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Escalon's Outstanding Senior Athletes Share The Spotlight
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Hard work, talent, perseverance and an unending desire to be the best they can be has set some Escalon High School senior athletes apart from the rest.

Six outstanding seniors were recognized at the recent Spring Sports Awards night, capping off their high school careers.

Receiving the Hall-Loureiro Most Inspirational Senior Athlete honors were Mike Sawyer and Jessica Ochoa, with the Lloyd C. Engel Outstanding Senior Athlete awards presented to Marc Backovich and Aprille Ray. Additionally, Lauren Brown and Brian Beeman were named as the Escalon Sports Boosters Scholarship and Dale Lacky CIF Scholar Athlete award winners.

Winners of the 'Most Inspirational' award were chosen for their drive and their ability to keep their teammates going.

"This guy battled through injury," Escalon High athletic director and head football coach Mark Loureiro said of Sawyer. "He's a guy that's not only big in size, but big in inspiration."

For his part, Sawyer, who played both football and participated in track and field at Escalon, said he always went out with the goal of enjoying himself while he was on the game stage.

"Just fun," he said. "The people are fun."

Sawyer plans to attend Delta College in Stockton and play football there, while looking forward to a career in physical therapy or teaching.

"The most valuable lesson I learned here?" he said of his time at Escalon High. "Good things happen to people who work hard for what they want."

Loureiro pointed to his standout football player as one that knew how to make things happen for the team.

"He's an inspirational athlete and a true leader, he sets the tone at practice and he's the kind of guy that aims to please," said Loureiro. "He's big in size, big in spirit and this most inspirational award puts closure on his high school track and football career."

Ochoa, who ran both cross country and track and field for Escalon High, arrived here for her final two years of high school and made an impression in a short time.

"Her case was different," admitted Loureiro. "Her battling to get the most out of her athletic ability, how supportive she is of her teammates, she is caring and has a very positive attitude...she was the unanimous winner."

Coach Rick Heflin worked with Ochoa in both her sports, cross country in the fall and track and field in the spring.

"She wasn't anywhere close to the greatest athlete and I think that's what made her special," Heflin pointed out. "She came in her junior year, a fish out of water, it could have been a negative but she found a home and she's been the overwhelming most inspirational athlete on every team she's been on. That's hard to do when you don't grow up here, I think that says volumes for her."

The soft-spoken Ochoa admitted to being "really excited" about the award and said she made connections in a short time.

"I'll miss how close it was, how everyone knows each other here," she said.

She plans to attend UC Irvine and will major in chemistry.

Outstanding senior athlete honors, the prestigious Lloyd C. Engel award, went to Backovich for his efforts in basketball, cross country and track and field, while Ray was tapped for outstanding work in soccer and cross country.

Ray played soccer for four years, and ran cross country for three, going to the State Meet in that sport.

"Parents help a lot," she said of maintaining a balance between good grades and participation in sports. "They keep you grounded. If they hadn't yelled at me, to keep me in line, I probably wouldn't be here."

The new high school graduate plans to attend CSU Long Beach and is hoping to become a kindergarten teacher.

"You've got to keep on keeping on," she added of what drives her. "Be true to yourself."

Varsity soccer coach Craig Humrichouse said having Ray anchor the defense this year helped carry the Cougars into the Section finals.

"She wears shoes that are going to be hard to fill," said Humrichouse. "She was just a great player, she had the ability to step up her play when needed and she was somebody that we could depend on back there defensively...she played a huge part in the 14 shutouts we had this season."

Backovich, with a Section championship in cross country, All-League honors and the Section championship this year in basketball, said he wouldn't trade his time at Escalon High for anything, even with having his dad Mike as his basketball coach at the varsity level.

"It's just a lot tougher but it works out for the best," admitted Backovich of the parent-coach scenario. "Athletes are made in the summer, teams are made during the season and if you want to be good, you have to play or run against people that are better than you."

Capping off his career was the Section title in basketball, as the Cougars defeated rival Ripon for the Division IV crown. That, said Backovich, was sweet success, making all the time and effort worth it.

Dad Mike agreed that his son was driven to succeed, working hard to make the most out of his potential.

"He's a kid that's gotten every inch out of every athletic ability he had," said coach Backovich. "He spent his summers lifting, running, going to camp...he has the heart of a lion and is just a competitor.

"I could not be more thrilled to have him win that award because he is deserving, he's worked for everything he's gotten."

Loureiro agreed.

"Marc worked real hard to become the athlete he is, he did all those things that make the difference between a good player and a great player," explained Loureiro.

Backovich plans to continue playing basketball at college, either at Columbia College or Lassen Community College before transferring to a four-year school, and plans a career in sports medicine.

Escalon's Dale Lacky winners, selected for their high academic achievement and contributions to their sports, also were named as the Escalon Sports Boosters scholarship winners. Brown played basketball and ran cross country and track and field, while Beeman was a standout on the soccer field, basketball court and baseball diamond.

"I probably never had a player that enjoyed being on the floor as much as Lauren did, practices and everything," varsity basketball coach Gary Ball said. "Academically, she's in the top of her class, she's a wonderful kid with a great attitude."

Loureiro said the requirements for the Dale Lacky award - presented by the Section - are to "be a major contributor in their sports" and have a GPA above 3.5 while being involved in at least two sports.

"She's our top female scholar-athlete," noted Loureiro of Brown.

Beeman has also just finished an outstanding senior season, a member of the Section championship basketball team and the varsity baseball team that lost to Linden in the Section finals on May 30.

"He had a tremendous senior year," agreed Loureiro. "He was a starter for soccer, on our Section basketball championship team, was the leadoff hitter and a golden glove winner in baseball...he just kind of blossomed out this year."

Coach Backovich, who had Beeman in basketball, said the player nicknamed "The Little Lefty" as a youngster could always be counted on.

"He could leap out and light up a gym at any point," said Backovich. "He's come all the way up through the program, paid his dues. He comes from a very, very well-rounded family and as a person, he's the best, he's just a pleasure to be around."

The special senior honors capped off a busy sports awards night on May 25.

"There's a lot of talent here, with kids that have been very successful," noted Loureiro. "All these seniors will be tough to replace."