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Rising To The Top Seniors Earn Inspirational, Outstanding Athlete Honors
Leading an accomplished class of athletes, five seniors at Escalon high School took home top honors from the year-end sports awards night, culminating their high school careers.

James Hill and Casey Schmidig were named the Hall-Loureiro Most Inspirational Senior Athlete winners, with Brandon Shaw, Caitlin Brooks and Presli Pilati selected for the Lloyd C. Engel Outstanding Senior Athlete honors.

James Hill

A key part of successful football and baseball teams at Escalon High School throughout his four years as a Cougar, James Hill said he didn't necessarily consider himself an 'inspiration' to others.

"Just lead by example, that's the main thing," Hill said of how he approaches every situation, be it on the playing field or in the classroom. "Hard works pays off, just try your best."

The son of Jim and Debbie Hill, he also excelled in academics as well as athletics, named a co-Salutatorian for the Class of 2011 and winner of the Senior Scholar-Athlete honor.

In terms of his sports efforts, Hill said each is unique.

"Football, it's more physical and I like the adrenaline rush you get from it," he said of the fast paced fall sport. "Baseball, I've played it since I was 5, it's something I love to do and it's more of a thinking game."

Hill was able to cap his senior year with Section championships in both sports, a state title in football and a likely state title - to be announced later this month - in baseball.

He also said students need to find a way that works for them to fit everything in if they want to succeed athletically and academically.

"Get your schoolwork done first," he advised, "and just work as hard as you can."

Also handing out some accolades for Hill was Athletic Director and coach Mark Loureiro, who served as his head coach in football.

"James, he's a leader on our campus, on the playing field and also in the classroom," Loureiro said. "He's one of those kids that you don't always see his name in the headlines but you can't win without him.

"He does all those little things that coaches love and he comes in with a positive work ethic."

Hill is headed to UC Davis, where he will study mechanical engineering.

Casey Schmidig

Suiting up for volleyball in the fall, Casey Schmidig was also a four-year varsity starter for softball in the spring while wearing the purple and gold.

"You look at those eyes and you see a passion and a determination," coach Loureiro said of Schmidig. "Her competitiveness is contagious."

The daughter of Richard and Cathy Schmidig, the new EHS graduate said she approaches each game with the same attitude.

"Just confident," she said of setting a good example for her teammates. "I like volleyball because it's always upbeat, always something going on. In softball, I love being out there with my teammates and I love the competition."

Playing varsity softball for four years, Schmidig grew into her role as a team leader and she also was a vocal leader on the varsity volleyball court her junior and senior seasons.

"The success of those teams lies in her ability, attitude and inspiration," Loureiro said of Schmidig's impact.

She won back-to-back Section titles in softball her sophomore and junior years and also enjoyed success on the volleyball court, going to playoffs.

"I feel like people can look up to me," Schmidig said. "I like to be a leader."

Her favorite memories of high school sports include playing softball with her older sister Kattie her first two years on the team - "I really look up to her" - and serving as a captain this season. She plans to play volleyball at Modesto Junior College as she pursues liberal studies and wants to be an elementary teacher.

Something that doesn't happen too often, two athletes shared the female 'outstanding athlete' award, as Loureiro said coaches could not decide between Presli Pilati and Caitlin Brooks. Each has left their mark in a different way, noted Loureiro, and each was very deserving of the award.

Presli Pilati

Coming to Escalon to start her sophomore year, Presli Pilati made the most of her three seasons, leading golf and tennis teams to outstanding success. She also played basketball her sophomore and senior years, but her real contributions were on the links and on the tennis court.

"I like both, they both are a lot of individual stuff as opposed to a team," Pilati said of the sports, but added the individual effort also contributes to the overall team success.

Leading the golf team all three seasons, she brought a quiet intensity to the game. On the tennis court, she carved her own path, mowing down nearly everyone in her way in singles competition and also versatile enough to play doubles matches when needed.

"You change for each opponent," Pilati said of approaching competition, noting that reading your opponent can help you figure out the best way to defeat them.

And while basketball didn't have the success of her other sports, Pilati said she enjoyed getting on the court "just for fun" and to spend time with friends and classmates.

The daughter of Dennis and Therese Pilati, she plans to attend Modesto Junior College with an eye toward majoring in business and wants to continue playing both tennis and golf at the collegiate level.

"What I saw was a big growth in confidence and maturity from when she got here," Loureiro said of Pilati's evolution over the last three years. "Golf and tennis, she has excelled in those, she's played on four Section championship teams, she is a three-time TVL MVP, there aren't many that have that kind of impact."

Pilati, like Hill, was also selected as the Class of 2011 Senior Scholar-Athlete.

Her advice to help achieve success on the playing fields?

"Just practice a lot ... even when you really, really don't want to."

Caitlin Brooks

A dominating force from the softball pitcher's circle, Caitlin Brooks helped Escalon's Lady Cougars win back-to-back Section crowns in 2009 and 2010. Her senior season was marred by an injury, which severely limited her playing time, getting on the field for just a couple of games before having to sit out the remainder of the campaign.

But her impact had already been felt, her legacy already secure.

"Caitlin ages me," Loureiro said, chuckling. "Years ago, I'd be going home and I'd watch her play catch with her dad at the school."

Loureiro saw the growth and development over the past decade, Brooks emerging as a star in softball.

"She is the most dominating pitcher ever at Escalon High School and the Trans-Valley League," Loureiro said. "It has been a pleasure to watch. She's left her mark here."

Brooks did softball all four years, played basketball all four years and also tried volleyball her freshman year.

The daughter of Art and Terry Brooks, she will attend Sacramento State on a softball scholarship and plans to go into physical therapy.

"Basketball, I just loved having fun out there," Brooks said of the game. "Softball, I knew I wanted to play since T-ball and it's tough, but I knew I wanted to do this."

The endless pitching sessions with dad, the thrill of competition, the goal of going on to play at college ... it all has helped shape Brooks and prepared her for the next level.

She will leave for Sac State in August and aims to be ready, coming back from a foot injury suffered in softball.

As far as good memories here, she said the last Section game, winning a 3-0 contest against Hughson, ranks right up there.

"They were our rivals," she said.

She also said getting the scholarship to Sac State is a dream come true.

"Very excited, all my hard work paid off," she said.

Brandon Shaw

Doing something that has become increasingly harder as academic standards have increased, Brandon Shaw put his all into everything he did at Escalon High School - including football, basketball and baseball.

"He's done what most haven't done," agreed Loureiro. "Four years of playing three sports, that's a testament to Brandon, he's a fierce competitor."

Not only did Shaw play three sports, he was a standout in all three.

"Big time players play big in big time games," Loureiro said. "Brandon rises to the big games."

His résumé includes some key catches in football, clutch shots in basketball and outstanding pitching performances on the diamond. He has Section titles to his name in football and baseball, a state title in football - and likely one in baseball - and playoff experience in basketball.

The son of Dennis and Tracy Shaw, Brandon credits older brother Geoff with always being his inspiration. Having to keep up with Geoff and his friends - five years older than Brandon - was a key in pushing him to be his best.

"I needed to step up my game to keep up with them," Shaw said, adding that Geoff is "probably my biggest supporter."

Shaw said he loved being a part of the Cougar teams over the years, enjoying success with each one.

"I've had three days off my whole four years," he said, noting that his weekends are busy with racing quads and go-carts.

But he wouldn't have it any other way, preferring to be busy. He plans to attend Delta College to start, looking at suiting up for both football and baseball there, and will go into sports medicine or sports therapy.

"Brandon's best comes out when the game is on the line," Loureiro added. "He's going to be tough to replace."

The five senior honorees were recognized with their awards at the May 24 Sports Awards Night, each capping a hugely successful career at Escalon High.

"They're all great kids," said Loureiro.