Press Democrat honors athletes of the year


A North Bay League tennis champion who organized a free dental clinic. A hardnosed wrestler who will major in biochemical engineering at UC Davis. A young man who scored 52 goals in soccer while maintaining a 5.0 senior GPA. A state-qualifying cross-country runner who won her school talent show with a clarinet concerto.

These kids aren’t cross-training, they’re cross-living.

The Press Democrat once again honored the Redwood Empire’s best, brightest, boldest and brawniest Wednesday night at the Friedman Event Center, presenting awards to the top athletes and scholar-athletes from 38 local high schools.

A total of 131 students were honored, and all of them brought stellar resumes to the event. Eight of them, however, stood tall even in the land of sporting and academic giants. These were our Athletes of the Year and Scholar-Athletes of the Year — and each will receive a scholarship along with his or her trophy.

“High school sports are important to The Press Democrat,” publisher Bruce Kyse told the crowd, made up of athletes, coaches and their families. “Obviously, we cover sports with great zeal, in the newspaper and on And we have some of our best writers dedicated to the subject.

“But we also believe high school sports and academics and even community service are all important pieces of the puzzle that defines our youth community. That’s why we love this program, and why we’ve been doing it for 18 years.”

Many high schoolers dabble in multiple sports, but Annie Studdert of Sonoma Valley was a true two-discipline star. Studdert was one of the best girls soccer players in the area last fall, and she was just as good on the basketball court this winter, making her the perfect pick as our Large School Girls Athlete of the Year. She is headed to Clemson University on a soccer scholarship.

Healdsburg’s Adam Hendrickson, Large School Boys Athlete of the Year, knows something about the two-sport model as well. One of the best wrestlers in the region, he finished second in North Coast Section wrestling at 145 pounds this year. That doesn’t sound football-sized, but Hendrickson is also a linebacker for the Greyhounds. He will wrestle at Boise State.

Two sports? Sounds easy to Willits’ Joseph Sasso IV, Small School Boys Athlete of the Year. OK, let’s run down the checklist: He is an All-Empire running back for the Wolverines’ football team, the NCL I’s most valuable wrestler and an NCS qualifier in track and field, where he competes in the 100-meter dash and pole vault. Sasso plans to play football and study biochemical engineering at UC Davis.

Small School Girls Athlete of the Year, will surprise no one who has been paying attention the past two years. That’s because Kate Bayes of Sonoma Academy won the award as a sophomore and junior, too. Bayes broke her wrist midway through the soccer season but still was NCL II co-MVP, and returned to garner league MVP honors in basketball. Bayes will play hoops at Nebraska-Omaha.

Jacqueline Payne, our Large School Girls Scholar-Athlete of the Year, is an accomplished tennis player, Girl Scout and student. But her lasting achievement may be this: She is the first female valedictorian at Cardinal Newman. Payne was part of the North Bay League championship doubles team (along with Francie Behmke) while burnishing her 4.4 GPA. She plans to launch a pre-med program at Georgetown University this fall.

Karl Nimtz, Large School Scholar-Athlete of the Year, is also a repeat winner, . It’s just hard to look past someonewith a 4.8 GPA. When not acing exams, Nimtz is a three-year starting outfielder for the Montgomery baseball team, and a starting forward for the Vikings’ basketball team. He wants to be an orthopedic surgeon, and he will start down that path by studying molecular biology at UCLA.

No boy has ever scored more goals at Sonoma Academy than Garrett Griffin scored . He padded his career total with 52 goals as a Sonoma Academy senior en route to being named NCL III MVP in soccer, was a key contributor to the basketball team and carried a cumulative 4.43 GPA, making him Small School Boys Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He will play soccer at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Our Small School Girls Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Alexandra Sciocchetti, is a young woman on the move. She is a four-year MVP of the Fort Bragg cross-country team, and she qualified for the state meet as a senior. Sciocchetti should make the All-NCL I track team for the fourth consecutive year as well. A 4.5 student and a gifted clarinet player, she will run competitively at the University of Idaho, where she will study exercise science.

Students claiming both athlete and scholar-athlete titles at their respective schools. They include Cassidy Jourdan (Healdsburg), Nicholas Diaz (Maria Carrillo), Devon Brook (Windsor), Sara Sanders (Lower Lake), Nicholas Brown (Middletown), Holle Depina (St. Helena), Erin Lilly (Calistoga), Angelica Sotelo (Roseland Prep), Osvaldo Palomares (Tomales) and Kelsie Jones (Geyserville).