Local high schools recently announced their athletes of the year, including mostly seniors who were selected by their schools’ coaches for their skills, effort, leadership and dedication to their teammates.
Four years of varsity softball and three years of cross-country have given Tracy High senior Ellie Fisher the confidence to succeed as a softball player and business finance major at University of Santa Clara.
Fisher said that the John C. Kimball Senior Outstanding Athlete Award for Women award was an affirmation of her dedication to Bulldog athletics.
“I’ve not only learned to be a better athlete, I’ve learned to be a better student-athlete academically,” she said.
Fisher added that she couldn’t imagine high school life without the competition and camaraderie of athletics.
“I just love sports so much. You meet a whole bunch of people from different groups, too.”
Friday night football was the high point of the week for Tracy High senior quarterback Damon Stroup. That experience reached its peak Oct. 25 when the Bulldogs beat Lincoln High 41-39, the key win in Tracy’s championship season.
Stroup earned the Jake Longmire Senior Blanket Award through four years of football and basketball, plus a role as a sprinter on the track and field team in his senior year.
He appreciates that sports has a mix of success and adversity.
“I think athletic teaches you to grow as a man and teaches you how to solve problems when things aren’t going right,” he said.
Stroup is headed to NCAA Division III Luther College in Iowa to play football and study business.
Ever since her freshman year, Cassidy Waters has made West High’s Pinkie Phillips Aquatics Center her second home.
Four years of water polo and swimming gave Waters her favorite high school memories, including making a penalty shot in double overtime to beat Tracy High in water polo last year. West’s swim team gave her another moment to remember when she won the 100-yard freestyle at this year’s Tri-City Athletic League championships May 3 at Tokay High in Lodi, a touch ahead of her opponent from St. Mary’s High.
“All my teammates came over and hugged me. It was so emotional,” Waters said.
She will continue competing in both sports at San Joaquin Delta College as she studies English and pursues a degree in education.
Four years of basketball at West High taught point guard Kenneth Daye the value of persistence.
“If you feel down or feel like you’re not good enough, always push yourself, because you never know what’s going to happen at the end,” Daye said.
It’s a philosophy that made Daye one of three varsity players in West history to break the 1,000-point mark as he scored 1,068 points in three years on the varsity team.
Daye was motivated, he said, by his opportunity to represent his school and the Wolf Pack basketball team.
“I talk to people, and any questions they have or anything they want to tell me, I’ll listen to them,” he said. “I’m always supportive and encouraging to others.”
He will study general education and play basketball at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, aiming to transfer to a four-year college with a strong basketball program.
Kimball High senior Francesca Loayza’s speed and endurance as a youth soccer player pointed her toward the long-distance run.
“I just seemed really cool at first, and people said it looked like I would be OK at it. I just tried it out,” she said.
In three years of cross-country and four years of track and field, she has regularly been among the Valley Oak League top distance runners, winning the 1,600 meter run at this year’s VOL finals on May 10.
She doesn’t mind if folks think a love for distance running is out of the ordinary.
“It’s an endurance sport, and it feels good to do something that you know most people can’t do every day,” she said.
Loayza will attend U.C. Santa Cruz to pursue her goal of becoming a pediatrician. She will compete on the U.C. Santa Cruz NCAA Division III cross-country and track and field teams.
Trent Nicholson’s family name was already prominent when he played football his freshman and sophomore years in the stadium named for his grandfather, Don Nicholson.
“I definitely thought that was pretty cool, seeing my grandpa’s name on the stadium,” the Kimball High senior said.
Now Trent Nicholson has made a name for himself at the school. For the past three years, he has been the Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champion in his weight class. All three of those years, he qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation state championships, and he was the first Jaguars wrestler to go to the CIF meet.
Nicholson expects the discipline of wrestling to serve him well as he prepares to wrestle and study firefighting at Sierra Junior College in Rocklin.
“It teaches you about responsibilities. You can’t just get by,” he said. “It makes you stronger mentally.”
Athletics gave senior Anneliese Bradley her chance to make history at Millennium High.
As a freshman in 2011, she was on the Millennium girls soccer team that won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII title, a first for the charter school.
The next fall, as a cross-country runner, she became the first Falcon to go to California Interscholastic Federation state competition.
“I’ve always played soccer, but it was not until high school that I decided I wanted to do cross-country,” Bradley said.
Bradley is heading south to UCLA to major in social studies or law, and she hopes that her experience with Falcon athletics will set the tone for college and beyond.
“Athletics are a big part of my life and my role here at Millennium. It keeps me motivated to do better in school, to keep my grades up and to stay involved.”
Millennium High sports showed senior Daniel Gutierrez how a school builds esteem through dedication and a desire to win.
“When I first came to Millennium, athletics weren’t that big,” Gutierrez said. “It was growing, but now we’re starting to win more and we’re getting more athletic people.”
Gutierrez, a three-year soccer player at Millennium, was on the 2011 team that won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII title. He also played baseball for three years and went out for football for the first time in his senior year.
“At first it was intimidating, but a lot of my friends were involved. It was something to learn,” he said.
In the fall, he will attend San Francisco State University, where he will study biology with the goal of becoming a dentist. He also hopes to continue playing soccer.
Delta Charter senior Shania Rivera became a Dragons athlete at the start of the 2013-14 basketball season after transferring from Liberty High in Brentwood.
She quickly established herself on a team that would bring the Delta Charter its best season in four years of girls basketball.
The Dragons boasted a 16-11 record, going 12-2 for second place in the Mountain Valley League.
Then she established herself a leader on the girls soccer team this spring as a midfielder and team captain
“She definitely was a leader on the field from the time she stepped on the field,” soccer coach Amy Schut said.
“She’s the one I would have mark up on the other team’s best players. It was inspiring to the other girls to see someone perform at that level consistently. Every game, she played at 100 percent.”
Dramell Pitts transferred to Delta Charter last year from Lathrop High in time to join a Dragons basketball team that won the Mountain Valley League 2012-13 title.
This year, Pitts, a junior, was again a team leader as captain and point guard, helping the Dragons go 20-7 overall with a second-place finish in the MVL (11-3).
He scored 57 3-point shots and averaged 18.6 points per game. While he led the team in most offensive statistics, Pitts credited his coaches and teammates for the team’s success.
“Everyone treats you with respect and the coaches will ask your opinion,” he said. “They care a lot about their players.”
To him, basketball as part of a lifestyle that values hard work and discipline even off the court.
“If you really love the game, you’ll stay on top of everything,” he said.
Next year at Delta Charter, he will work toward finding a college where he can continue to play basketball and pursue a career as a college basketball scout.
Contact Bob Brownne at email@example.com or 830-4227.