Sun-Star Honors Spring Male Athletes of the Year
Trent Mallonee and many of his Los Banos High teammates have been hunting a Sac-Joaquin Section championship since they were freshmen.
The Tigers finally claimed their prize this season, bringing home the school’s first baseball blue banner since 1994. Along the way, the Tigers finished the season 28-1, won a Western Athletic Conference championship and was named the state’s top ranked Division III team by CalHIsports.
What made the year even more special, is Mallonee accomplished everything with his friends.
“It was an exciting year with everything this team went through,” Mallonee said. “Our team is so close. We formed a bond that will never be forgotten.”
Mallonee was named the WAC Most Valuable Player after hitting .565 to go along with 47 runs scored, four home runs, 17 doubles and 30 RBIs.
For the second consecutive season Mallonee is the Merced Sun-Star Baseball Player of the Year.
“He had a great season,” said Los Banos coach Pat Fuentes, who was also named the Sun-Star Coach of the Year. “He improved on hitting .500 the year before. He batted .565 and he led by example, being a senior.”
A leadership role was different for Mallonee. As a fourth year varsity player, leadoff hitter and shortstop he grew into the role.
“In past years I wasn’t as much of a leader,” he said. “This year I tried, but I also knew every game my team had my back if I had a bad game.”
There weren’t many bad games for Mallonee.
He helped lead an offense that averaged close to 10 runs per game. Mallonee has a .634 on-base percentage.
“I thought we played the game the right way,” he said. “We pitched, hit and played defense behind our two great pitchers Kody (Cardoza) and Max (Ramirez).”
Mallonee remembers being an eighth grader in the stands when his older brother Lane fell one game short of winning a section title. After trying for three years himself in high school, the feeling of finally winning the blue banner will be something Mallonee won’t ever forget.
“It’s something we’ve wanted for a long time,” Mallonee said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about, bringing a section title. I don’t think words can describe it.”
Christopher Giardina, El Capitan
Giardina is another repeat winner after being named the Merced Sun-Star Golfer of the Year last year. It’s the third time in four years Giardina has won the award.
The Gauchos senior won the Central California Conference mid-season tournament and end-of-year tournaments. He was named the CCC Most Valuable Player after leading the conference in scoring.
A wrist injury forced Giardina to end his season before competing at the divisional championships.
“Toward the end of the year I was playing really strong,” Giardina said. “Two days before divisionals, I cracked a bone in my wrist. That sucked. I was playing the best golf I have ever played in my life up to that point. I had shot a 2-under at the league championship.”
Giardina tried to practice on the course while wearing a cast, but quickly realized it wasn’t going to work.
“I tried to chip some balls and it wasn’t happening at all,” he said. “That hurt. I never got emotional, but it hurt deep down because I knew this season was my best chance at getting to state.”
Giardina feels he really improved his ball striking this season after weekly workouts with his swing coach Cindy Bining in Fresno.
“She helped take my game to a whole new level,” Giardina said. “My misses were very little. My bad rounds weren’t that bad. My ball striking and putting took my scores way down. I was able to score in the 70s consistently.”
Next up for Giardina is starting his collegiate golf career at Dominican University.
“Words can’t explain how excited I am,” Giardina said. “I just can’t wait to experience college life, to meet new friends and new teammates.”
David Chen, Merced
Merced High swimming coach Kit Grattan has never seen David Chen get angry. Grattan feels it’s one of the few things that could keep Chen from taking his job.
“He’s a great leader,” Grattan said. “He leads by example. He always has a positive attitude. He’s super encouraging with his teammates. He has so much knowledge, he knows most of the things us coaches can do.
“I don’t think he can get angry like I can. I can get mad.”
Chen’s always positive approach has served him well in the pool where he won two individual Central California Conference championships with victories in the 200-yard individual medley and the 500 freestyle. Chen was an anchor on the Bears CCC championship team.
Chen is the Merced Sun-Star Boys Swimmer of the Year.
Chen and his teammates felt they came into the spring as underdogs after a disappointing water polo season. He remembers talking to his teammates one morning.
“I remember telling them it’s not like we can put in the work the week before the final meet,” Chen said. “The work has to start now. I don’t want to take credit for anything, but things seemed to turn around.”
Chen said he sensed a leadership void on the team and had no problem stepping into that role.
His versatility gave Grattan options when it came to filling out his lineup against CCC teams. He can swim any event, whether it’s sprints or distance.
“I think he swam everything but maybe the 50 (freestyle),” Grattan said.
Bode Chaite, El Capitan
Bode Chait is the type of player any coach would want to work with. The El Capitan High junior will do whatever is asked.
“He has this intensity and desire to work off the court with a win,” said Gauchos tennis coach Don Bragonier. “He works hard in practice and does everything I ask him to do with hitting and drills. He wants to get better.”
The results speak volumes.
Chait went 17-0 in Central California Conference matches en route to a CCC individual title. He also helped lead El Capitan to a perfect run to a CCC team championship.
Chait is the Sun-Star Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
“I was happy with the way my season went,” Chait said. “I was more happy with how well the team did. Going 14-0 in league made it even better for us. It was exciting to see us do that because two years ago we went 0-12.”
Chait started playing tennis the summer before he started high school because some of his friends played. He’s caught on quick. In the past three years he’s compiled a 37-1 record in CCC regular season matches.
This year was his first time winning the CCC individual tournament.
“It was exciting,” he said. “It was my first time winning and I got to play my teammate Andres Garcia in the final. It was funny. We kind of expected it, but we weren’t sure it would work out that way.”
Eduardo Hurtado, Atwater
Atwater senior Eduardo Hurtado is relatively new to the high jump. He didn’t start competing in the event until last year.
“Eduardo was part of our distance program and he had a soccer background,” said Atwater coach Ken Rhoades. “Once he got taller and harnessed his athleticism,. he moved on to jumping. He became a big part of our CCC championship team.”
Hurtado won the CCC championship in the high jump by clearing 6 feet, 5 inches. The Falcons senior qualified for the CIF State Meet with a third-place finish at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet with a height of 6-4.
Hurtado then set a personal best mark of 6-6 on the first day of the state meet and finished 10th.
Hurtado in the Merced Sun-Star Boys Track Athlete of the Year.
“When I got to go to state I was really happy,” Hurtado said. “Not many people get to go to state. I was happy to compete against the top athletes in California.”
Hurtado didn’t just focus on the high jump. He also competed in the 400 meters, 4x400 relay and the triple jump to help lead the Falcons to the CCC championship.
“The high jump was his main focus, but he was willing to do whatever we asked,” said Rhoades, who was also named the Sun-Star Coach of the Year. “We appreciated that he was willing to be a three to four event athlete for us.”
Competing at the state meet became a realistic goal for Hurtado after he cleared 6-4 for the first time during a CCC center meet midway through the season. He proved he can perform on a big stage when he cleared 6-5 at the Tiger Invite in Pasadena in April.
Making it to the second day at the state meet and finishing 10th was an exciting end to the season.
“I didn’t think I’d make it to the second day,” said Hurtado, who will join the Modesto Junior College track team next year. “Getting to the second day just made me more excited and more happy.”
Bryan Livesay, Golden Valley
After losing some key seniors from last year’s Central California Conference championship team, Bryan Livesay wasn’t sure what to expect this season for the Cougars boys volleyball team.
“Coming into this year I was hoping for third or fourth in league,” Livesay said. “We lost Westin (Bylsma) and our setter (Vong Her). We didn’t expect to finish first. My mindset wasn’t on winning CCC.”
That changed as the Cougars continued to win. They picked up a big win against Merced, fighting back from a 2-0 deficit. The Cougars won an emotional five-set match at El Capitan.
Golden Valley went on to win the CCC championship with a 12-0 record. The third consecutive title for the Cougars. Livesay was named the CCC’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Livesay is the Merced Sun-Star Boys Volleyball Player of the Year.
“We had some young quality guys step in,” Livesay said. “Our mentality was to have fun this year. Winning wasn’t everything. We just wanted to get better and that pushed us to keep winning.”
The Cougars advanced to the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs before losing to top-seeded Nevada Union 3-1.
Livesay feels fortunate that he had the opportunity to play volleyball in high school. It’s just the third year since the CCC formed a boys volleyball conference.
“I’m extremely lucky,” Livesay said. “My brother (Scott) reminds me if only he had this in high school. He didn’t have the option. I’m grateful that I can play for me school. I go around in club ball, and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, boys volleyball is a normal thing in high school.’ Here our league is almost brand new.
“I’m thankful I was abot to help start a program and do something to help push the sport forward.”
Spring All-Area Honorees
R.J. Garcia, Buhach Colony
Kody Cardoza, Los Banos
Treven Crowley, Hilmar
Alex Kendrick, Buhach Colony
Jakob Faulk, Atwater
Max Ramirez, Los Banos
Jacob Weiss, Atwater
Antonio Cortez, Buhach Colony
Julian Natividad-Lopez, El Capitan
Jake Sapien, Buhach Colony
Jason Raine, Golden Valley
Leo Kari, Mariposa
Michael Medinas, Mariposa
Austin Hickman, Chowchilla
Cesar Avila, Livingston
Coach: Pat Fuentes, Los Banos
Justin Pasley, Buhach Colony
Preston Castleton, Golden Valley
Jonathan Valencia, Buhach Colony
Isael Sanchez, Golden Valley
Josh Padialla, Buhach Colony
Wei-Sheng Chang, El Capitan
Nick Allen, Buhach Colony
Matthew Brewer, Atwater
Andrew Higgins, Atwater
Coach: Mike Bell, Buhach Colony
Kaileb Michael, El Capitan
Nick Eckles, Merced
Aidan Ramirez, El Capitan
Tanner Maghoney, El Capitan
Aaron Helfgott, Buhach Colony
Matt Rogers, Atwater
Vincent Arroyo, El Capitan
Jared Hoffart, Buhach Colony
Daniel Martin, Merced
William Seifert, Buhach Colony
Coach: Kit Grattan, Merced
Andres Garcia, El Capitan
Quentin Barcellos, Los Banos
Jessu Nunez, Merced
Aiden O’Herin, Atwater
Nick Butticci, Merced
Chittawat Her, El Capitan
Terry Chen, El Capitan
Lor Xiong, Golden Valley
Jackson De Jager, Stone Ridge Christian
Quentin Phillips, Golden Valley
Cha Moua, Merced
Drew Hill, Buhach Colony
Coach: Kayla Pedretti, Golden Valley
Demetrius Bates, Merced
Braydon Jones, Los Banos
Brian Mattews, El Capitan
Dhameer Warren, Merced
Divine Peters, El Capitan
Isaiah Daniels, Golden Valley
Avery Townsel, Golden Valley
Samuel Jenkins, Atwater
Frank Pereira, Hilmar
Cole McKain, Merced
Brandon Davis, Golden Valley