King City High School seniors (from left) Esteban Deniz, Jalen Mendez and Dominic Conricode receive plaques as the top athletes of the year during a brief ceremony May 28. (Photo by Sean Roney)

KING CITY — Top athletes were honored at King City High School on May 28, with a short outdoor ceremony during which Assistant Principal Michael Gray handed plaques to the student-athletes.

Esteban Deniz was named Male Athlete of Year, Jalen Mendez was named Female Athlete of the Year and Dominic Conricode was named Outstanding Scholar Athlete.

“It is difficult balancing school with sports because a lot of the time you get tired and it takes up a lot of your time,” Conricode said about excelling in both athletics and academics. “That’s one of the beneficial things about sports, because it takes up so much of your time, you’re forced to do your homework. You can’t take time off. You always have to be working.”

“When I found out I won, I was really excited,” Deniz said. “I went into high school thinking I wasn’t going to do that much and I’m leaving as athlete of the year.”

Deniz has participated in cross country, soccer and track during his years at KCHS, and focused on cross country and track during his senior year.

“Esteban was two-time all-league in cross country,” Gray said.

Gray listed off Deniz’s other achievements, including two-time all-CIF in cross country, being a member of two CIF championships, being a member of a fourth in state in cross country team, being fifth in state in cross country, being CIF runner-up in soccer his junior year, and placing fifth in CCS out of 120 schools.

“I called my mom and my dad and they were excited for me,” Mendez said about her first reaction to being informed about her title.

Mendez has participated in volleyball and track all four of her years at KCHS. She plans to pursue sports as she heads off to Hartnell College.

“Jalen was an outstanding three-year varsity volleyball player,” Gray said. He added, “Great character, great kid. She led the team in swings and kills this year. She also excelled in track and field in the jumps.”

Gray noted Mendez’s winning female meet award for having most points at King City’s track invitational as proof of her athleticism.

Conricode said academics and athletics were something he considered inseparable.

“You have to excel in both if you want to be a good student-athlete,” he said. “Sports challenges you to do better. One thing from sports I like to apply to my schoolwork is constant improvement.”

This year Conricode participated in cross country and track and field — his fourth year in track — competing in hurdles, pole vault and relay races.

“Dominic is our valedictorian, he has a 4.22 GPA,” Gray said.

Among Conricode’s accomplishments in track and field were his being league champion, setting school hurdle records and helping his team toward league championship.

All three students being part of track meant their spring seasons were cut short by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When I found out we weren’t going to run anymore, it hurt,” Deniz said. “I felt like I didn’t even get started; we showed to three meets.”

“I was sad because we realized we had our last track meet that Thursday and that we didn’t know it was the last track meet,” Mendez said. “It was really sad to think that that was our last time stepping on the field again.”

Conricode said he didn’t think the shutdowns were a reality.

“I kept on training as if we had a season,” he said. “It hurt a lot for me because this was the season I was going to have my biggest goals.”

Conricode said he is going to UC Berkeley and doesn’t currently have the grades to join their sports programs, but will participate in track at a club level.

Gray said the athletes of the year were chosen in a meeting facilitated by himself and the athletic director, during which varsity coaches present information about top athletes. The outstanding scholar was chosen by school administration and counselors.

This year marked the first time selection meetings were held virtually over Zoom, Gray noted.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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