Senior athletes bring the competition this year

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Winters High School is more than a bastion of academics. The rough, rowdy and resilient Winters Warriors are also dedicated and fierce athletes other schools should know to fear by now. The Class of 2022 has no shortage of such athletes, and they made the most out of the first full year of competition since the pandemic.

What sets WHS apart from many schools is the number of three-sport athletes. WHS Athletic Director Daniel Ward said the year before the pandemic hit, WHS had 55 three-sport athletes out of a student population of 450 while Davis Senior High School only had one out of a student population of about 3,000.

Unfortunately, the number of three-sport Warriors has decreased since for one reason or another. While Ward hopes those numbers increase next year, he doesn’t let it soften the praises he sings for the 2022 senior athletes.

“I’m proud of the seniors because they had to deal with more than any other senior class. Most of them missed half their sophomore year or whole junior year of sports. So, to come back and compete and play and finish seasons is special,” said Ward. “For a lot of kids I think a year off of sports was good because our numbers athletically were as high this year as they ever have been because a ton of kids wanted to come out and play sports again.”

With so many Warriors out to play, it made for a very special year with many senior athletes distinguishing themselves through the crucible of competition.

Although the record for the 2021-22 season wasn’t necessarily ideal, the senior athletes were strong on the field. So strong, in fact, that three are going on to play at the collegiate level.

“Matt Moore is going to George Fox University, Memo Valadez is going to Feather River College and Emmet Edmon is going to go play at Yuba College,” said Ward, who is the varsity head football coach. “It’s really cool, I can’t remember a year where we had three people continuing on to the next level. That’s kind of like a proud papa moment where you want to see your kids go on and play for as long as they can, and to see three people in a year is super exciting.”

Even though seniors Connor Ray and Grayson Roberts were injured, their presence was sorely missed in the lineup. Ray was serving as a team leader when he was injured in week three of the season.

“Part of the reason we struggled this season is some of our best players were hurt. So, Conner Ray was having an amazing season and was our best defensive player,” said Ward.

Roberts came out strong on the field this season, until an injury took him out of the competition.

“Another big one, too, was Grayson Roberts. He — more than just football — would have been another three-sport athlete.”

At the 112th annual Powder Puff flag football game, the senior team fell short of dominating the juniors by five points. 

Shelby Boykin was in as quarterback and fought hard to get the ball up the field against the juniors quick defense. Jozlyn Rooney and Rylie Schroeder lead the team offensively, while Boykin and Jewelee’ah Garcia were valuable players for the defense team, breaking up critical plays. These four players were extremely consistent in making good plays but it was Ieva Zielmele, a foreign exchange student experiencing Powder Puff for the first time, who made the most memorable play of the night with a 90-yard run on an interception.

The senior water Warriors also made a splash in the competition this year. Although there were only three, they made their head coach Devin Tice proud.

“Ensley Barbosa made a lot of improvement from the start of the season. She was always responsible about telling me what practices she could make and swam events in the meets when asked. David Rivas got very close to qualifying for the divisional meet. He was always bubbly and joyous at practices and meets and definitely one of the most social and talkative on the team,” Tice said.

Tice gave high praise for team captain Diego Valencia.

“Diego Valencia was a standout senior swimmer because he made it to the top 16 masters meet and placed in his individual events. That was fourth in the 50 freestyle and got third in the 100 butterfly,” Tice said. “Diego was a team captain and was high spirited at practice and fun to coach.”

The WHS cheer squad jumped into competitive cheer this year under the leadership of senior cheer captains Jasmine Jimenez, Aislynn Trojanowski and Brooklyn Mariani.

Jimenez cheered for WHS for three years. Her dedication and hard work is what allowed her to be selected as one of this season’s captains.

“Jasmine is an all around stellar cheerleader. In dance and sideline cheers she stands out because of her energy, enthusiasm and technique. When stunting, Jasmine’s strength and stamina are key. All season long she has pushed herself and her stunt team to achieve advanced level stunts,” said coach Sterling Davis. Jimenez was also been selected to go to Hawaii for the UCA Spirit Parade this year.

“Aislynn always gives it her all as cheer captain. She has been a great leader so far this year and I’m excited to see what she brings the rest of her senior year,” said assistant coach Rachel Calvert. 

Mariani cheered all four years during her educational career at WHS.

“Brooklyn is a skilled and fearless flyer who is a selfless athlete and knows the meaning of teamwork. Even though she is our most experienced flyer, she is always willing to choose what’s best for the team before placing herself in the spotlight. Brooklyn’s dedication to cheer is what has made her one of our top athletes,” said Davis.

Jimenez, Trojanowski and Mariani used their combined years of cheerleading to provide the senior powder puff squad with the skills and technique they needed to nail their halftime show. This year’s senior powder puff cheer squad included  Atanacio Garcia, Easton Rivera, Joe Aguiar, Jayden McNeal, Kaden Tuttle and Logan Spears.

The seniors on the women’s varsity soccer team were also integral to success. For head coach Kim Olivas, watching them grow into better players over four years was as satisfying as any win.

“Joanna Cuevas Sandoval — or ‘Jojo’ as we call her — was a two-year captain and all-league defensive player. She’ll be joining the soccer program at Solano Community College next year while she decides what her next step is. Then Karina Echeverria was a captain and an all-league player. It’s been a joy seeing Karina go from a shy freshman struggling with confidence into a strong force on the field. She’ll be attending CSU Sacramento next year,” said Olivas. “Jewelee’ah Garcia struggled with a nagging knee injury all four years. Her positive outlook, coachability and sheer willpower made her a big asset to the team. She’s going to Grand Canyon University in Arizona next year.”

With new head coaches taking the reins for both varsity teams, the Warriors were no strangers to racking up wins on the basketball court.

For the women’s team, head coach Jeff Christian said he was delighted in their growth as players and people. Although there was only one senior, exchange student Ieva Ziemele, she helped the team to a successful season.

“These were a group of incredible young ladies,” lauded Christian. “They loved each other and I’ve never coached a team where the players were all in for each other all season long.”

The four seniors on the varsity men’s squad also made an impression on their coach Brendan McShea.

“Matt Moore is a leader and just does it the right way. He’s the guy who took the most charges, was super unselfish and led the team in assists as well. Teammates loved him and he was very easy to coach. Davis Reyes was the toughest kid on the team and guarded the best wing player every day. He did a great job being a voice on the court and on the sideline holding his teammates accountable,” said McShea. “Diego (Valencia) was a tough guy on the inside. He did all the tough, dirty stuff you need from guys near the hoop and showed teammates how to play hard. Then, there’s Joe Aguiar. The guy just works. He’s super successful off the court and still put in all the time and effort for basketball and no one got better or gave more of a spark when we needed to get the team hyped up.”

Seniors were key components for the varsity softball team as well. With only three due to grades and/or injury, Emily Aguiar, Katie Johnson and Sierra Berry were proverbial jacks-of-all-trades for head coach Buddy Berry.

“They all played multiple positions this year due to inexperience and injuries. Emily played first base, second base, right field and center field. Katie played third base, center field and left field. And Sierra played catcher, pitcher, first base, third base, shortstop, center field and left field,” explained Berry. “They were all wiling to be diverse and agile to help the team in any way possible. They were also captains on and off the field, and Sierra led the team in RBI’s and walks and was selected to the 2022 Evening Optimist Club High School Softball All-Star game.”

For new varsity men’s head coach Austin Calvert, his five seniors truly exemplified what it means to be a Winters baseball player. To him, simply being their coach was an honor unto itself.

“Matt Moore is an absolute competitor and a go-to leader. When Matty has the ball in his hand, you know he’s going to give his teammates everything he can. He’s ‘Winters baseball’ to his core. Conner Ray, in a lot of ways, is the backbone of our team. He’s constantly contributing RBI’s and quality at-bats. His leadership has been an immeasurable impact on our success,” hailed Calvert. “Davis Reyes has battled through some injuries but never lets that stop him from contributing and supporting the team. Ian McCrary has been one of my favorite guys since December and you will find his picture in the dictionary next to the word ‘coachable.’ He’s constantly striving to better himself on and off the field. Then Grayson Roberts brings confidence and energy to the team. Previous injuries have kept him out of uniform this season, but that hasn’t stopped his impact on our program.”

While there are other teams with amazing seniors on them, unfortunately not every coach has been available for comment. If there’s anything one can derive from the words and feelings regarding these seniors, however, it’s that they embody the grit, selflessness and determination of the generations of Winters Warriors who played before them.

Crystal Apilado contributed to this article.

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