Reporter climbing mountain

One was voted “America’s Sexiest Sportscaster” by Playboy in 2007. And the other isn’t bad on the eyes, either.

Erin Andrews and Bonnie Bernstein have their fair share of admirers, with many male fans gushing over their looks, but they’re also respected television sports reporters.

They have proven beauty and substance aren’t mutually exclusive concepts, and Molly Sullivan hopes her work speaks louder to viewers than her model looks.

Sullivan, a Green Valley High School graduate and former nationally ranked long-distance swimmer, has dreamed of becoming a TV sports reporter since filing event reports into a pink hairbrush and family video camera at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

“Sports is my passion, and I hope that is what comes through the TV screen,” she said.

Sullivan, 28, has been covering UNLV athletics for The Mtn. for nearly a year. Network executives are seriously considering her for football sideline reporting this season.

They know Sullivan’s looks attract male viewers, but they see her as more than an attention grabber. Sullivan is one of the network’s rare reporters who not only conducts interviews, but produces and edits stories before sending them to the Denver studio.

“She’s quick on her feet, and nothing seems to ruffle her,” said Steve Hurlburt, executive producer and director of programming for The Mtn.

Sullivan is a part timer for The Mtn., as well as entities such as E! News and Life&Style Weekly. She also was part of the cast on the E! reality show “Paradise City” in 2006 and 2007, and co-wrote “Las Vegas Little Red Book: A Girl’s Guide to the Perfect Vegas Getaway.”

The day nears when Sullivan must decide whether to go full time into sports or entertainment.

“Molly has a huge upside depending on what side she pursues,” Mtn. news director Chris Olivere said.

Sullivan’s preference is sports, and even as an 8-year-old swimming newcomer, she spoke into the camera as the starter yelled, “Take your mark!”

But Sullivan, who moved from Montana to Southern Nevada when she was 9, was interested in more than speaking into the camera. She also devoted her life to competition and comes from an athletic background. Her dad, Tom, was a multisport athlete at Montana. Her mom, Debbie, who went to Montana State, coached high school track.

Her parents recognized Sullivan’s promise in swimming and knew she would have trouble reaching her potential if she stayed in the valley. That realization became especially obvious when her Las Vegas Gold swim coach, John Bitter, took over the renowned Santa Clara (Calif.) Swim Club.

So Sullivan, who had just finished her sophomore year at Green Valley, followed Bitter to the Bay Area, swimming for the club and attending Cupertino High School.

“I knew what I needed to accomplish,” Sullivan said. “I just wasn’t doing so in Vegas. (Swimming has) gotten better, but at the time, I couldn’t get the level of training that I needed.”

She took advantage of that training to become a prized recruit. The 1997 junior national champion in the 1,650-meter freestyle chose North Carolina over Arizona, Stanford and UCLA.

Before heading to Chapel Hill, Sullivan returned to Green Valley for the final semester of her senior year and graduated as a Gator. She did not swim her senior season because she said parents of other competitors at Cupertino and Green Valley raised questions regarding her eligibility.

There were no such concerns at North Carolina, and Sullivan succeeded immediately by winning the 1999 Atlantic Coast Conference title in the 1,650 free as a freshman.

Sullivan qualified for four NCAA Championships and the 2000 Olympic Trials, but she failed to make the U.S. team in the 800 free. She said the magnitude of the event in Indianapolis hit hard, and concentrating became difficult.

“It didn’t seem real, and that was probably not a good thing,” Sullivan said.

She returned to Las Vegas after graduating in 2002. After an internship with KLAS-TV (Channel 8), she focused primarily on entertainment reporting, starting with the “Vegas Minute” for KTLA in Los Angeles and other major markets. That led to many similar shows.

Then The Mtn. opportunity arose last year, and Sullivan was given a three-story tryout. She approached the first two with her conversationalist entertainment style, but was told she needed to be “more assertive.” Sullivan accomplished that with her third story, on former Gov. Bob Miller’s sports connections.

“I think after that, (with) the Denver folks, I got a little bit more respect,” Sullivan said. “I am a journalist first and foremost. I think that’s what separates me from a lot of the other entertainment reporters. They don’t write their own things. I pride myself in the fact that I do write everything that I report on.”

She can write, she can report and she can produce.

That doesn’t stop a Web site such as SidelineHotties.com from posting a short biography and photos of her. It’s a compliment and an insult, but Sullivan knows with her looks, that’s part of the package.

“If you look at me, I don’t look like a typical sports junkie, but I am,” Sullivan said. “But I think once I open my mouth and they can tell I’ve done my research and I know the game and I know the players, I would hope the respect follows.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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