Verlis Smith, Samantha Espinoza and a host of other student-athletes from Ceres Unified School District’s two public high schools competed in multiple sports simultaneously during the 2020-21 academic year.
Sac-Joaquin Section member schools had their athletic seasons overlap as the California Interscholastic Federation had to modify its competition calendar due to safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m my happiest when I’m playing sports,” said Smith, whose father passed away when he was in the eighth grade. “It’s like an escape from reality.”
“I’ve always been an overachiever,” Espinoza stated. “I like to challenge myself. The pressure keeps me motivated.”
Smith lettered in track and field, volleyball, basketball and football during his junior year at Ceres High.
A 4.0 student, Smith also works part-time.
“I’m pushing myself to the limit. Some people say it’s bad. It’s fun. I love it. It’s tiring. But that’s what I do."Verlis Smith
“I’m pushing myself to the limit,” Smith said. “Some people say it’s bad. It’s fun. I love it. It’s tiring. But that’s what I do. I’m a multi-sport athlete. Sports are my life. Sundays are my days off. I don’t do anything.”
“He’s such a great, coachable kid,” Ceres High track and field head coach Brett Johnson said. “He’s always smiling.”
Smith claimed gold medals while competing at the Western Athletic Conference Track & Field Championships on May 15 at Patterson Community Stadium.
A newcomer to the sport, Smith set personal records while sweeping the 100 (11.25) and 200 (23.00) during the boys’ finals.
“For him to be able to do that is pretty special,” Johnson said.
“The competition motivated me to do better than everyone else,” Smith added. “I did surprise myself with the times I put up. As a sprinter, you have to stay relaxed. If you’re tense, you’re not going to run the times you want to run.”
Smith also teamed up with Gonzalo Rivera, Samar Singh and Luis Yepez to finish in third place in the 4x400 relay (3:41.15).
Smith was named to the Western Athletic Conference South Division First Team in boys volleyball.
He was rewarded for leading the Bulldogs to a 4-0 record in league play.
Smith was a WAC honorable-mention selection in the ninth grade.
An all-league receiver in football, Smith helped Ceres High notch its first non-losing record in 16 years.
He caught 16 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns as the Bulldogs went 2-2 overall and finished fourth in the WAC South standings.
Smith ranked first on the team in all three offensive categories.
He rushed for 198 yards and two TDs, both team highs, on 20 carries.
He also completed 10 of 17 passes for 160 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“Verlis did a lot of great things this year,” head coach Clinton Goblirsch said. “He was our go-to guy on the outside. He made plays for us when we needed them.”
“He wants to be successful in whatever he does,” he added.
Smith would have mostly likely received all-conference recognition in boys basketball had he played the entire season.
He missed both games against first-place Los Banos after being placed into COVID quarantine for a second time.
The Bulldogs finished second in the WAC South standings (5-3).
Smith averaged 11.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
He scored a team-high 19 points in a non-league game versus powerhouse Modesto Christian.
“He (Smith) was our best player this year,” Ceres High boys basketball head coach T.J. Walker said.
“Verlis is a workaholic,” he added. “He’s versatile with his size, strength and speed … We’re expecting big things from him (next year).”
Espinoza lettered in softball, volleyball and wrestling during her senior year at Central Valley.
She had a 4.7 GPA and was enrolled in four Advanced Placement classes.
Espinoza also has a part-time job.
“It was pretty hectic,” she said. “There were days I played three sports at the same time. There were points I wanted to give up. I kept pushing through because I wanted to finish the year strong.”
“My coaches were flexible,” Espinoza added. “They allowed me to leave practice early or skip it if I had a lot of homework to catch up on.”
Espinoza’s final year of wrestling consisted of just dual scrimmages due to COVID-19 safety and transportation reasons.
“Wrestling was my favorite sport,” said Espinoza, who competed in the heavyweight division. “That’s where my mental toughness came from. It pushed me to where I’ve never been before.”
“Sammy has a great attitude,” Central Valley coach Rob Beckhart said. “She works very hard. She’s not one to back away from a challenge. She’s done a lot for our program. I can’t say enough good things about her.”
Espinoza contributed at first base as Central Valley’s 8-7 softball team posted a winning record in league play for the first time in program history this spring.
She batted .390 with one homer, two doubles, eight RBIs and 11 runs.
Espinoza played a combined seven seasons of varsity softball and volleyball for head coach Regina Selfridge.
“It was such a fun experience,” Espinoza said. “She helped me get better in both sports. She helped bring out my confidence. She was my mentor. She was also my teacher. We’re pretty close.”
“Sammy is really kind and always positive,” Selfridge stated. “She’s someone you want to be around.”
Central Valley’s Julia Roton (softball, volleyball and wrestling), Kylie Maines (softball, volleyball and wrestling) and Soriah Corona (softball, volleyball and wrestling), and Ceres High’s Bethanie Thornberry (golf, softball and volleyball), Jazmyne Arendt (golf, volleyball and softball), Dominique Arendt (golf, volleyball and softball), Ryan Ashby (basketball, baseball, football and cross country) and Samar Singh (football, basketball and track and field) all competed in three or more sports during the 2020-21 school year.