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Athlete Spotlight: Danny Mueller’s unique leadership was key for Heralds volleyball

Posted on 28 May 2014 by La Habra Journal

Danny Mueller provided plenty of momentum shifts with kills like this one against Heritage Christian, Apr. 25.

Danny Mueller provided plenty of momentum shifts with kills like this one against Heritage Christian, Apr. 25.

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

Despite falling in the first round of the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs, the Whittier Christian boys’ volleyball team made big progress in its second season under Head Coach Chris Duran.

One of the big reasons for that progress was the senior leadership of Danny Mueller, who found ways to step up for his team in big situations throughout the 2014 season.

A three-sport athlete and three year varsity member in volleyball, Mueller said he felt privileged to be selected as a captain on this year’s team.

“I feel our guys are very respectful of one another and I think we have a really tight-knit group,” Danny said. “Being a co-captain with Austin [Tafoya] is an honor because we’ve played all four years together and we used to play club together. It’s been a lot of fun and a privilege to be captain.”

But Danny knew that being a captain extended past being vocal, throughout the course of the season, Danny has been a catalyst for positive momentum shifts all season.

“He’s been in the program all four years, three years on varsity,” Duran said. “He’s our most consistent overall player over the last couple years where if we needed that pass or that kill, we knew we could go to him and he would make things happen.”

A big reason for Danny’s success is the work ethic he employs in practice.

But through it all, it’s his ability to keep his emotions balanced, whether in practice or in matches, that catches his coach’s eye the most.

“He’s a great passer, great work ethic, always even-keel and if he makes a mistake it’s the same as if he makes a great hit,” Duran said. “It’s cool for us to see him calm and collected all the time. He’s always ready to step up to any challenge to put his team in a spot to succeed.”

Danny’s ability to rise to the occasion on the court isn’t as big of a surprise when finding out exactly how involved the senior is on other parts of campus.

In addition to being a co-captain on volleyball, Danny also played soccer and ran cross country for the Heralds this year.

On top of the athletics, Danny is also a member of the Senior Class Council and ASB, while also acting as Key Club President, Spanish Club President and a participant in the Creative Writing Club.

“[He’s a] Great kid, great heart, great leader, involved in so many things on campus, it’s great to see student athletes create a great environment for themselves,” Duran said. “He’s highly involved in everything and everything he does he puts a lot of hard work into as well.”

Along with his accomplishments on the field, Danny was chosen as a CIF Scholar Athlete and also felt proud to be a part of coordinating the Sadie Hawkins event for the school this season, despite having to make some last-minute changes.

The hard work and leadership could be seen on the court as well this season. Danny, an outside hitter, came up with big kills when the Heralds needed to stop an opponent’s run.

He also provided plenty of support while on the back line this season.

“I think you have to have that mentality, when you know you need the points, you just have to turn it on and come in for your team on those points that really matter,” he said.

However, one aspect of Danny’s leadership role that he felt he had to grow into was how to lead the team and be positive at the same time.

“You also have to bring up the encouragement, we get down on ourselves sometimes and I just try to help the team stay positive and remind them that we’ll get the next point,” Danny said. “I think that’s really important. It’s been my biggest challenge, but I think it’s improved a lot.”

Danny hopes to take what he’s learned through his time at Whittier Christian and apply it next year at Cal State Fullerton, where he will be majoring in Biology.

Coordinating with that major, Danny said that during his senior year, Anatomy has been by far his favorite class.

“We’ve done several dissections and we’ve had the ability to shadow different jobs in the medical field and that’s definitely what I want to do is sports medicine,” he said. “It keeps me excited.”

When it comes to the respect Danny has for his teammates, coaches and opponents, he said he gets most of that by following the advice and example of his role model, Rolland Esslinger, Whittier Christian’s athletic director.

“He is hands-down one of the most sincere people you will ever meet,” Danny said. “He emphasizes so much the importance of good sportsmanship and character and I think it’s something that people struggle with is acting the same around your friends, parents and teachers. He really tries to teach all of our student athletes to have good sportsmanship and to be yourself, have that true character and integrity when you’re on and off the court.”

When Danny isn’t studying hard or practicing on the court, he still keeps himself busy. The senior enjoys playing tennis with friends, geocaching, skiing and also writes a blog on the subject of credit unions.

But as he gets ready to head to the next stage in his life, Danny will take with him some great life lessons as well as some lasting memories.

“I’ve just really enjoyed playing with everyone, we have so much fun that it’s such a privilege, and playing for these coaches, I couldn’t ask for better coaches,” Danny said. “It’s been a great season, I’ve been so blessed to be here at Whittier Christian.”

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Athlete Spotlight: Sophomore Chelsea Purcell’s drive is helping Sonora into possible postseason

Posted on 14 May 2014 by La Habra Journal

Photo by Erik Markus, La Habra Journal

Photo by Erik Markus, La Habra Journal

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

Sonora’s Chelsea Purcell may not have endured the growing pains that some of her senior teammates did a couple years ago, but because of the sophomore’s competitive nature, she’s helping those seniors in an attempt to realize a goal of making the CIF playoffs.

Thanks in part to Chelsea’s surge at the plate, the Lady Raiders’ softball team finds itself in a four-way tie for the Freeway League lead with two games to play.

Two years ago, the varsity team had no seniors. Now the team is gunning for the league title, with games against city rival La Habra and Sunny Hills this week.

“I wanted to just step into a leadership role on the team and I wanted to be there and be the player the team needed me to be,” Chelsea said of her thoughts heading into this season. “Whether that meant at shortstop or hitting third or fourth in the lineup, I just wanted to contribute in any way I could for this team.”

Over the past two weeks, the Lady Raiders are 3-1 and were one out away from making it a 4-0 run and possibly sole possession of the league lead.

During that stretch, Chelsea’s overall play has contributed greatly. The sophomore went 9-for-17 with three home runs, two doubles, six runs scored and seven runs-batted-in.

Some of those hits have come in key situations, such as a three-run home run in the seventh inning against Troy to turn a one-run lead into a four-run cushion in a road contest, May 1.

Chelsea believes that her surge at the plate is a result of extra help she’s received from her father, Mo, at home.

“My dad has been home a lot more often and has been helping me with hitting the ball off the tee and going to the field and pitching to me,” Chelsea said. “He’s always taught me to see the ball, hit the ball and that calms me down at the plate. I think it’s helped a lot.”

In addition, Chelsea’s work at the shortstop position has also helped. The sophomore has not committed an error in her last six games and she’s only committed one error in Freeway League play this season.

“I’ve known Chelsea since she was five years old, she’s always been very competitive, it’s in her nature to want to win,” said Michelle Rodriguez, Sonora softball coach. “She’s known about the program for a while and she probably would have played a few years back if she could have, that’s just the type of competitor she is.”

Coming in to her sophomore season, Chelsea said she wanted to try and begin the process of stepping into a leadership role.

That extra motivation is paying off in the numbers, in which she leads the team in hits, doubles, home runs and RBI. She also ranks second in runs scored.

“It’s something special, this team has a lot of team chemistry and that has helped to the overall results a lot,” Chelsea said. “I always try to keep it on from beginning to end, my parents instilled that in me, no matter what happens, you have to keep going.”

However, Rodriguez said that while she’s impressed with Chelsea’s talent and her motivation to produce for her team, she admits that she would like to keep some of that potential pressure off her sophomore shortstop during the remainder of this season.

“Her ability is undeniable, but sometimes she carries a little too much pressure and that’s what we’re trying to bring down,” Rodriguez said. “We want to make sure that she doesn’t feel that pressure, she’s a sophomore and she’s definitely stepped up, but we want to make sure it’s not a burden on her. I threw her in the fire last year, but she’s been able to handle it and the difference has been leaps and bounds since last year.”

When it comes to the final weeks of her sophomore season, Chelsea said she just wants to keep producing to help her team close out the regular season and head into the playoffs.

“I just want to keep progressing,” she said. “Staying on it and working hard during practices is going to help me, so I have to keep on myself for that. As a team, we’re working well, we just want to keep up what we’re doing.”

When she’s not on the field or in the classroom, Chelsea still keeps her mind in the sport of softball by helping her niece, Jalen, who has recently started to play the game.

In the classroom, Chelsea carried a 4.3 Grade Point Average into the Spring semester and is working hard to maintain that as she approaches the end of the school year.

The sophomore enjoys studying AP European History as well as Chemistry.

“I really like Mrs. Appenrodt, she makes the class more personal and she’s helped me immensely with my academic career,” Chelsea said. “With Chemistry, Dr. Hawkins has definitely impacted me and has helped me grow as a sophomore, so I want to make sure they know I appreciate them.”

With the combination of her strong play and hard work in the classroom, Chelsea has already verbally committed to the University of Notre Dame earlier this year.

When it comes to role models, Chelsea said she receives an endless amount of support from her family.

“My parents (Mo and Pamela) have definitely impacted my life, if I have personal problems or troubles with academics, they’re always my motivators,” Chelsea said. “My sister has always been a role model since she played while I was growing up and my grandparents, they’re my biggest supporters in life.”

The sophomore has taken that support system and paid it forward to her teammates in the form of her bat and her glove, which continue to shine as the Lady Raiders continue to push for the playoffs.

“She really took to the learning expectations of the program and you can tell she wants that position,” Rodriguez said. “She sets a good example for everybody. It’s great knowing that we don’t have to start over with new faces having to step up after this season. I tell the girls all the time that you don’t have to have the title of Captain to be a leader and she’s gone with that.”

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Athlete Spotlight: Nikki Butler’s extra work is paying off for La Habra

Posted on 15 April 2014 by La Habra Journal

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La Habra sophomore catcher Nikki Butler.

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

After suffering a knee injury that forced her to miss six weeks of her freshman season, La Habra softball catcher Nikki Butler is doing more than making up for lost time this year.

Through 18 nonleague games this season, the sophomore is batting .500, while also wreaking havoc on opposing baserunners from her position behind the plate.

In games against marquee names, such as Yorba Linda, El Modena and Marina, Nikki has raised her game. She credits an offseason workout regimen focused on legwork as the reason for most of her success thus far.

“Last season, I struggled coming off an injury,” she said. “Being a sophomore, I wanted to improve my stats and it’s worked well. I worked a lot with my legs in the offseason. Taking 6-8 weeks off was a difficult time that I had to get through. I did a lot of work with my hitting and strengthening my fundamentals to get back on the field.”

Even when the sophomore is not hitting, Nikki is patient at the plate and gets on base in 57 percent of her plate appearances. She has yet to strike out this season.

“It’s a credit to her hard work to come back, she’s caught a lot and her backup is a freshman,” said Frank McCarroll, La Habra head coach. “We’ve asked Nikki to take on a bigger role with the pitchers, we’ve asked her to lead the way and she’s done a great job. We’re lucky to have her.”

In an upset win over Yorba Linda, Nikki went 3-for-4 and blasted a home run off standout pitcher Paige Von Spraekel. Against El Modena, she also went 3-for-4 as the team went on to win 5-4.

Even in a 9-0 defeat last week to a very good California High team, Nikki helped the team by reaching base in three of her four plate appearances by earning two walks and a base hit.

It’s been a brilliant bounce back year after she suffered an injury to her Lateral Collateral Ligament in her knee, which sidelined her for six weeks of her freshman season.

“I was a little shaky after coming off the injury, so coming into this season, I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it, I can come back from the injury,” Nikki said. “Playing the bigger teams, I just know to keep my cool and remember that it’s just another pitcher, it’s just another game.”

As impressive as her work has been swinging the bat, her work behind the plate is has further impressed McCarroll.

In addition to putting pressure on would-be base stealers, Nikki has also played a big part in the pitching game, having worked with Taylor Pierce in travel ball, and helping freshman Janelle Rodriguez get comfortable in the circle.

“People don’t run on us, she’s been very successful throwing people out and holding people on base,” McCarroll said. “Our average for strikeouts-per-game is down this year, so if our catcher can pick someone off or throw someone out, that could kill a rally and it’s been a huge help.”

When it comes to catching, Nikki developed the craft from her father, who also played the position in baseball.

In addition to his guidance, she said that she’s been blessed to have some great coaches along the way. She also watches collegiate softball and picks up on little things from different players to help with her game.

“I’ve been blessed with some amazing coaches along the way,” Nikki said. “Just picking up from other girls, from what I’ve seen at the college level, I’ve taken a little bit from each one and that’s inspired me into the catcher I am today.”

Those little additions have helped to turn Nikki into a threat behind the plate, meanwhile, her extra work in the offseason has been a huge boost to her game at the plate.

As the team begins its Freeway League journey on Tuesday, Nikki said her goal is to remain focused at the plate, while keeping a level head, regardless of what her performance looks like.

“I just want to continue to maintain with my mechanics and stay within myself,” Nikki said. “I also want to make sure I don’t get too high after a 4-for-4 game, just keep a level head and hope for the best. Defensively, it helps our pitcher knowing that if a runner gets on, I can try to take them off. I also want to make sure we’re communicating and keeping the energy up.”

While Nikki isn’t on the field, she enjoys science, more specifically her Honors Chemistry class and she has a desire to study marine biology in college.

She also said she enjoys veterinary science because she loves animals.

When she has free time, Nikki enjoys spending time with her family.

“I really like being around little kids, they make me happy,” Nikki said. “I love to play with them and make them smile, it makes my day.”

Nikki’s biggest role model is her father, who pushed her initially to play softball and spent plenty of time with her in bonding over the catcher position.

“My dad is a big role model in my life, when I started playing softball, he told me to put gear on and told me I was going to catch,” Nikki said. “I’ve never had a catching coach since he started working with me in the backyard. I’ve been pretty blessed to have amazing coaches along the way, they’ve inspired me to be the player I am today.”

Because of those efforts, the sophomore has developed into one of the biggest pieces to the La Habra softball program.

Needless to say, McCarroll is excited she’ll be hanging around for a couple more seasons.

“We’re excited about the possibilities,” McCarroll said. “She’s the real deal, she’s legit. She’s only a sophomore, but she’s a leader. Defensively, in a ball game, we give her the responsibility to lead and she’s always positive. She’s got the potential to be a game changer on both sides. We’re excited to have her and happy she’s healthy.”

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Athlete Spotlight: Celeste Adriano’s last-game mindset is key in leading Lady Heralds

Posted on 31 March 2014 by La Habra Journal

Senior Celeste Adriano follows through after ripping a double against La Serna on March 25. Adriano leads the team with a .611 batting average, six home runs and 22 runs batted in through 12 games this season.

Senior Celeste Adriano follows through after ripping a double against La Serna on March 25. Adriano leads the team with a .611 batting average, six home runs and 22 runs batted in through 12 games this season.

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

On a team that has shown plenty of offensive firepower over the course of its nonleague schedule, no one has had quite as hot a start as Celeste Adriano has for the Whittier Christian softball team.

In addition to her gaudy offensive numbers, the senior has shown plenty of flexibility in the field, playing just about every position in the field for the Lady Heralds this season.

“Even from the start, we’ve had that mentality that this is the last time we get a chance to start off strong,” Celeste said. “I think it’s made me push even more because this is my last chance and I want to make it the best.”

A transfer into the Whittier Christian program from Rosary last year, Celeste admitted it took a little bit of time to get acclimated with her new surroundings, but after a little time, the program feels like family to her now.

As a result of her hard work, dedication and belief in her teammates, she was chosen as one of the captains for this year’s team.

“She puts a lot of work in, she’s been a blessing for us since she came into the program,” said Dale Van Duyn, Whittier Christian head coach. “And she fit right in. She’s a leader without saying much and that’s what I like about her. She earned her role by what she does on and off the field. She’s doing what it takes to get to the next level.”

As a captain, she has led in every way possible, starting with her work on the field.

Through 12 nonleague games this season, the senior leads the team with a .611 batting average, six home runs and 22 runs batted in.

Those numbers have included a number of momentum-changing hits in key situations.

“I knew she could swing the stick, but sometimes they just really see the ball,” Van Duyn said. “It was about two months ago, she just walked up to the plate with a lot of confidence and that’s half the game right there. Now she looks at me and she has it in her eyes.”

In the team’s final nonleague game against Gahr last Thursday, Celeste’s two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning broke a 7-7 tie and proved to be the game-winner.

While Celeste says she didn’t change anything in regards to her approach at the plate, she believes that remaining calm while in the batter’s box has been a big help.

“I just feel calmer and I have a little more confidence than I did last year,” she said. “I’m just relaxed, calm and I hit.”

But while her offensive numbers stand out, what appeals most to her head coach is her flexibility and her willingness to provide whatever the team needs in the field.

Primarily playing left field, Celeste has played upwards of three positions in the same game, going two different infield spots to left field in one game and going from catcher to second base in the following game.

During travel ball season, Celeste’s primary position is catcher.

Celeste Adriano has played every position on the field for the Lady Heralds this season, including left field, where she robbed La Habra's Taylor Pierce of a home run in a nonleague game at La Habra on March 18.

Celeste Adriano has played every position on the field for the Lady Heralds this season, including left field, where she robbed La Habra’s Taylor Pierce of a home run in a nonleague game at La Habra on March 18.

“I’ve played Celeste at every position this year, she’s a true utility player,” Van Duyn said. “I could plug her in to any position and she could get the job done. You can’t say that about most kids. She’s a good catcher and I wish I could plug her into the infield, but we needed an outfielder and she just smiled and said ‘OK, if that’s where you need me’.”

But Celeste’s mindset during her senior year has made the difference in her performance through nonleague play.

While Celeste spends the offseason playing plenty of travel ball and working on her craft, this high school season has had a higher priority.

Knowing it’s her final year to play high school softball, Celeste approaches every game as if it’s her last with her Whittier Christian teammates.

“I work hard on the field and this is my family,” she said. “I think every game is important and so I treat every game as if it’s my last. Yes, sometimes I say that I’ll always have another game, but this year I’m not thinking like that. We have to treat every game as if it’s a La Habra or a La Serna and we have to go in with a mentality that we’re going to win.”

However, Celeste’s softball career will not end after high school as the senior signed her letter of intent last November, to play at San Francisco State.

One of the big influences that helped in Celeste’s decision with San Francisco State was Gators’ head coach Christina Byrne.

“She’s sort of like [Coach] Dale, she’s like a friend,” Celeste said. “I know she’ll push me, but I know that I can talk to her too. I went to her camps and during travel ball, she was at all those camps as well. I also love the city, it’s right there, I think that was great for me.”

With the signing done, Celeste says a big weight has been lifted off her shoulders knowing that she already has a plan in place for college.

Now the senior can breathe easier, have more fun with her teammates and continue keeping that calm demeanor at the plate.

When it comes to role models, Celeste said that her parents are always pushing her to be better, but she also takes in little bits from all aspects of her life, including her friends and coaches.

“My parents are a huge part of that, with the way they push me,” she said. “There’s a lot of little role models that I have, including Coach Dale and my friends, they always play a part in my life. There’s not one particular person that I look up to completely, but there’s little things all around that I look up to.”

While in school, Celeste enjoys history and said that her teachers have made the biggest difference in piquing her interest in the subject. She also enjoys poetry and reading.

And while she says softball is her life, on the rare chance she’s not practicing or studying, Celeste enjoys hanging out with friends, eating or catching up on sleep.

But while she’s on the field she’s calm, collected and enjoying her senior season to the fullest with a small number of goals in mind for the remainder of her final high school season.

“Everything I have is for my team and I want CIF, that’s what I want,” Celeste said. “Maybe for me, I’d like to finish higher than second team [All-League], but other than that, everything else is for the team, I want a league championship, I want CIF and that’s pretty much it.”

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Athlete Spotlight: Gabe Armstrong’s efficiency earns him top spot in pitching rotation

Posted on 31 March 2014 by La Habra Journal

Gabe Armstrong threw a no-hitter against Yorba Linda on March 11 and recently threw eight innings of two-hit ball against Kelso of Washington in tournament games. PHOTO BY ERIK MARKUS, LA HABRA JOURNAL

Gabe Armstrong threw a no-hitter against Yorba Linda on March 11 and recently threw eight innings of two-hit ball against Kelso of Washington in tournament games. PHOTO BY ERIK MARKUS, LA HABRA JOURNAL

by Jeremiah Girard
La Habra Journal

Heading into this season the Sonora starting rotation seemed to be set with senior Evan Sonny and junior JonPaul Sarro as both got experience last season for the Raiders and both appeared poised for another great season this year.

Then, along came a junior Gabe Armstrong, who has impressed since his first start against Fountain Valley in the team’s season opener.

“JP just did not appear to be where he needed to be after preseason play,” said Sonora head coach Pat Tellers. “And Gabe was ready to go, so he found himself in the rotation. It is not necessarily a permanent thing, but for now Sarro will see action out of the bullpen.”

Armstrong has been solid throughout including the preseason. On March 11, in a Loara Tournament game against Yorba Linda, Armstrong threw a no-hitter in a 4-0 Sonora win. In that game he struck out eight batters and only walked three.

“That was the first no-hitter I have ever thrown,” Armstrong said. “I have come close a few times but there was always the one hit late.”

Gabe’s stuff has been unhittable this year at the varsity level but heading into the season he was not expected to turn into the ace of the staff.

“He is a guy that shows up every day and gives 110 percent in practice,” Teller said. “He put in the work all offseason and he has been all season so far, and we are just seeing the results.”

The Sonora pitching rotation is the same rotation employed at first base. When Gabe is on the mound, Evan Sonny plays first base and vice versa.

“I worked on my swing a lot over the offseason,” Armstrong said. “I became pull heavy towards the end of last year and knew that I had to work on some things if I wanted to see playing time.”

Since Gabe is only a junior, he still has over a year to impress colleges and make a decision, but it is no secret that he plans to try to play at the next level and hopes to play even beyond that.

In school, Gabe considers himself to be a good student and says science is his favorite subject.

“I am having an awesome time in Physics this year,” Gabe said. “I am not too big on math though. Math is the one subject that seems to get boring.”

He has seen a lot of success on the mound this year, but baseball is not the only sport in which Armstrong has found enjoyment.

“I played basketball for a while too,” he said. “But, after my sophomore year I decided to quit and focus on baseball because I thought that it would be able to take me further.”

Gabe’s favorite baseball player is Evan Longoria and his inspiration in baseball is his father.

He has continued to pitch well since the no-hitter including an eight-inning performance against Kelso High of Washington in an Anaheim Lions Tournament game this past Saturday. In those eight innings, he only gave up two hits and struck out nine batters. At one point, he retired 18 straight batters.

He will look to continue his good play and try to lead the Raiders to another Freeway League championship.

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Adam Marlow’s behind-the-scenes type of work a leading factor in successful year for Raiders

Posted on 20 March 2014 by La Habra Journal

Sonora's Adam Marlow was regarded as the team's best defender and often sacrificed his offensive game to focus on defending opposing players that were often much taller than him.

Sonora’s Adam Marlow was regarded as the team’s best defender and often sacrificed his offensive game to focus on defending opposing players that were often much taller than him.

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

For the Sonora boys’ basketball team, senior Adam Marlow knows that being a team leader is more than just barking orders and giving inspiring team speeches.

In a historic season that saw the Raiders make a CIF Championship appearance for the first time since 1984, the senior didn’t just do everything the team needed from him, he anticipated those needs and put himself in position to help his team succeed.

Though Adam’s contributions won’t be seen on a stat sheet, without them, the Raiders wouldn’t have enjoyed the amount of success they earned this season.

“[He has] unbelievable leadership skills, that’s the first thing,” said Mike Murphy, Sonora head coach. “To be a great point guard and a great leader is an added bonus and he’s been that way since he first walked on our campus. This year, he’s really the heart and soul of our team, you read about Josh and you read about Ben and they’re scoring all the points, but the guy that stirs the drink and keeps the team together. I’ve been coaching for 29 years and I can’t think of five other guys that I’ve enjoyed coaching more than him.”

Adam has been a varsity starter since his sophomore year and in each season since, the Raiders have seen an improvement in their overall record while still facing the same tough competition.

While his sophomore year was about pushing himself to becoming a mainstay in the starting lineup, it was during his junior season that he recognized the need for a leadership presence.

“We didn’t really have a captain, no one really stepped up to be a leader, so I thought if I could have played that role a little better, our season would have been different,” he said.

During that same timeframe, Adam developed into the Raiders best defensive player and was constantly given the task of trying to shut down the oppositions’ best players.

Realizing that role, Adam often sacrificed his offensive scoring ability to focus on his defense as well as to help set up his teammates on the offensive side.

“He brings a lot of intangibles,” Murphy said. “It’s a specific skill set that you have to have and he’s our best athlete, fastest, strongest and quickest from side to side and that makes him our best defender. We’d find the best guy on the other team and assign him to Adam.”

To take it a step further, Adam would approach his head coach with suggestions on defensive strategy that often involved him switching to the opposing player that was causing the most damage at that particular point of the game.

Some of these situations involved the 6-foot senior guarding a 6-foot-8 forward. Such was the case when the Raiders went up to Santa Maria, where Adam attempted to limit Cameron Walker, the Warriors’ 6-foot-8 forward.

Adam attributes his defensive abilities to his commitment to getting stronger in the weight room, something he started after he was called up to varsity during his freshman season.

“When I got moved up, I got a chance to practice with guys like Raffi [Chalian], Tyler [Thomas], they were grown men,” Adam said “I had close to the same skill set as them, but I wasn’t nearly the athlete that they were and that’s when I realized that if I put in time in the weight room, it could help me a lot more than working on my skills every day.”

When it comes to his leadership and competitiveness, Adam’s long-lasting friendship with Whittier Christian senior Ryan Esslinger, who played football and basketball, may have a lot to do with it.

“Growing up with him, he’s just as competitive as me. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as competitive as me, except for him,” Adam said. “Seeing him on the football team this year as the starting quarterback, he’s just a stud, I was so proud of him, but it also made me want to be like him and do what he did on the football field while I was on the basketball court. It was still a competition thing, but we really push each other to be the best that we can be.”

When the team absolutely needed points late in ball games, Adam had the ability to hit clutch shots as well.

In the Raiders’ first game against Sunny Hills in Freeway League play, Adam drove inside for two tough layups late in the fourth quarter to break a tie game and give Sonora enough separation to win the ball game and take sole possession of the Freeway League lead, which the Raiders held for the rest of the season.

In other situations, he made the extra pass to junior teammates Ben Rico, Josh Rodriguez and Steven Murphy who often hit open shots as a result.

“Only the people in the program really know the value that he added to our team. He’s very poised and whatever we needed, he supplied,” Murphy said. “One of the biggest struggles we had was moving the ball quickly, but the guy who sacrificed his offensive game to help make that extra pass was Adam. Ben Rico broke the scoring record this year and that had a lot to do with it.”

But even more than his contributions on the court, Adam was an example off the court, often demonstrating certain gameplans for teammates and using his work ethic as a way to motivate his teammates.

When it came to leading a group of talented players, including four junior starters by season’s end, Adam admitted that it wasn’t always easy.

However, he also said he wouldn’t trade them for anyone else.

“I’ll never forget this year, that’s for sure,” he said. “This was my team and it was something that you never want to end and at times it felt like it was never-ending, I’ll never forget these guys.”

While Adam hasn’t committed to a school at the next level yet, he said that Chapman University, Vanguard University and Cal State Los Angeles have all expressed interest.

Along with his leadership abilities, his abilities on the court and his commitment to improvement off the court, Adam also boasts a stellar performance in the classroom, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.

During his senior year, he enjoys taking AP Calculus as he’s always liked Mathematics. He also enjoys Psychology.

Adam looks up to his parents as role models for their constant support and always being willing to take time out of their day to drive him to workouts and practices.

In terms of his sport, it came as no surprise that Adam said he looked up to his head coach, Mike Murphy.

“I always look up to him, he got me to work harder than anyone else in my life,” Adam said. “When I got here I was pretty lazy, but the way he gets people to work hard, he just inspires us.”

When he’s not in the classroom or on the court, Adam enjoys playing video games with friends and also has picked up surfing as a steady hobby in the summer.

But while he has a couple months left as a high school senior, Adam’s goal is to maintain his grades and prepare for an opportunity to play basketball at the next level.

“We’d love for the community to come out and see Adam, he’s a great example of what it is to be a Raider, if you come to this program, this is how you turn out,” Murphy said. “I’m hoping that the colleges in the area will see that he’s a kid they need in their program. He just needs an opportunity and if he gets that opportunity, he’ll make the most of it.”

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Not even rare injury can hold down Dylan Murphy’s competitive nature

Posted on 18 February 2014 by La Habra Journal

Photo by Meagan Garton, La Habra Journal

Photo by Meagan Garton, La Habra Journal

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

On a relatively cool September night at Whittier College, Dylan Murphy was playing a typical game at strong safety for the Whittier Christian football team despite a lopsided score favoring its opponent, St. Margaret’s.

The senior was once again leading his team’s defensive unit in tackles, flying all over the field in a weekly quest to shut down his opponent’s skill players.

In the fourth quarter, Dylan was in motion to make his team-leading 15th tackle of the night on St. Margaret’s quarterback Josh Davis while he was scrambling out of the pocket and finding space to gain yards.

Trying to avoid contact, Davis slid while Dylan dove in. Davis’ knee – lifted off the ground – made contact with Dylan’s outer left thigh.

“When I hit him, I thought it hurt a little bit, but I thought it was just a dead leg,” Dylan recalled. “When I came back in, I realized something wasn’t right, so I pulled myself back out.”

What couldn’t be seen by the naked eye that night, was just how much damage had been done by that one seemingly insignificant amount of contact, which would send Dylan through a two-month long journey that started with his playing career in jeopardy and ended with a clear vision and a reassurance of his faith.

A PROMISING SEASON

Dylan came into his senior football season at Whittier Christian with some lofty expectations, the result of an outstanding junior season that landed him the Olympic League’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

Playing strong safety, Dylan was known by Heralds’ head coach Sergio Gradilla as a well-rounded member of the Heralds’ secondary who was as strong at stopping the run as he was tackling receivers.

“Going in, we knew we were going to be good defensively, it was the second year running our system,” Gradilla said. “But we also went in knowing that the one person we couldn’t afford to lose was Dylan. He was bound to have a great year and he started it that way.”

Indeed, Dylan was off to a blazing start during the first three games of the season, leading the team by a wide margin in tackles and forcing a pair of fumbles.

He took it a step further against a much tougher opponent in St. Margaret’s, on Sept. 20, 2013.

Already with 14 tackles, a sack and an interception by the start of the fourth quarter, Dylan noticed Davis running in his direction.

However, at the last second, Davis slid to avoid contact. Dylan, already in motion to make a tackle, landed on top of him.

“You almost never see a high school quarterback slide,” Gradilla said. “But he did and his knee went right into Dylan’s thigh.”

Later that night, Dylan confided in his mother, Denine Ryder, saying the injury may prevent him from playing in his club soccer game the following morning.

Ryder, having seen Dylan go through minor injuries in the past, didn’t initially think much of the condition.

“When it happened, I was thinking ‘Oh, you’re fine’, but he was thinking he wouldn’t be able to play in his soccer game,” Ryder said. “I didn’t think it was an issue, so I just told him to shake it off, let’s not make it an issue if it’s not one.”

After a painful night with little sleep, Dylan went to the Heralds’ morning film session, followed by a trip to watch the junior varsity team play.

Dylan then went to his club soccer game, watching from the sidelines, before returning home at approximately 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013.

“When he got home, I saw it and went ‘Oh my gosh!’” Ryder said. “It looked like it had doubled in size.”

A SUDDEN TURN OF EVENTS

After seeing how severely Dylan’s left leg had swelled, Ryder rushed him to urgent care at Presbyterian Hospital in Whittier.

Shortly after being admitted, the two were introduced to Dr. Amir Rounaghi, who played a pivotal role in getting timely treatment for Dylan.

After conducting a test to determine the amount of internal bleeding, Dr. Rounaghi diagnosed Dylan with Compartment Syndrome, a condition where severe swelling cuts off the flow of blood and oxygen to the affected muscle compartment.

An hour later, Dylan was rushed into surgery.

“[Dr. Rounaghi] told us that if this was his child, he would say do it, don’t hesitate,” Ryder said. “When he told us one hour, my jaw dropped, but before I could say anything, Dylan said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I was so amazed that he handled it in such a mature manner.”

In surgery, Dr. Rounaghi cut open the muscle to alleviate the pressure in Dylan’s leg due to the swelling and inserted a wound vacuum to drain the internal bleeding.

During the procedure, Dr. Rounaghi also removed five large blood clots from Dylan’s leg.

Had he waited four hours later to get checked, Dylan risked losing all function of the muscle. Had he waited until the next morning, he risked having his leg amputated.

“God definitely knew what He was doing and knew when it was the right time for me to go in, it was definitely Him,” Dylan said. “To speak on the rarity of the injury, [Dr. Rounaghi] said it was the first time in his career that he had done that surgery.”

Despite an initial recovery time of at least 3-5 months, Dylan made it a point to be there for every football game, even showing up to Salesian High School in a wheelchair less than a week later, the wound vacuum still attached.

“To me, it showed that he was dedicated and he loved the sport,” said Mitchell Neller, a teammate of Dylan’s in both football and soccer. “We all know that he was the most competitive player, but even when he wasn’t suited up, he would be on the sideline giving us pointers on how to fix mistakes.”

For a brief time after the surgery, the injury took a toll on Dylan mentally, as he reflected on the possibility of the end of his high school playing career.

However, the faith he and his mom share, along with the overwhelming support of family, friends, teammates and school administrators, lifted his spirits quickly.

“There wasn’t a day in the hospital where half of his teammates weren’t there, we got so much support from everybody,” Ryder said. “Even through social media, we had an outpouring of emails and messages from people who were praying for him.”

Two weeks after his first operation and seeing that the wound was healing much quicker than expected, Dylan underwent a second operation by Dr. David A. Lewis, a colleague of Dr. Rounaghi, to close the wound.

Dylan Murphy was on the field for the coin toss in the Heralds' game against Valley Christian, a week after his second operation. Dylan was on the sideline for every Heralds game this season.

Dylan Murphy was on the field for the coin toss in the Heralds’ game against Valley Christian, a week after his second operation. Dylan was on the sideline for every Heralds game this season.

THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

From the first possible moment after his second operation, Dylan was doing light exercises to help rehab his left leg. That first possible moment was the day after the operation.

In addition, Dylan would visit Ryan Hartshorn at Fullerton Physical Therapy and Sports Care twice a week for two-hour sessions.

It was during his second session that Dylan really began to believe that he could make it on the field much sooner than anticipated.

“I was already on a bike,” he said. “The first time I did it, I wasn’t able to get [my leg] all the way around because I couldn’t bend it that far, but after getting through the bike and working, I thought ‘I could do this’, I just have to work hard at it.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Dylan also worked out at a local gym after sessions and on off days.

While he knew the extra work would pay off, he admitted that there were times where it tested his patience.

“I wasn’t angry, but I was frustrated because I knew I could make those motions, but my brain wouldn’t let me,” Dylan said. “It was really tough.”

After a month-and-a-half of intense physical therapy, Dylan rode on the bus with the Heralds’ soccer team for its season opener at Western Christian in Upland on Nov. 19, 2013, one day short of two months after the injury.

It wasn’t anticipated that Dylan would play, but during the second half, he walked up to his coach, Matt Rojas, and requested to be subbed in as a forward, rather than his usual spot as goalkeeper.

“I think that was more shocking to everyone else than it was to me, but looking back it was a little surprising,” Dylan said. “Running felt weird. It felt like one leg was on eight cylinders and the other was barely going, it was the weirdest feeling.”

Dylan wore a brace on his left knee to help distribute the pressure on his leg while running, but the move didn’t come without a scare or two from the outset.

“The first play he went in, he got slide-tackled on the same leg and I was worried,” Neller said. “But he got right back up and got the ball back and that pumped me up, I thought to myself, ‘I guess he’s all right’.”

A week later, Dylan opted to switch to goalkeeper to defend a penalty kick and did so successfully in the Heralds’ home opener, another big step in getting back to 100 percent.

Over a month later, Dylan was battling the flu in a road game at Heritage Christian. After deciding to sub in, the senior aggressively went after a loose ball and suffered a head-on collision with an opposing player, knocking both to the turf for several minutes.

Dylan started the Heralds’ next game.

“That in a nutshell is who he is,” Rojas said. “He wasn’t feeling good, he had a headache, but he’s not one to just sit and he said he was ready to go. He went out and challenged for every ball.”

A RENEWED VISION

While Dylan’s competitive spirit and playing style have not been altered by his injury, the senior admits that he has gained from the experience.

What Dylan takes away most is to be appreciative of his abilities and not just in athletics.

“It was a wake-up call to appreciate the things I have,” he said. “I have the ability to play sports, while there are others who don’t have that ability. I’m more appreciative of the things I’m capable of.”

In addition, he has a clearer vision of where he wants to go in life.

In October, about a week after his second operation, Dylan received confirmation that he was accepted to Grand Canyon University, according to Ryder.

Dylan said that he is thinking about trying out for the men’s soccer team as a walk-on athlete, but added that he was so inspired by the work of Dr. Rounaghi and Dr. Lewis that he wants a career geared toward orthopedic surgery.

“They had an impact in getting me back to where I am,” he said. “I want to help out others the same way that they helped me.”

Dylan attributes his character to his mother, who is his biggest role model.

However, she believes that she may have been even more inspired by the way he handled the entire process of the injury.

“He’s a fighter, he’s got passion and he put a lot of trust in his faith, but I think it helped him grow in his faith,” Ryder said. “He never went into that dark space and I attribute that not only to his faith, but the massive amount of support that he had from the moment it all started.”

The senior will have one final chance to play football before moving on to bigger things. In October, Dylan was sent an invitation by the Down Under Sports Competition on the Gold Coast of Australia to participate in an All-Star Football Tournament in Australia in June.

“I was surprised by it, I didn’t think that would be an option or an opportunity for me,” Dylan said of the invitation. “Considering my season was cut short, I thought it was something I needed to do. I’m really stoked about it, the chance to get out there one more time before I’m done.”

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Athlete Spotlight: Brooke Mays powers La Habra’s offense

Posted on 18 February 2014 by La Habra Journal

IMG_9380Story and photo by Erik Markus
La Habra Journal

With playoff hopes dangling by a thread heading into the final week of the regular season, the Lady Highlanders girls’ soccer team needed a spark. Just as its hopes began to fade, that spark arrived.

Senior forward Brooke Mays ignited her team with a last minute goal to lift her team over city rival Sonora to start the week and rode that hot streak  to the tune of six goals, one hat trick, and a berth into the CIF Division 2 playoffs all in the span of four days.

Brooke led her team in the comeback against Sonora, scored two against Buena Park to force a playoff against Sonora, then after the team surrendered a goal, she exploded for three unanswered goals in less than 40 minutes.

For her, it was a picture perfect finish.

“If I were to end my last week of high school soccer, that would have been the way to end it,” she said.  “It was an amazing feeling.”

The tremendous performance has not gone unnoticed as friends, teachers, and even strangers in the halls are complimenting her.

“Someone called me Lightning McQueen today,” Brooke said.

In addition to the support she receives around town and at school, her mom is her best cheerleader in the stands.

“I always hear her yelling at me,” Brooke said. “It’s awesome knowing that what she’s going through, she would give anything to watch me do what I love, because she loved it too.”

The two have a bond which inspires her to play at her best.

This is not the first time someone in her family has achieved superstar status on the pitch, her mom once was a star soccer player too, before being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 16.

“My mom was a big, star soccer player back in the day, she was supposed to go on tour and try out for the USA Women’s team,” Brooke said.

For now, Brooke’s dream would be to play for UCLA after high school and compete at a Division I school, but is still waiting for the best option after high school.

She desires to compete with the best for a championship, but also considers the possibility of being a key cog in a smaller school’s program while competing in the NAIA. Regardless of the next location, soccer should remain a constant.

Blessed with speed, athleticism, and good genes, Brooke is often the fastest player on the pitch, however her mental game has led her to become the force seen on the field today.

“When I first started coaching her, she could only run in straight lines, she couldn’t change directions,” said Matt Sanger, La Habra head coach. “She would get the ball and it wouldn’t be uncommon for her to, if she was running out of bounds, she would take the ball and just run out of bounds. If we played a through ball, often times she wouldn’t get her head up so she would be going towards the keeper and end up at the corner flag.

“She’s fast, she thinks quickly, she makes split decisions, she reacts very quickly,” Sanger added, “but the biggest challenge is getting her to slow down and think when she’s on the field and that’s the main area of growth.”

By slowing down, she has been able to read defenses and find her teammates.

Brooke’s eye for the field has allowed her to understand the movement of other players. Surprisingly, she doesn’t enjoy watching soccer, because she gets frustrated watching other players make mistakes as she inserts herself in their place.

Instead, Brooke prefers to watch Law and Order and eat tacos from teammate Cortney Gonzalez’ dad. “I’m not a typical girl, I hate shopping, I hate getting my nails done,” she said. “I just hang out with my friends, normal kid stuff.”

She added that though food is the way to her heart, she prefers Hot Cheeto Puffs.

With the clock racing on her high school career, there is still at least one more game left to be played.

The Lady Highlanders face Long Beach Wilson on Friday, and Brooke may be called upon to shoulder the load offensively.

“If she is able to solidify her presence on the field and make sure that she is a very dangerous presence against other teams, then we do have a shot to win,” Sanger said.

He knows she will have a lot of pressure, but he knows she can handle it.

Leadership, teamwork and mental preparation will lead to success, and Brooke is confident this team has the DNA to get there.

Of her thoughts on the Friday’s matchup, she simply said, “I want it to be the upset of the year.”

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Athlete Spotlight: Hannah Yoshihara’s shooting, mental toughness makes big difference

Posted on 03 February 2014 by La Habra Journal

Photo by Erik Markus, La Habra Journal

Photo by Erik Markus, La Habra Journal

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

In sports, an athlete’s mental toughness gets tested by a handful of different aspects, whether it be injury, your opponent, mind games or an uncharacteristically bad performance.

In the case of an outside shooter like Hannah Yoshihara of the Whittier Christian girls’ basketball team, the worst case scenario can stem from a simple case of shots not falling.

But after enduring a 0-for-14 night in an overtime loss to Valley Christian, Jan. 24, the senior guard did more than just turn it around, she was a huge factor in the Lady Heralds’ league wins last Tuesday and Friday.

“After that game, I was disappointed with myself because I knew I could do better,” Hannah said. “I talked with my parents and that Sunday I came to work out and shake off that game. On Tuesday, I knew it was a new game and I ended up calling it my Redemption game.”

That Tuesday game was another overtime thriller, but Hannah scored 20 points and hit five 3-pointers. The last long distance shot she made tied the game with five seconds remaining in the first overtime.

She added three free throws in the second overtime to seal a crucial road victory.

“I was extremely excited, because before they had called on me to make the tying shot and I missed it, so when I made it the second time, I felt a lot better,” Hannah said. “It means a lot because I can see that they have confidence in me.”

For Head Coach Grace Ricafranca, the solution to Hannah’s off-night against Valley Christian was simple.

“We just told her that sometimes you have a bad night, there isn’t much she can do about it, sometimes it’s just not there,” Ricafranca said.” We just told her to keep her head up and reminded her that it’s not her fault and not to hang it over herself, but just come out strong for the next game and keep shooting because eventually it will be there. I think she took that advice well because she played with a chip on her shoulder.”

For two seasons, Hannah has been a crucial part of the offense, as her outside shooting relieves pressure off of Sydney Lopez inside.

When she’s hitting shots like she did last week, it forces teams to remain honest on the perimeter, which opens up the inside and allows Lopez to go to work.

Hannah’s shooting has become so dangerous because of the extra work that she has been putting in outside of team practices.

“Every Sunday, I work out with the boys’ coach and we’ve been working on shooting a lot,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean that Hannah is treating team practices any differently.

“Yosh always works hard, she never takes a possession off,” Ricafranca said. “She’s really tough, she’s a sweet girl off the court, but on the court she’s not afraid to get into contact, she’s not afraid to body up on defense and she’s not afraid to score. Her aggression in practice really translates into game situations and she’s doing a really good job.”

In contrast to Hannah’s ability to shake off a bad performance, when she has a good night, she does anything necessary to keep up that momentum going forward.

After her production on Tuesday night, she followed by scoring 13 points in the first half, which equated to half of the team’s total by halftime in a win over Heritage Christian.

“I just felt a lot of confidence from Tuesday and I tried to transfer it to Friday,” Hannah said. “It was really nice, but I know that there are more games coming and I have to keep focused for those.”

Hannah has been playing basketball since she was in first grade, but didn’t start playing competitively until she reached junior high school.

Before games, she focuses by visualizing game situations and how to adjust her shooting form if she finds it to be a necessity.

Part of her successful turnaround can be attributed to the support of her parents, whom Hannah said are her biggest role models.

“Especially my dad,” she said, “He went through a lot of these sports, so being able to play these sports like he did, it means a lot.”

When she’s not working on her shooting form in practice, Hannah enjoys studying Anatomy, saying that she loves learning about how the human body works.

She has taken such an interest in the subject that she wants to continue studying it after high school. Hannah will have a chance to do that at one of three colleges that have already accepted her, Concordia University, Grand Canyon University and San Diego Christian College.

And while Hannah’s shooting has been a major asset to the team this year, it’s not the only reason her teammates love her so much.

“I love baking and my team knows that because I make them stuff all the time,” she said. “It’s always a fun thing to do for me.”

While Hannah specializes in sugar cookies for her teammates off the court, on the court, her clear specialty is her shooting and it’s something she plans to keep doing during her final three regular season games and possibly in the playoffs.

“I want to try to score in double digits for the rest of the season and finish strong because this is it for me,” she said. “I want to leave it all out on the court.”

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Athlete Spotlight: Eli Rico-Torres’ extra work will go a long way

Posted on 27 January 2014 by La Habra Journal

Photo by Erik Markus, La Habra Journal

Photo by Erik Markus, La Habra Journal

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

Coming into his junior season, Sonora soccer player Eli Rico-Torres had to endure a tough lesson before he could enjoy success on the field.

After missing the preseason, his teammates have to be happy that he responded well to the adversity as he scored five goals in two games last week, including a four-goal outburst against city rival La Habra.

“As a forward, I’m always thirsty to score,” Eli said. “When I got one in extra time [against Buena Park], it really boosted my moral going into Friday against La Habra. We got into a rhythm, I was able to score and then I just kept scoring. I felt pretty lucky that day and I’m hoping it carries on against Sunny Hills on Wednesday.”

The Raiders have looked more dynamic in the offensive third during league play, which has helped in leading to a 2-1-1 start.

Eli’s speed and finishing ability have helped to make the Raiders much more dangerous. In addition, he showcases an ability to help set his teammates up for open looks.

“I’ve really been impressed this entire year by his unselfishness,” said Cory Witt, Sonora head coach. “In our game against Buena Park, what doesn’t go on the stat sheet is that he set up our two potential game winners, which means he’s working to get his teammates involved and taking advantage of his opportunities.”

The Raiders’ top scorer a year ago, Eli has been working on his craft since he was three years old and has been on varsity during all three years of his high school career.

Before games, the junior often listens to music and tries to get into a calm state, focusing on what needs to be done in order to win the game.

“When you’re in club, it’s different because you have more time to think,” Eli said. “But coming out of class, I just try to get my mind set and think every day you’re going to win no matter who you’re playing.”

Before the season, Witt limited the number of games Sonora played so that the team could stay hungry and focus on the Freeway League.

However, Eli’s hunger to get onto the field was intensified after he was deemed academically ineligible for the preseason.

But being ruled out on the field made Eli realize how important it was to keep up with his studies in the classroom.

“It meant a lot, I was talking to all my teachers and everyone tells me that I have the potential to play in college, but none of that happens unless you have the grades,” he said. “If you want to play and you want to help the team, you have to keep up with the schoolwork. That’s the way it works.”

Despite not playing, Eli went to all of his team’s nonleague games and watched from the bench. His first game back was the team’s league opener against Troy.

“I was so happy to get back, I was sitting on the bench, I went to every single preseason game and we didn’t do so hot, which was devastating because I knew it was partially my fault,” he said. “I’m one of the older players on the team and I needed to get back and play. That was my fault, grade-wise.”

He and his teammates weren’t the only ones happy to see Eli back on the field.

“Ultimately, he provides the presence up top where you have to pay attention,” Witt said. “Sometimes it can work as a distraction and sometimes it helps when he can do his thing. It helps having that kind of player that has that sort of presence because you have to pay attention. With Eli, it’s always been a confidence thing…he had a breakout week, which was good for him and for us.”

For Eli, the academic suspension served as a lesson that he has taken seriously.

The junior also has a support system for his academic success, including English Teacher Janet Yeandle, who Eli said has been a mentor and has pushed him to continue to work on his studies.

English, coincidentally enough, happens to be one of Eli’s favorite subjects, adding that he likes to write. Physiology also makes the list of enjoyable subjects as he loves learning about the body and how the muscles work.

Eli says that he now gets most of his homework done before practice, which leaves his mind free to focus on honing his skills during practice.

In addition, he has the help of his mother at home, who also pushes his academic success, his personal growth and is one of his biggest role models.

In terms of his performance on the field, Eli’s role model is Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Everyone’s going to hate me for this one,” he said with a laugh. “He’s my favorite player. I’m always watching Real Madrid, watching him play and scoring goals, he doesn’t stop scoring and always plays for his team. Even though he just won the Balon De Oro (Golden Ball), you hear him talk and he’ll say ‘None of this would have happened without my teammates and my coaches.’ I want to be a player like that.”

When Eli has free time, he enjoys listening to music, working on artwork or playing video games. Not surprising, he loves playing the FIFA franchise.

While his big accomplishments are seen on the soccer field, perhaps Eli’s biggest achievement this year has been putting a plan in place and creating a support system to make sure he stays on top of his studies.

That goal will help Eli stay on the field, and while his time is cut short for this season, he still has one more to accomplish a small personal goal amongst those he has for the team.

“I just want us to win league, I want to go to CIF, that would be really exciting for me and the team,” he said. “Of course, I also want to score as many goals as possible and beat Coach Witt’s record of 24 goals in a season. To do that would be cool.”

While scoring three or four goals per game for the rest of this year may be challenging, if Eli continues to keep up with his studies, Witt may be sweating it out next year.

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