Best of Sac-Joaquin 2015-16

Fiona O'Keeffe of Davis ended career as one of greatest distance runners in section history while Ryan Robards of Elk Grove had huge success in two sports. Photos: SportStars Magazine.

Fiona O’Keeffe ended career as one of greatest distance runners in section history while Ryan Robards had huge success in two sports. Photos: SportStars Magazine.


Similar to its Bay 75 list of top athletes from the CIF North Coast and CIF Central Coast Sections, here’s a series of honors from our partners at SportStars Magazine highlighting some of the best of the best during the 2015-16 school year from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section. The athletes of the year are Ryan Robards of Elk Grove (boys) and Fiona O’Keeffe of Davis (girls).

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BOYS ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
RYAN ROBARDS (ELK GROVE) FOOTBALL/BASEBALL

Ryan Robards has long been an athlete in the truest sense of the word. From a young age, he excelled on the court, gridiron and diamond. He took his multiple talents to Elk Grove High School as a freshman in 2012 and made an impact for Thundering Herd programs for four years.
However, the 2015-16 academic and athletic year was by far Robards’ greatest on the playing fields. The senior capped his high school career with school records, a section championship and a college scholarship. His all-around efforts this year made him a model athlete and SportStars Magazine’s Sac-Joaquin Section Male Athlete of the Year.
“Ryan is a great athlete, but more importantly, he is a great person,” said Jeff Carlson, head baseball coach and assistant football coach at Elk Grove. “He is a great leader, plays hard, and leads by example on the field and is the same in the classroom. He is just a guy that everybody wants to be around.”

Ryan Robards did not slow down in any game for Elk Grove this season. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Ryan Robards did not slow down in any game for Elk Grove this season. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Being around Robards in 2015-16 meant being around a winner. In the Fall, Robards expected to be part of a running back by committee, but quickly assumed control as the backfield workhorse. Coach Chris Nixon and his assistants realized by Week 2 that they had something special on offense that would make the team better and would likely see their senior leader on the field for every snap.
Robards not only rushed for 2,884 yards and 43 touchdowns — both school records — but he also continued to be a force on defense and special teams. In the Herd’s 14 games, he scored a total of 50 touchdowns and 324 points. Robards intercepted four passes and returned a pair of them for scores, returned a fumble for a touchdown, returned two punts to the end zone, and caught a pair of scoring passes. As the team’s primary field goal kicker, he made 6 of 8 tries, including a career-long of 51 yards.
Robards was seemingly unstoppable despite being the primary focus of every defense he faced after a Week 4 scoring explosion against Delta League rival Grant-Sacramento. In that game, he scored five of his six touchdowns before halftime to set the tone for an undefeated league title run. The Thundering Herd advanced to the SJS Division I final against Folsom and gave the Bulldogs all they could handle before finally ending their season one win short of their goal.
Before the calendar turned to 2016, Carlson had accomplished more in four months than many high school athletes accomplish in four years. And he was just getting started because football — while possibly his greatest love — is not his strongest sport. Baseball loomed in the spring and the three-year varsity letter winner shifted gears to prepare for Elk Grove’s defense of its section Div. I championship.
Again, Robards did not disappoint, and again he played a big role in the team’s success. The outfielder played in all 36 of the Herd’s games and batted .386 with four home runs and 34 RBI. Already signed to a baseball scholarship to the University of the Pacific, Robards showed no signs of slowing and led the team on and off the field during a magical season that saw the program win its third section title in four years and 10th overall.
“He had an incredible football season where we were a touchdown away from winning section and going on to NorCals, and he was an immeasurable part of the success of the baseball program,” Carlson said, “but he has always been first class.”
And now Elk Grove’s first-class, all-around athlete can add another accolade to his resume before heading south to Stockton where his focus will oddly be on just one sport.

— Jim McCue

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Jake Jeffrey | Folsom | Football | 2016
The Bulldogs’ QB accounted for more than 5,000 yards of offense (4,194 passing, 974 rushing) and 61 TDs (50 passing; 11 rushing) to lead Folsom to its fourth straight SJS title. Jeffrey will be a preferred walk-on at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.

Before becoming one of the top 10 picks in the MLB Draft, Sheldon's Matt Manning was hitting jumpers on the hardwood. Photo: SportStars Magazine.

Before becoming one of the top 10 picks in the MLB Draft, Sheldon’s Matt Manning was hitting jumpers on the hardwood. Photo: SportStars Magazine.


Solomon Young | Sacramento | Basketball | 2016
The Iowa State-bound forward was a force on the inside and outside as he helped the Dragons to a 30-2 record, SJS Div. II championship and a NorCal Open Div. semifinal appearance. The four-year starter averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game.

Dylan Carlson | Elk Grove | Baseball | 2016
The St. Louis Cardinals’ first-round pick (No. 33 overall) did it all in helping the Thundering Herd to a third SJS Div. I crown in his four years. Carlson batted .406 with nine HR and 40 RBI, and posted a 6-0 record with a 1.44 ERA and a save. He pitched a pair of complete-game victories in the postseason, including a four-hitter in the title-winning game.

Matt Manning | Sheldon | Basketball/Baseball | 2016
Selected ninth overall in the MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers, Manning signed for an area-best $3.5 million. The 6-foot-6 pitcher was 2-1 with a 1.91 ERA and struck out 77 in 40.1 innings. He also batted .493. In the winter, he was a major contributor to the Huskies’ 23-5 basketball team that reached the NorCal Open Div. semifinals. Manning averaged 19.7 points and 6.4 rebounds.

RISING STAR
Elias King | Christian Brothers | Basketball | 2018

The 6-foot-7 forward came into his own in his second season of varsity basketball by doubling his scoring and rebounding averages. King scored in double digits in 25 of 26 games, including a career-high 48 in a 95-88 win over Vanden-Fairfield. He averaged a double-double of 25.2 points and 11.2 rebounds.

COACH OF THE YEAR
Derek Swafford | Sacramento | Basketball

The coach’s 17th season may have been his greatest as the Dragons went 30-2, won the Sac-Joaquin Section Div. II championship, and advanced to the NorCal semifinals of the ultra-competitive Open Division. Known for his discipline and emphasis on academics and community service, Swafford allowed his most experienced group of athletes ever to lead the way to unprecedented success.
Honor Roll: Casey Taylor, Del Oro football; Richard Midgley, Modesto Christian basketball; Todd Melton, Oak Ridge baseball.

GIRLS ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
FIONA O’KEEFFE – DAVIS – CROSS COUNTRY/TRACK

Fiona O’Keeffe’s desire to run may only be matched by her humility. The Davis High School graduate is among the most gifted and successful distance runners in Sac-Joaquin Section history, but, if she could, she might run just as far as she needed in order to avoid the spotlight.
The two-time state cross country champion and 2016 winner of the 3,200-meter race at the CIF State Track and Field Championships always had her Blue Devils’ team goals ahead of her personal goals. As a freshman, it was easy for O’Keeffe to blend in with her cross country teammates and quietly run to the front of the pack with little fanfare. But cross country and distance coach Bill Gregg quickly realized that he had a special individual who could lead the team to new heights.

Current edition of SportStars Magazine

Current edition of SportStars Magazine

“As her freshman year unfolded, I could see that the potential was real and that she could do some great things,” Gregg said.
In her first year of high school competition, O’Keeffe won her first of three consecutive SJS Division I individual titles, but was disappointed that Davis finished as the runner-up to St. Francis in the team standings. She would correct that with team section titles in 2013 and 2015, but the spotlight started to focus on the young runner after she finished sixth in the Division I race at the CIF Cross Country Championships as a freshman.
O’Keeffe followed up her debut season with state Division I individual titles in cross country in 2013 and 2014 to set up an opportunity to join a select few runners with at least three state cross country titles. Unfortunately, ongoing tendinitis and a tight calf slowed her in the postseason of her senior year, but she gutted out a 16th-place individual finish to pace a solid Blue Devils’ team effort that earned a second runner-up state finish for Davis during O’Keeffe’s four years.
Among her teammates during her final high school season was younger sister Olivia, a sophomore who finished 31st at state and shared the section team title. With athletic parents who ran competitively in college, it is perhaps no surprise that Fiona and Olivia have succeeded in cross country and track.
“I think that part of it is genetic,” Fiona said of her talent, “but probably what makes me good is how much I love it and the kind of coaching that I have gotten.”
Fiona will take her love for running a short distance away — for a Sunday O’Keeffe family run maybe — to Palo Alto where she will compete as a distance runner for the Stanford Cardinal. With an eye on national and international events in her future, O’Keeffe is likely to focus on track and field events, such as the 3,200 meters and other distance events in college and beyond.
O’Keeffe was a three-time Section Masters champion in the 3,200 and two-time 1,600-meter winner. As a senior, she doubled in those events and finally added the exclamation point to her high school track career at the state meet in Clovis.
A year after being edged by Great Oak’s Destiny Collins in the 3,200-meter race at the CIF State Track and Field Championships, O’Keeffe outran her rival to claim a third state championship medal, and provided a convincing closing statement for her inclusion in the conversation of elite distance runners in recent California history.
She followed that up with her first statement as a high school graduate at the 2016 USA Track and Field (USATF) Junior Nationals held on the same track that hosts the California state high school meet. O’Keeffe shattered the meet record in the 5,000-meter race with a time of 15:56.84 that bested the Junior Nationals’ record by nearly 15 second and her personal best by more than half a minute.
As a top-two finisher at the USATF event, O’Keeffe qualified to race in the World Juniors meet to be held July 19-24 in Poland. The humble runner has yet to decide if she will make the trip, and will not likely seek much fanfare if she does choose to race against international competition.
In the absence of her commentary on her greatness, Gregg’s statement from the 2015 cross country season says enough.
“She could be one of the great young female American distance runners in the next 5-10 years.”

— Jim McCue

Aarion McDonald of Brookside Christian was the two-time Stockton Record Player of the Year. Photo: SportStars Magazine.

Aarion McDonald of Brookside Christian was the two-time Stockton Record Player of the Year. Photo: SportStars Magazine.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Emily Baptista | Hilmar | Volleyball | 2016
The Yellowjackets’ outside hitter led the SJS with 579 kills as a senior, and accumulated 2,490 kills in her four-year varsity career. Baptista led Hilmar to back-to-back SJS Div. IV finals and will play at University of Pacific in the fall.

Aarion McDonald | Brookside Christian | Basketball | 2016
University of Washington-bound guard was a versatile star who averaged 22 points, 8.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 6 steals per game as a senior. McDonald led Brookside Christian to the SJS Div. IV championship and a berth in NorCal Open Div. bracket.

Jurnee Woodward | Vacaville | Track and Field | 2017
With still one more year of high school left, she was dominant in both hurdles events. Woodward claimed SJS Masters titles in both the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, and collected a CIF State Track and Field Championship in the 300 while finishing third in the 100.

Nicole Bates | Ceres | Softball | 2016
The senior shortstop batted .571 for the season, but came up huge in helping the Bulldogs win the SJS Div. III title. The University of Washington-signee was 15-for-24 (.625) with three doubles, three homers and seven RBI in the postseason.

RISING STAR
Abby Marjama | Rocklin | Volleyball | Sophomore

In two seasons with the Thunder, Marjama has been to a pair of SJS Div. II finals and was part of the 2014 Div. II title team. The outside hitter pounded down 327 kills as a sophomore to give her 691 in her brief career. With the graduation of four-year outside hitter Maddie Haynes, Marjama will be counted on more by head coach Dave Muscarella and should seamlessly step into the spotlight.

COACH OF THE YEAR
Larry Price | Elk Grove | Basketball

In his first year coaching the Thundering Herd after nearly a decade at Florin, Price guided the program to its first-ever CIF State Championship game in any sport. The state parole agent got the most out of a team that finished second in the Delta League and failed to even make the section Div. II final as the Herd made a historic underdog run from the NorCal No. 12 seed to near-state champions.
Honor Roll: Kim Evans, Sonora Volleyball; Victor Pitton, St. Francis Basketball; Mary Jo Truesdale, Sheldon Softball.

Chace Bryson is the editor of SportStars Magazine and its online properties. Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports


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