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Valenzuela, Roton Central Valley high’s top athletes
Ruben Valenzuela and Julia Roton
Ruben Valenzuela and Julia Roton have been named Central Valley’s Male and Female Golden Hawk Award winners, respectively, for the 2021-22 school year.

Ruben Valenzuela and Julia Roton have been named recipients of Central Valley High School’s Male and Female Golden Hawk Awards, respectively, for the 2021-22 academic year.

Valenzuela and Roton were recognized during the Senior Awards Banquet on May 11.

“We don’t select the winners,” Central Valley Athletic Director Greg Magni said. “It’s achievement-based. You accumulate points. The goal is to recognize a full body of work.”

“I was filled with pure joy when they made the announcement,” Roton said. “It feels awesome to finally achieve something I’ve been working for since freshman year. My family supported and motivated me.”

Valenzuela couldn’t be reached for comment.

Roton earned 10 varsity letters during her prep athletic career with the Hawks, including four in softball, three in wrestling, two in volleyball and one in track and field.

She was able to carve her own identity after watching older Ryan Palacek (class of 2019) be named Central Valley’s Male Golden Hawk Award winner. He graduated with seven varsity letters: three in wrestling, two in football and two in baseball.

“It became a friendly sibling rivalry,” Julia Roton said. “I felt I had to earn my own name and not live in his shadow. There was definitely added pressure. It pushed me to excel and work harder. I wanted to be just as good if not better.”

Central Valley had two individual champions at the Central California Conference Girls Wrestling Championships, including Roton.

She claimed the 191-pound crown.

Roton brought home an individual title from the Ceres Invitational.

The Hawks captured the CCC overall championship by taking first at the league finals and winning all six of their conference duals.

“Wrestling became one of my favorite sports in a short time,” said Roton, who missed the majority of her final season with a shoulder injury. “It made me hold myself to a higher standard.”

Roton broke her left foot during her sophomore year of wrestling.

“I had to have surgery,” she said. “I had five screws put in my foot and they fused three of my joints. When I was coming back from the injury, it was very painful. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do as much as I hoped. It was a scary time.”

Roton was a member of Central Valley’s softball and track and field teams during the springtime.

“It was hectic during the week,” she said. “I was busier than I was used to. But I wanted to try something new.”

Roton collected one double, two singles, three RBIs and three runs as the Hawks placed fourth in the CCC softball standings (5-7).

“My whole senior season, I played with a torn labrum,” Roton said. “It affected my hitting the most. When I swung fully, my shoulder would dislocate.”

“It was definitely painful,” she added. “I wore a shoulder brace but it didn’t help that much. I pushed through it. I’m competitive. I wanted to be able to play my final season with my teammates. My sports were more important.”

Roton competed in throwing events, including the discus and shot put, during the track and field season.

Roton played four seasons of softball and three volleyball for Regina Selfridge.

“I loved having her as a coach,” Roton said. “She’s there for you when you need her.”

“I’m going to miss her,” Selfridge said. “It was fun watching her grow into the young adult she is.”

Roton refused to allow injuries derail her athletic career.

“My freshman year I cheered,” she said. “I got a severe concussion. After that, I decided to focus on other sports. I’m pretty happy with what I accomplished. I played with multiple injuries and put in many hours of work.”

Roton had a cumulative grade-point average of 3.667.

“There were a lot of late nights after games doing homework and studying,” said Roton, who will major in Biological Sciences at UC Merced. “Definitely a full schedule. It was worth it.”

Valenzuela earned seven varsity letters at Central Valley, including four in wrestling and three in football.

“You try to set expectations for each kid,” Hawks’ wrestling leader Rob Beckhart said. “I knew early on Ruben had the ability to be a superstar. I’ve coached him on and off since he was six years old. He really loves the sport. He enjoys the grind and the competition. He’s aggressive and determined. That’s what you want to see. A lot of kids get discouraged.”

Valenzuela compiled a 32-7 record during his final season of wrestling. The 184-pounder qualified for the CIF State Meet for the second time, captured his second Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III title and repeated as Central California Conference champion.

Valenzuela also placed first for the third time at the Ceres Invitational.

He brought home a championship belt buckle from the James Riddle Memorial Tournament.

He took second at the Asics Southern California Challenge.

He was voted the CCC’s Wrestler of the Year.

“I’m proud of Ruben,” Beckhart said. “He worked hard to reach his goals. He had a lot of great people in his corner throughout the years. His approach to the sport changed. He helped teach and mentor the younger kids.”

Already considered Central Valley’s all-time greatest male wrestler, Valenzuela added to his resume this past winter.

He made program history by becoming the Hawks’ first two-time, state qualifier.

He climbed to as high as No. 6 in the state rankings in December.

He finished with a career record of 110-25.

“Ruben is the face of our program,” Beckhart said. “It’s going to take somebody special to come in and accomplish half of what he’s done.”

Valenzuela was a CCC honorable-mention pick in football senior year. 

He had 88 tackles, two forced fumbles and one sack while starring at linebacker.

“He stepped up big time for us this year,” Hawks’ leader Derrick Goblirsch said. “He’s capable of doing whatever he wants to do. He plays with high energy. He’s a hustler. He gives full effort 100 percent of the time. As a coach, you appreciate that.”

Valenzuela and the Hawks made history on the gridiron in 2020-21.

Valenzuela collected 20 tackles as Central Valley completed its first undefeated season and captured its second conference championship. The Hawks went 5-0 and placed first with a 4-0 mark in the Western Athletic Conference South standings.

Valenzuela wrestles
Ruben Valenzuela amassed a 110-25 record while starring on Central Valley’s boys wrestling team for four seasons. - photo by DALE BUTLER/ Courier file photo