Presenting the 2013 Valley Roadrunner Athlete of the Year nominees
June 13, 2013Versatility is an athletic trait that is often underrated.
Specialization has become the norm in the sports world, especially at the highest levels. NFL quarterbacks spend nearly all their waking hours devouring game film, analyzing every minute detail, like the angle of their plant foot as they plant to throw a five-yard curl outside the left hash mark. An NHL goalie's career can be made or lost in an inch, and so they study film to know the tendencies of every potential shooter they will face in a shootout.
I've even heard stories about MLB players doing eye exercises to help better pick up the pitch out of the pitcher's hand—Alex Rodriguez, in particular, would stand at home plate, hours before the game, with his bat in his hands, the logo only inches away from his face. He would then quickly turn his head and focus on a spot deep in centerfield, forcing his eyes to change focus, before looking back at the logo on the bat to change focus again.
And we see these specific skills on display in the ever-changing definitions of a player's position on his team. We used to have quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers, but now we have option quarterbacks, third-down backs, H-backs, slot receivers, blocking tight ends and the never-quite-specific-enough definition for the "hybrid" players who specialize in things like catching a screen pass for a first down on fourth-and-27.
This hyper-attention to detail is the only (legal) slim advantage that professional athletes can obtain, especially because specialization is happening earlier and earlier.
We see it throughout the college level of sports, and increasingly at the high school level as well. Baseball players are becoming defensive specialists, designated hitters, starting pitchers and relief pitchers. Basketball has shifted from "put the tall kids under the basket and have the short kids dribble the ball" to a zone-defense muddle that forces coaches to run screens, create passing lanes and, ultimately, find players who don't fit the traditional mold to counteract the tactics of the defense.
In some places, high school athletics aren't much different than what we see in the NCAA. Right here in San Diego County, there are a number of private schools that are able to recruit players to fill specific spots on specific teams. It's becoming more and more common to see schools with names like Cathedral Catholic, Mater Dei Catholic, St. Augustine, La Jolla Country Day and Army/Navy Academy listed at the top of the CIF section standings at the end of the season, and one trip to any of their playoff games will tell you why.
But the little schools are still out there, fielding teams with local kids who grew up playing together—not just learning how to pitch, or how to stop a water polo shot, or how to land a backhand winner just inside the line—but learning how to play sports.
This versatility, this willingness to learn, this ability to perform at a high level in so many different areas—this is what makes Valley Center athletes so special.
In the seven years I've been covering sports here, we've had some amazing athletes competing for our Jaguars.
But what's impressed me the most has been the number of talented athletes who have willingly sacrificed the chance to focus on one specialized area of athletics for the chance to compete with their friends, their teammates and for their community in more than one sport.
The first two winners of the Roadrunner Athlete of the Year award—Kevin Murphy in 2011 and Sidney Reilly in 2012—embodied this principle of excellence in versatility, and these traits are shown in so many of our current high school athletes.
To me, this is what it means to be a special athlete in our town. The versatility of our athletes highlights the nature of our community, its willingness to work hard in everything, and to put its neighbors, friends and teammates ahead of the individual.
Not every one of our Athlete of the Year nominees is a multi-sport athlete, but that certainly doesn't take anything away from the accomplishments of each individual.
And as I explained in the past two years, this list is based solely on athletic achievement, although I'd be lying if I said that being a nice person didn't at least play a part in the selection. Granted, it's pretty hard to find a VCHS athlete who isn't a nice person, but still—these kids in particular are all an absolute pleasure to be around.
This list is also compiled by only one person—yours truly, Sports Editor Dan Kidder—based on compiled stats, personal impressions and my own fond memories of the 2012–13 VCHS sports season. It is in no way meant to exclude or overlook the accomplishments of any particular individual—although anything designed to honor the achievements of some will, by nature, end up being exclusionary to a certain degree.
In the end, the purpose of this list is to honor the athletic achievements of our community's outstanding athletes for their hard work and contribution on the field this season.
If I've left out a deserving athlete, please feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share, in detail, the reasons why any omitted athlete should have been included.
With no further ado, here is the list of the nominees for the 2013 Roadrunner Athlete of the Year award.
* * *
Football, Basketball, Track
McInerny showed up on this list last year after an amazing football season, and that's a big part of why he's back this year.
We all know the stats—
—but his impact on the field goes beyond the numbers. Teams played against Valley Center differently when McInerny was out there. The respect opposing defenses showed the rangy receiver allowed the Jaguars to attack with the running game, and as soon as the defense's guard came down, they would hit them with a deep shot to McInerny.
His skills on the basketball court helped the Jags win their first league title, and his deceptive speed on the track—I swear it looked like he was just jogging, but all of a sudden he's running past everyone—helped him lead his team in the Valley League and CIF meets at the end of the spring season.
McInerny was the Valley League champion and CIF Division II champion in the 400m, and was also part of a 1,600m relay team that set a new school record this season.
And he even showed off his coaching skills in leading the Class of 2013 to a win in this year's Powderpuff football game, helping the speedy senior receivers utilize one of his best football routes—the hitch-and-go—to rack up four big pass completions in a 27–0 victory.
Water Polo, Basketball, Volleyball
Excelling in varsity sports takes an increasingly-dedicated individual who is willing to set other pursuits aside to focus on achieving success on the field.
Rush's character is clearly seen in his dedication to his three teams—boys water polo, basketball and volleyball—and the success he helped them achieve.
Whatever role he filled on these teams, whether as a powerful scorer in the water, as a physical presence under the basket or as a towering outside hitter charging the net, Rush approached each game with the cool confidence of a player who knows he's prepared.
He led the volleyball team in kills, he was the leading scorer for the water polo team, and he played a key role on a basketball team that finished with a league title.
But perhaps the most impressive part of Rush's season was the manner in which he accomplished so much.
His upbeat, laid-back manner and his finely-tuned skills helped establish him as a leader that his teammates followed when the pressure of the moment called for someone to step up.
That kind of clutch performance and unwavering leadership shone all the more brightly in light of the off-the-field adversity of supporting his mother's battle with breast cancer. Throughout the year, no matter what else was going on, Rush showed his dedication to his family, his teammates, his school and his community with stellar performance after stellar performance.
"Most Valuable Player" means different things to different people.
Some say that an MVP should be the player with the best stats, while others say that an MVP should be the best player on a team that has a lot of success in the post-season.
But most coaches would agree that one of the most valuable attributes a player can have is the ability to make others around them better.
Perryman showed how special she is on the basketball court by leading a team of inexperienced players through a tough season that would have made even the most dedicated player think twice about lacing up the Air Jordans.
The Lady Jaguars posted an 8–19 overall record this season and battled through their share of lopsided losses. The team lacked varsity experience and looked out of sync, especially early in the season.
But even though the results didn't always show up in the win column, it quickly became evident that the Lady Jags were getting better as the season progressed. Where at first they looked tentative and easily flustered, they soon played with poise and confidence against teams and players with a sizeable advantage in varsity experience.
Perryman's efforts were one of the keys to the progress of the team, as she averaged 19 points, five rebounds and four steals per game from the point guard position. She played with confidence and leadership, at times willing her team to rise to the occasion and often putting the team squarely on her back in clutch situations.
There aren't very many 115-pound human beings that I'd be apprehensive about meeting in a dark alley, but let's just say I hope I never get on Miller's bad side.
He's only a sophomore, but watching him compete in the 115-pound neighborhood all season revealed a wrestler who is talented beyond his years.
His mannerisms on the mat often reminded me of a cat—not the one chasing a laser-pointer dot across your kitchen linoleum; I'm talking about the kind of cat that keeps people from wandering too far into the jungle or the tall savannah grass.
Miller sized up his opponents with a few feints and dives, and it wasn't uncommon to see him crouched on all fours while his opponent tried to figure out what to do. In those spit-second moments of hesitation, Miller pounced with frightening quickness that, more often than not, left his opponent suddenly wondering why he was looking at the ceiling.
That tenacity and speed helped Miller win the 115-pound division in the CIF Masters Tournament, as well as in the CIF Division IV Tournament and the Valley League Tournament. He earned first-team All-League honors as well.
As he careened headlong into the third row of the wood-and-metal bleachers of the VCHS gym, I'm not sure Cozzi had the time to consider the leadership ramifications of his actions.
In fact, he told me after this particular volleyball game that he wasn't thinking about anything more than keeping the ball from going out and his team losing the point.
And that's the point of this little story—the fact that Cozzi made a habit of doing whatever needed to be done to help his team.
Whether he was getting everyone in the right place on the soccer pitch or perfectly setting up his big hitters at the net on the volleyball court, Cozzi's team-first attitude made him an invaluable part of the Jaguars' success.
And while some players lead with a heavy hand, Cozzi expertly walked the line of motivator and encourager on both his teams this season. He was never afraid to take a teammate aside and help him out with a play, a position or an attitude readjustment, while at the same time bringing his teammates together with elaborate pre-game dance choreography or firmly and respectfully speaking with game officials on his team's behalf.
The pride in Cozzi's voice when he talks about his coaches, his teammates and his friends makes it obvious that his own success on the field is only validated when he sees his team succeed.
Basketball, Baseball, Track
There are some pretty weird sports out there.
Depending on where in the world you go, you could compete in things like chasing a wheel of cheese down a grassy hill, or carrying your wife through an obstacle course, or chucking a telephone pole as far as you can.
And something tells me that Brett Henderson would be good at any of them.
"The kid's a natural," scouts everywhere gush about players who make the game look way easier than it should look.
Henderson is one of those naturally-gifted athletes, and one of those rare competitors who makes it look like the game is operating at his speed, not the other way around. He plays at such a high level with such ease that he tricks you into thinking that you could hop up off the bleachers and join in the game without skipping a beat. And if you were me, you'd be rolling around on the ground with a pulled…everything…before Henderson even broke a sweat.
And what separates Henderson from all the other armchair-power-forwards out there is a highly-developed work ethic. He's naturally talented, no question, but his hard work and preparation have helped him become the varsity basketball team's leading scorer, averaging 15 points per game, and one of the most reliable hitters on the baseball team with a .357 batting average, 25 hits, ten RBIs, four doubles, three triples and a home run in his senior season. He was even an outstanding pitcher, with a 5–3 record, a 1.88 earned run average, a team-best 58 strikeouts and one save. And on top of that, he was also part of the boys track team, where he was a long jumper.
So next time you find yourself picking teams for a game of kickball cricket, you might want to consider grabbing Henderson first.
Daugherty had another fantastic season, leading the No. 5 seed Lady Jaguars to the CIF quarterfinals after the team came up just one game short of winning the Valley League title.
In the quarterfinal loss to powerhouse Cathedral Catholic, Daugherty scored four goals, one assist and five exclusions, but also had two shots smack off the frame of the goal in a game in which the Lady Jags were very much the underdogs, but fought harder than a lot of teams in similar situations.
That kind of fight is a testament to the kind of leader Daugherty is when her team is in the water. The Lady Jaguars have a lot of talent, but they look to Daugherty for the intensity, the attention to detail, and the focus she has and brings out in those around her.
He's only a sophomore, but he proved to be the engine that drove the lacrosse team's offense in a year that saw the Jaguars go from one win last season to 15 this spring.
Leek ran the offense like a seasoned quarterback, sizing up the defense and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Given that the varsity boys lacrosse team just completed its second season, it's not surprising that some of the most talented players are underclassmen, especially since we have such a strong lacrosse program at the youth and middle school levels.
Leek is one of those players who brings a set of finely-tuned skills to the varsity team even at a young age. His leadership and drive led Coach Robert Talley to basically give Leek the keys to the offense. Much of the Valley Center strategy centered on getting Leek in a mismatch against a short-stick defender, and the sophomore's quick feet gave him a decisive advantage.
Field Hockey, Basketball, Lacrosse, Track
Another super sophomore in the VCHS lacrosse program, Fiehler was one of the keys in a season of unprecedented success for the Lady Jaguars.
The team made it to the CIF Division IV championship game, where they lost by only one goal. Fiehler, one of the team's captains, helped out a lot on defense, where the team counted on her to help shut down the opposition's attack.
But she left her mark on offense, specifically in the closing minutes of tight games. She made a habit of scoring late in the game, especially against juggernaut opponents Del Norte and San Marcos, two teams the Lady Jags beat late in the season on their way to the CIF title game.
Fiehler racked up a team-high 78 goals and was second on the team with 11 assists on the season.
She was also a key player in field hockey, basketball and track, where she displayed her athleticism and intelligence by playing different roles. She was a field general in field hockey, a defensive specialist in basketball and a hurdler for the track team, and she continues to get better and better in whatever role she plays.
Field Hockey, Lacrosse, Track
Kraus is an impressive athlete because of the things she doesn't do.
She's not on the field to put up stats or find the spotlight. Her job is to make the plays that don't look like much at the time, but end up having a huge impact on the game and the season.
Kraus was one of the county's best goaltenders in field hockey and lacrosse over the last two seasons, and she returned to play in net for the field hockey team last fall for another outstanding season.
But when she was asked to play defense for the lacrosse team, she took to the new role with enthusiasm, where she quickly became a shutdown defender that was the backbone of a CIF runner-up Lady Jaguar team.
Through it all, she always led by example, encouraging and challenging her teammates to give everything they had for the team.
And in track, she was one of the team's best jumpers, earning second place in the league preliminary meet in the triple jump. She had a chance to compete in the finals, but opted to play in the lacrosse CIF championship game, which was happening at the same time.
I'm sure it was a very difficult decision, but in the end, it's not at all surprising that Kraus chose to play a team game over a chance at achieving an individual honor.
VCHS varsity softball coach Bill Dunckel loves to tell the story about his first season with the Lady Jaguars, and how the previous coach provided a sheet of notes about each of the players Dunckel would be coaching.
Specifically, he loves telling the part about Gilbert, in which the previous coach noted, simply, that she "Hits like a man."
Every time I hear that, I can't help but think that I'd be happy if I could hit even half as well as Gilbert does.
She started the season in a bit of a slump—she didn't get her first hit of the season until she smacked an RBI double off the right-field fence against Kearny in the sixth game of the year—but when the season was on the line, she was at her best.
When the Lady Jaguars got bounced to the consolation bracket of the double-elimination CIF Division IV tournament, they were one loss away from ending the season.
From that point on, Gilbert went 10-for-11 with eight RBIs, including a stretch of nine hits in nine at-bats through the final three games of the year.
Playing shortstop and batting third in the lineup, Gilbert provided the anchor to the team's historic CIF runner-up season, and proved that hitting like a girl isn't such a bad thing at all.
Compared to a lot of positions in sports, there isn't a whole lot of glamour involved in being a catcher.
You squat in the dirt all game in a bunch of bulky, sweaty gear, you're expected to use your body to keep a pitcher's mistake from turning into a disaster, and it's totally fine when runners plow into you when they try to score.
But the great catchers thrive in these conditions, in the same way that an offensive lineman takes pride in the success of his team's ability to run the ball.
Coe is that kind of a player—one who always talks about his accomplishments in light of how they help the team. His natural leadership and baseball intelligence earned him a chance that most high school catchers don't get, the chance to call his own pitches from behind the plate.
And he's a pretty good hitter too. He led the team with a .435 average, with 40 hits, 25 RBIs, 21 runs scored and 16 doubles.
Coe is not an in-your-face kind of leader, but he definitely will pull his teammates aside if there's something that needs to be discussed. He sets the example with his work ethic, his attitude and his focus during the game.
He even got to pitch later in the season, and showed that he's pretty good at that too.
Most of the time, it takes me a few games into a season before I can really start to see the athletes who are performing at an exceptional level. The competitive balance at the varsity level often makes it difficult to immediately spot the player who is embarking on a stellar season.
But it only took one swim meet for me to see just how good Markey is in the water.
I went to the VCHS swim team's first home meet at Adams Park against San Pasqual, and it happened to be a day on which the meet coordinators were without any kind of vocal amplification, making it difficult to know what event was taking place and which swimmers were in the water.
Markey had a phenomenal junior season in which she broke six levels of records in a single swim in the CIF Division II finals.
So in the first meet of 2013, I knew I had to keep an eye out for her, just to see how she would follow that up in her senior year. The problem was that, without being able to hear the announcement of events and swimmers (and because swim caps make it somewhat difficult to recognize the swimmers, especially at a distance), I wasn't sure when Markey was going to be in the water.
I watched the meet and took a lot of photos, but I wasn't sure if Markey had competed yet.
Let's just say that I knew when Markey competed.
She exploded off the blocks with enough force that there wasn't any doubt who she was. She cruised away from the field and quickly put away any question about the outcome.
She's going to the University of Texas on a swimming scholarship next fall, and she earned it with the way she makes you sit up and pay attention when she's swimming.
Distance runners don't always get much attention.
The sprinters are the rock stars of the track world, from Carl Lewis and Flo-Jo to Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix. The distance runners always seem to toil away in relative anonymity, at least in the eye of the casual fan.
But Hudson was so good in running cross-country and in the distance events for the track team that she had to be on this list.
In cross-country, she was undefeated in league competition, earned the Valley League individual championship and was the Valle League Runner of the Year. In track, she set school records in the 1,600 and 800 meter races this season, and still holds the school record in the 3,200m and in the 1,600m relay race. She was also a Valley League champion in the 1,600m and placed second in CIF Division II in the 1,600m, as well as earning the Valley League Track Athlete of the Year award.
The more I learn about softball, the more I understand how hard it must be to be a pitcher.
A few seasons ago, the distance of the pitching rubber to home plate was moved back from 40 feet to 43 feet, giving hitters a much better chance of picking up the ball out of the pitcher's hand.
The move forced pitchers to have to learn some new tricks to keep from getting shelled, and Sloman mastered a few tricks of her own to put together a fantastic season.
She baffled hitters with her changeup, a pitch that started with what looked like a regular windmill motion, but by the time if left Sloman's hand, the result often looked like Bugs Bunny cartoon, with the batter double-clutching, trying to pull the bat back, and ultimately waving hopelessly as the ball floated past.
But even when she didn't have her best stuff, Sloman's tenacity set her apart. She battled through tough outings against Del Norte and Francis Parker to come back with a strong outing in the next game.
She finished the season as the Valley League Pitcher of the Year, beating out power pitchers Dana Cruse of Del Norte and Kailey Hill of Ramona. Sloman's pitching performance concluded with a 17–5 record in 24 appearances, with a 1.29 earned run average in 114.1 innings pitched. She allowed 21 earned runs on 91 hits, with 79 strikeouts and only 11 walks.
And she was also pretty good with a bat, as she posted a .361 batting average with 30 hits, 32 runs scored, nine RBIs, six doubles, two triples and two home runs.
Ryan Kleiman (football, basketball), Austin Bernard (football, baseball), Bannon Greer (cross-country, track), Jordan McFarland (volleyball), Joe Monzon (football, soccer), Kaley Prudham (soccer, golf), Savanna Reilly (volleyball, soccer, track), Manny Boyle (wrestling), Kenya Paiz (swimming), Jason Blasius (lacrosse), Grant Colquhoun (golf), Stephanie Koishor (softball), Macy Morrison (water polo), Dan Huk (water polo, swimming), Lexi Striler (tennis), Melina Heredia (volleyball, soccer, track), Vanessa Heredia (volleyball, soccer, track).
* * *
These are the nominees for the 2013 Roadrunner Athlete of the Year, and I can already see that it's going to be a really tough decision to pick the winner.
If you would like to support one of these athletes, or if you have an athlete that you felt was undeservingly left off of this list, please write to me at email@example.com this week to share your thoughts.
And please remember that this list is simply a way to recognize the athletic achievements of our local athletes, and is in no way meant to exclude anyone. Obviously, we have so many young athletes who work very hard to perform at a high level, so it's impossible to recognize them all.
I'm always willing to listen to any suggestions you may have, and in your support of your favorite athlete, please be sure to write more than just the name of the athlete you wish to support. The best way to let me know that your favorite athlete is deserving of the award is to present a clear, concise summary of the athlete's skills, stats and value to his or her team.