamingo School District, there is a good chance he may be part of it.

Van Epps learned at a young age to be "a good person" and an active one as well. The Kenyon-Wanamingo senior has excelled in three sports for the Knights.

The 18-year-old was a standout for the K-W baseball team this spring, the staff ace as well as elite hitter. He was named the Gopher Conference Player of the Year in baseball after finishing second for the award as a junior.

He helped the Knights win a conference baseball title outright for the first time since 1993, but sadly for Van Epps and his teammates, the season ended quickly once again in section play. K-W was the No. 3 seed in Section 1, Class 1A, but for a second straight season they were eliminated in the first round, this time with a 2-0 setback to No. 14 Mabel-Canton on Wednesday.

Despite the loss, Van Epps said: "I feel like this season has gone really well for me, but I'm especially proud of my teammates right now."

Last fall Van Epps was the quarterback on the football team that reached the Section 1, Class 1A title game before falling to Fillmore Central. In wrestling, he had a thrilling senior season as he won the Class 1A state championship at 215 pounds in dramatic fashion, rallying to take the lead in the title match in the closing seconds.

Over the years he has gone back and forth between baseball and wrestling as his favorite sport.

"Deep down I've always had a love for baseball," he said.

He was recruited in wrestling, but that pretty much stopped once he committed to playing college baseball at Division II Minnesota State University, Mankato.

It was also during the winter sports season that Van Epps was the male winner of the Academics, Arts, and Athletics Award for Region One A. The award, sponsored by the Minnesota State High School League, goes to high school seniors with a 3.0 or higher grade-point average who participate in MSHSL-sponsored athletic programs, and fine arts activities such as theater, speech, music, and debate.

"One of the main things my parents drilled into me was being involved, being a good person, getting good grades and pretty much everything else will follow after that," he said. "... I feel like getting that award has come full circle for me because I can say 'I did my job.' It was definitely an awesome experience."

"He's just represented K-W so well," K-W baseball coach Kirby Van de Walker said. "He's in everything."

Van de Walker said Van Epps' presence looms large while walking the school halls at Kenyon-Wanamingo.

"He's a guy who's more than just a player to us," Van de Walker said. "He's a guy that the boys really look up to. And not just the players on his varsity team, but players in the program and kids in fifth and sixth grade that watch him walk in the halls."

"That just boils down to what I would want as a little kid," Van Epps said. "I always wanted a high schooler to come and say hi to me and give me a high-five."

As a kid, Van Epps quickly developed a passion for sports. Van de Walker realized he had a special player when Van Epps made his "varsity" debut for the Kenyon American Legion baseball team following his freshman year. Van Epps was given a start on the mound against Medford in a playoff elimination game and he delivered with a shutout.

Despite being an individual state champion in wrestling, Van Epps thinks he is better at baseball.

"I think my training in wrestling has helped me a lot in baseball," he said. "I guess it builds athleticism and it's helped me a lot in that way."

As a sophomore, Van Epps was 5-foot-10 and he wrestled at 195 pounds. As a junior, he was about 6-1 and wrestled at 220. He is now 6-3 and wrestled at 215 as a senior. He currently weighs about 225.

Van Epps really amped up his offseason baseball training in the past year and a half. Starting in the fall of his junior year, he spent a lot of time in Rochester working with Mitch Brown, a former minor-league pitcher. Van Epps also had a nice growth spurt during that period and the velocity in his fastball went from about 83 miles per hour to 92.

Besides a fastball, he also throws a curveball, slider, changeup and a sinker.

Van Epps also trains with Guye Senjem, another former minor-league player, who hails from Kenyon. That was very beneficial to Van Epps' hitting.

Van Epps had to battle some elbow issues as a senior. During the regular season, he went 4-0 with a 2.24 ERA — with six of eight earned runs coming in one start where his elbow flared up — with 56 strikeouts in just 25 innings. He threw a five-inning no-hitter with 13 strikeouts when K-W clinched the Gopher Conference championship with a win over United South Central.

Van Epps has batted .335 with three homers, four doubles, a team-high 22 runs scored, 16 RBIs and he has received 18 walks, including one intentional walk with runners on first and second.

"Will has worked tremendously hard to get where he is," Van de Walker said. "Baseball is obviously something he loves and it's up at the top of his priority list."

Besides his three varsity sports, Van Epps also enjoys playing golf. This summer he will get in a few rounds on the links. But he will also be playing amateur baseball with the Dundas Dukes and for the Kenyon American Legion team as he prepares for Minnesota State. He will also be a coaching mentor to youth players in Rochester.

"These past 13 years, playing football, baseball and wrestling with my friends, it's never been a dull moment," he said. "It's always awesome."