A drive to succeed:
Claremont athletes with big dreams

This story is part of a special Almanac presentation.

From coaches to counselors, there’s a consensus: If a student athlete wants to get into a good college, to play sports and get funding, it’s never too young to get started.

CHS guidance counselor Jeremy Troesh says he likes talking to student athletes their freshman year, giving them the basics of the college recruiting process.

“I have a whole routine I go through,” he said. “I tell them, ‘When a coach or recruiter is looking at your grades, it’s not because they want to know how well you’re going to do in classes. They want to know how cheap it is to recruit you!”

Students with good grades have a strong chance of being academically funded. This means the recruiting college can use its precious athletic dollars on someone else. Mr. Troesh tries to make a strong impression. “If a student isn’t thinking in their freshman year that academics are the way to go, it’s a really hard uphill climb.”

Jacob shoots hoops and also for the stars

Ten-year-old basketball player Jacob Lopez has taken the idea of getting ready for college to an extreme. He has a better idea where he’d like to go to college than your average high school student athlete.

“I have 3 schools: Michigan State, Kentucky, and Duke,” he says.

His future-mindedness comes from having known exactly what he wants to do, ever since he first picked up a basketball at age 3 to participate in sports.

“That’s all he wanted to do,” recalls Jacob’s mom, Sandy Lopez. “He’d say, ‘Is it basketball today? Can I play basketball today?”

Jacob, a student at Vista del Valle Elementary School, started playing youth basketball through the Montclair Recreation Center at 5, then added Claremont Youth Basketball at age 6. Jacob’s mom and dad, Sandy and Tony Lopez, enrolled him in a few other sports, from baseball to badminton to soccer, but they didn’t stick.

“He liked it, but you could tell all he wanted to do was be with the hoop,” Ms. Lopez said.

This summer, Jacob is participating in Montclair’s Summer Youth Basketball League, where he says his coach, Ozzie Flores, is “awesome”.  In the fall, he’ll return to Claremont Youth Basketball under the guidance of Coach Nick Martinez.

“It’s a really cool challenge,” he says, noting he’s been moved to Division 1 with the seventh and eighth graders. 

Jacob also enjoys playing basketball at recess in the mini-league games arranged by Vista Principal David Stewart. Last year, his team won, and they got to compete against Oakmont’s best players in a championship game.

“I definitely feel I had an advantage,” he said.

Jacob sets his alarm every morning so he can be outside by 7 a.m., shooting hoops. He’s got a system. There’s an electrical cord near his basketball hoop; anything he shoots from behind the cord is a 3-pointer.  

“It feels good out there,” he said of his morning drill. 

He and his family are also avid watchers of NBA and college basketball games. Naturally, Jacob’s a Lakers fan, citing Kobe Bryant as his favorite player. “I like his mentality and his leadership. At the last moment, when it’s time, he’s a clutch player. He always wants to be the best.”

Ms. Lopez, a guidance counselor at Los Osos High School, emphasizes that when it comes to Jacob being his best, it all starts with school.

“My mom and dad always say I’ve got to get my grades first, then I can do basketball, Jacob said.

Already a straight-A student, and a varsity-level clarinet player, Jacob plans to put more emphasis on school in the future.

“Last year, I was a little one-sided. My goal is to be more all-around,” he said.

While it’s true that Jacob can be a little basketball-obsessed, Ms. Lopez says it’s ultimately been good for the family. Mr. Lopez didn’t play basketball in high school, instead opting for varsity tennis. He’s picked up the game, though, in order to bond with his son. Mr. Lopez spends time shooting hoops with Jacob, and serves as an assistant basketball coach with the Montclair recreation center.

“He makes sure Jacob’s shoes are clean and he’s hydrated—things you’d think a mom would do,” Ms. Lopez said. “I’ve really seen another side of him.”


CHS athlete hopes big swing impacts his future

If Claremont High School incoming senior Alan Leahy doesn’t get into a great college with a healthy funding package, it won’t be for lack of effort.

Alan, who was named 2012 Sierra League MVP, had an impressive last season with the CHS boys varsity tennis team: He was 30-0 in league competition, and made it to the 4th round in CIF play.

Far from resting on his laurels, though, he is busier than ever this summer, training for a winning final season and upcoming college-level play.

The kid is just always playing tennis.

He hits each week with 2 coaches at The Claremont Club. Then he hits with his private tennis coach, Paul Settles, at Claremont McKenna College. Then he meets with his conditioning coach at the Upland Tennis Club. Earlier in the summer, Alan worked with the tennis coach at UC San Diego for a few hours.

His mother, Luz Leahy, said the coach passed on some invaluable tips. “He’s been moving a lot better.”

Alan also keeps on his toes via regular match-ups with talented friends. One of these is Clarke Spinosa, a CHS tennis star who, after graduating in 2010, went on to join the San Diego State tennis team on a scholarship. Another regular opponent is Ayala High School senior Tomas Arringuez, who—after beating Alan in CIF finals—went on to become a good friend.

“This is what you have to do if you want to play college tennis,” Ms. Leahy said of her son’s rigorous schedule. 

Alan has also been competing this summer. On July 21 and 22, he played in the Canyon Crest Summer Junior Open Tournament, winning the Boys’ 18 Singles competition. In addition, he is competing in the summer circuit of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, which pits him against high school and college students.

“He’s getting a sense of what the competition will be like,” Ms. Leahy said.

His father, an avid tennis player himself, started Alan on lessons as a little kid. By age 12, he began to get serious. Since his freshman year, he has racked up an 87-3 record for the Wolfpack.

“It just went onto become this mega-time-intensive thing,” Ms. Leahy said. “You give up a lot to be a student athlete.”

Despite having a curtailed social life, Alan is well- liked by his teammates, who say they enjoy his sense of humor.

“I see other teams and there’s girls in their cheering section,” Alan said at the last CIF finals, joking despite the mounting pressure. “I ask people, ‘Where are the cheerleaders?’ Unfortunately, tennis isn’t one of those sports.” 

The Leahys have been contacted by several colleges, and Alan has corresponded with some coaches. He has also networked with coaches via competitions like a USTA Zone Team Championship he attended in Salt Lake City in 2011. The event drew a number of Division 1 coaches interested in seeing some of the top 16-year-old tennis players in the country.

Alan also attended a players’ showcase last year that gave him the chance to strike up a rapport with some 50 coaches. Several coaches from Colorado to New York to UC Santa Cruz expressed an interest in Alan. At $200 to $300, a players’ showcase is an efficient way to make those connections, Ms. Leahy noted.

Alan is marketing himself on the Internet, posting records, stats, and a video on TennisRecruitment.net as well as on the USTA website.

Things are coming down to the wire now, and he will need to make a decision in the next few months. Alan wants to play in California, preferably at a Division I school. It’s not going to be easy.

 “California has a large number of athletes as compared with other states, so it becomes very competitive,” Ms. Leahy said. “And the Division 1 teams recruit out of the country—Spanish and French and German players—which makes it a great challenge.”

Alan has a strong academic record, which should lend him an edge. He’s got a 3.5 weighted GPA, and has taken rigorous classes. As a junior, he tackled 3 Advance Placement classes and an International Baccalaureate class, including physics and calculus. Ms. Leahy hopes her son takes it a bit easier this year.

“We’re like, ‘Okay honey, why are you doing this?” she said. “It’s something he wanted to do as a form of being challenged, but it’s hard to balance everything.”

Keeping Alan in top form has not only meant hard work for the teen, it’s been expensive for the family. Ms. Leahy estimates she and her husband spend about $1000 per month on lessons and clinics for Alan and his younger brother Andrew. Added to that is the cost of tournaments, including travel and hotel fees, plus the pair of $100 tennis shoes Alan goes through every month.

It’s a sacrifice, but it’s one the Leahys are willing to make.

“We’ve talked about it and said, ‘You know what? They’re out of trouble, they’re focused, and they’ve met really good kids,” Ms. Leahy said.

Even if Alan doesn’t get into that Division I school he’s dreaming about, tennis has proved to be a worthwhile investment.

“You learn a good work ethic and principles. You learn not to cheat and to be honorable,” Ms. Leahy said. “We thought it was a good investment for their character-building as well.”

—Sarah Torribio




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