Central Valley’s Ruben Valenzuela and Ceres High’s Jackie Ruiz have been named the Courier’s Top Male and Female Athletes of the Year for the winter sports season.
Valenzuela and Ruiz both enjoyed record-breaking seasons while starring in boys wrestling and girls soccer, respectively.
Valenzuela made history by becoming the youngest male wrestler in Central Valley history to qualify for the CIF State Meet.
“Age doesn’t matter,” the 182-pound sophomore said. “It’s all about how much heart and effort you put into it. I pushed myself to the limits to try to be the best.”
Valenzuela amassed a 35-7 record this year.
Valenzuela placed at seven different tournaments.
He was sixth at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships.
He took first at the Division-III, Central California Conference and Mike Tamana tournaments.
He finished second at the James Riddle Classic and fifth at the Tim Brown Memorial.
Valenzuela has a career record of 66-18 through two seasons with the Hawks.
“I’m going to try to make it back to state and place next year,” he said.
Ruiz set program records for goals scored in a single season, regular-season game and playoff match.
“I’ve always performed well under pressure,” the junior striker said. “The main thing is to remain calm. It’s not easy to score a goal. When you do, you feel accomplished.”
Ruiz tallied 53 goals on the year.
She scored eight times in an 18-1 win over Pacheco in Western Athletic Conference play.
She accounted for all of Ceres High’s goals in its 4-0 shutout of Merced in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs.
“My mom put me into soccer when I was 4 and I instantly fell in love with the sport,” Ruiz said. “I never saw myself being the best but I knew I’d be a standout. It’s cool I’m going to be considered one of Ceres High School’s top players.”
Ruiz was voted co-Most Valuable Player of the WAC.
“We depended a lot on (2019 Ceres High grad) Mariah Trevino the last few years,” Ruiz said. “It was my turn to step up. My teammates helped me get to where I got. They set me up.”
Ruiz filled a major role as the Bulldogs amassed a team-record 16-1-1 overall record and claimed the conference title with a near-perfect 13-0-1 mark.
“It’s great to be a part of such a good program,” Ruiz said. “I’m very lucky. Individually, I’d like to score 60 goals and get 15 assists next season. A team goal would be to make playoffs and win it all.”