Four Escalon High School seniors, members of the Class of 2022, were able to wrap up their careers with some top athletic awards.
The awards were presented at the final Sports Awards Night of the past school year and included both the Bob and Mark Loureiro Most Inspirational award and the Lloyd C. Engel Outstanding Athlete award.
Chosen as the recipients of the Loureiro honor for being the most inspirational athletes in the senior class were JP Lial and Soleil Gouzenne.
Taking home the Lloyd C. Engel honors as the most outstanding athletes in the graduating class were Amanda Murphy and EJ Lewis.
Whether it was on the football field, the wrestling mats or the baseball diamond, JP Lial gave it his all every time he put on a Cougar uniform. And being ‘inspirational’ wasn’t really on his mind, though other people saw it that way and he received the Loureiro Most Inspirational recognition.
“I just feel like I go out there and do what I need to do,” Lial said. “I guess to others it was inspirational.”
Perhaps the most inspiring thing was the way that Lial refused to quit; having to work his way back from significant injuries and surgeries to even play the games.
“My sophomore year, I tore my ACL ad my meniscus, dislocated my knee cap and that set me back,” he detailed. “It was supposed to be a whole year for recovery; I came back in eight months.”
But then COVID derailed sports, giving him little opportunity to be involved as a junior as seasons were delayed and shortened.
He was looking forward to a more ‘normal’ sports year for his final campaign but fate intervened once again.
“Three weeks before my senior year, I tore my meniscus again so I had to go through another whole process to try and get back for the (football) season, I made it back Week One,” Lial added. “All the coaches that coached me, they especially motivated me as well, kept me positive and I guess that’s probably what helped me be positive for everyone else.”
Lial has wrestled for eight years, played baseball since he started in T-ball and suited up for football for 11 years. Each sport has its own special place for Lial as he looks back on his youth and high school career.
“Probably just all the experiences; football probably came with a lot more memories and it was by far my favorite sport,” Lial said of what he enjoyed the most. “Just the connections; I’ve had friends since I was eight that I met during football season and I’m still friends with them to my senior year and I wouldn’t take any of that back.”
The best part of his senior year: Lial capped his final high school season on the gridiron as a key part of the team and earned a Section championship with the Cougars.
Playing both basketball and softball for Escalon High School, Soleil Gouzenne was recognized with the Loureiro Most Inspirational Award for female athletes.
“I like basketball better,” Gouzenne confessed. “I do feel proud of myself because I put in some hard work with my sports.”
It was also a particularly fun and rewarding season this year on the basketball court, as Gouzenne and her Lady Cougar teammates were champions of the Trans-Valley League and got to cut down the net after sealing the title.
She played softball for three years and spent all four years of high school playing basketball for Escalon. Key to her success, she said, was being on the varsity basketball team as a freshman.
“I knew I hard to work hard, as one of the underclassmen, I had to prove that I deserved to be on the team,” Gouzenne said.
Seeing the years of work pay off this season was especially gratifying.
“I helped my team win a TVL title,” she said of the basketball success.
The softball squad also met with some success during her tenure on the diamond, and she was able to go to the playoffs in both sports.
“I learned about hard work and leadership skills,” she added of what she gained from being involved with athletics. “Things I can use outside of sports.”
She was named a team captain for basketball her junior year and took that responsibility seriously.
“The other girls looked up to me,” she said of making sure she set a good example in terms of work ethic and sportsmanship.
And while her sports kept her busy in both the winter and spring seasons, Gouzenne enjoyed the pace and was able to juggle academics and athletics. She also has a favorite memory: “Cutting down the net, being able to celebrate that with my teammates.”
Chosen as the Outstanding Female Athlete and taking home the Lloyd C. Engel award came as a surprise to Amanda ‘Mandy’ Murphy.
“I kind of forgot it was an award because of COVID last year (junior year), it wasn’t even really on my mind, then I got the email that said ‘show up to awards night’ and I wondered what I had gotten,” Murphy explained. “I just feel really honored; I mean I’m a one-sport athlete so I think it’s kind of crazy that I would get it.”
But Murphy’s contributions to that one sport – volleyball – were major and undeniably a huge reason the Lady Cougars are now two-time Section champions. She was a sophomore the year they brought home the Section crown for the first time in school history and, after losing out on playoffs during a COVID-shortened campaign her junior year, helped her team hoist the golden ball and blue banner once again this season as a senior.
“It feels great, I really feel like I’ve left my mark on the school and hopefully I’ve inspired some El Portal girls to play volleyball, too. These may be the first but I don’t think they’ll be the last; I think volleyball is becoming more popular in our town, definitely seeing more girls playing Club volleyball and just more excited about the sport and that makes me happy,” Murphy said of the two Section crowns.
She also said the award is something she needs to share.
“I feel honored that I have made an impact that big,” she said. “But I don’t think I could have done it without Coach Teresa (Williamson) either; she is such a great person and coach.”
Murphy played volleyball for eight years, between club and school. Now, though, she will focus on her education as she heads to USC.
“It’s kind of sad but I’ve put in so much work and effort being a student-athlete and now I’m kind of just ready to be a student,” Murphy said. “I’m excited for my future so, no regrets.”
Though he stayed active in sports throughout high school, EJ Lewis wasn’t expecting to be tapped for the Outstanding Male Athlete award, but he was nonetheless pleased to be named as the recipient of the Lloyd C. Engel honor.
“It feels good because two of my cousins got it also, Colton Panero and Rhys Panero,” Lewis said of taking home the award.
Lewis was a standout for the Cougars on the football field and was among the key players in their run to the Section title this past year. He did football all four years and he also wrestled his senior year. That was the first time he did it in high school, though he had suited up for wrestling for 10 years prior to entering EHS.
“I kind of missed it,” he said of the decision to get back on the mats. “Coach (Derek) Scott is a really good coach, he really motivated me during the season.”
This year, Lewis also joined the tennis team and found a natural affinity for the spring sport.
“It was fun, different,” he said, enjoying some success on the court.
It’s hard to argue with the impact that Lewis made on all the sports he was involved in; helping the football team to a Section crown, helping this year’s wrestling team take the TVL championship and also go deep in the postseason for both individual and team sections. He also emerged as a top singles player in tennis.
He had to ultimately withdraw from wrestling just prior to the end of the postseason due to injury, but got to be part of a team section title for the Cougars.
“The best part was probably my wrestling season,” he said of rekindling his love for the sport.
It was also hard, he noted, because he often had to cut weight each week in order to take the mats, but it was something that came with the territory.
Lewis also received plenty of recognition and accolades for his efforts on the football field and agreed that his senior sports season was a memorable one.
The top senior athletes now move on; Lial and Lewis both will pursue careers in firefighting, Gouzenne plans to study kinesiology, starting at Modesto Junior College, and Murphy will study journalism at USC.