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Bret Harte Female Athlete of the Year: Mini Avila

Avila recalls high school athletic career, lessons learned on, off field

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Bret Harte Female Athlete of the Year: Mini Avila

Mini Avila played water polo and soccer and was part of the Bret Harte High School track and field and swimming teams during her 

Growing up, Mini Avila wanted to be known as an athlete. She dreamt of one day being that local sports figure who would do amazing things on a field, court or in a pool. And while some only dream of greatness, Avila accomplished it.

During her senior season at Bret Harte High School, Avila was a four-sport athlete, earned top honors in two sports and reached the postseason in three of them. Avila wanted to make her name because of sports, and now, after four years of athletic competition, she has.

“I want my future kids to look back and see how I was a great athlete and I want them to be great athletes,” Avila said. “When I was a freshman, I wanted to be that girl who, when she was a senior, everyone knew because of sports. This year, I really made my statement and everyone knows who I am because of sports.”

Starting in the water

Bret Harte Female Athlete of the Year: Mini Avila

Mini Avila was named the 2018 Most Outstanding Water Polo Player of the Mother Lode League.

When her senior year began, Avila was in the water at the Bret Harte Aquatic Center getting ready for her final season of water polo. It was her third year as a water polo player, but her first under new head coach Carissa Spathias.

With a new coach and old teammates, Avila could feel a special bond with the squad.

“I think we all became really close to one another,” Avila said. “Our coach (Spathias) always pushed us to be together, no matter what. I felt that I could trust everyone in the water, so I didn’t question passing the ball. I knew they’d get the job done.”

When Avila wasn’t passing the ball, she was taking shots. Her aggressive demeanor and will to win made her one of the most dangerous shooters in the league. And over time, Avila knew that her skills separated her from the rest of the pack.

“I never thought I’d be good at it and then I got the ball in my hands and I just knew that I could do good things,” Avila said. “It feels good to be strong and to be able to backhand the ball for a goal.”

Avila and the Bullfrogs reached the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III bracket. At the conclusion of the season, Avila was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Mother Lode League.

Protecting the goal

Bret Harte Female Athlete of the Year: Mini Avila

Mini Avila played both goalie and in the field during her senior year of soccer.

When the water polo season ended, Avila headed out to Dorroh Field to start soccer. Although she spent the majority of her time deflecting opponents’ shots, she was given the opportunity to play in the field, which is something she relished.

“I loved it a lot,” Avila said. “When I was younger, I was always a forward and would score. So, that brought back a lot of memories. I also like being a goalie, so I could do two things that I enjoyed.”

Bret Harte Female Athlete of the Year: Mini Avila

Mini Avila stands in the rain while facing Calaveras in Angels Camp.

When Avila initially approached head coach Scott Fairman about leaving the goal for a few minutes each game, he wasn’t sure what to think. But knowing Avila’s athleticism and love for soccer, he knew she’d produce results.

“Mini truly surprised me this season wanting to play more in the field,” Fairman said. “She scored some key goals and made some key plays as a field player, but her true talent is goalkeeping. She has the technical aspect of it, but what really makes her a great keeper is more the soft skills that you can’t really teach. She’s boisterous from the back, communicates well with her defense, and keeps the team motivated.”

Bret Harte finished the 2019 Mother Lode League season with a record of 2-5-3 and missed the playoffs. Heading into the year, Avila knew that her team was made up of mostly younger talent and that a postseason appearance might be out of the question. With that in mind, Avila focused on ensuring that the younger talent continued to improve so the program will be strong for years to come.

Bret Harte Female Athlete of the Year: Mini Avila

In her final year of soccer, Mini Avila was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Mother Lode League.

“I had that talk with teammate Jenna Rapetti, and I told her that we probably weren’t going to make it and that we shouldn’t constantly think about the playoffs,” Avila said. “We should worry about the younger girls and train them to be leaders for the next few years. We knew that we weren’t going to make the playoffs kind of from the start, but we didn’t let it bug us.”

Fairman saw the metamorphosis of Avila becoming more of a leader, both on and off the field.

“Mini really stepped into a leadership role just this year,” Fairman said. “I think in the past, she looked up to some of the older girls that had been the leaders through her club team and high school. I was looking for the girls that could fill those shoes this year and Mini did. She inspires her team off the field and on the field; she leads from the back, literally, as goalkeeper she’s always talking to her team, even from the opposite end of the field. She kept the girls motivated as well as instructed her defensive team from the back.”

With over 200 saves to her name during her senior season, Avila was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Mother Lode League.

Double duty

With only one season left of her high school career, Avila decided to make the most of it. She knew that she was going to be on the swim team, but she also decided to return to the track squad for the first time since her freshman year.

Participating in two sports in one season is a daunting task, but Avila was ready for the challenge.

“(Being on the track team) just didn’t work out with my swim schedule (for the previous two years), but this year, I promised him (coach Jon Byrnes) at the beginning of the year that if I can just go to three meets and qualify for league, that I would do it,” Avila said. “I practiced during my PE period, but it was a lot of hard work.”

Bret Harte Female Athlete of the Year: Mini Avila

Mini Avila qualified for the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division V track and field finals during her senior year.

Avila threw discus and shot put. She set a season record in shot put at the final Mother Lode League meet of the year, measuring 29 feet, 8.5 inches. At the league finals, she placed third and qualified for the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section finals. Unfortunately for Avila, the finals took place on the same day as her class trip to Disneyland. Although the decision was a difficult one, Avila decided to make some final memories with her classmates and forego the section meet.

“I don’t have that passion or love for track the way I have it for other sports, so it really didn’t affect me as much,” Avila said. “I told my coaches how I felt and they supported me. I knew that I wasn’t going to go far at sections, so I felt that it was best for me to do my thing with my friends.”

Even after taking two years off from throwing, just qualifying for the section meet is something that Byrnes felt Avila shouldn’t take for granted.

“Mini has had a tremendous senior year,” Byrnes said. “It’s hard for a talented athlete such as Mini to focus on just one sport, because she wants to do all of them. It’s been a pleasure to work with her and I am very happy she was able to throw for us again this year. She will be missed.”

When she wasn’t with the track team, Avila was back in the pool. She made sure she put in the work to be successful and it paid off, as Avila qualified to swim at the CIF Section trials.

“She has a very positive attitude, so that’s a lot of fun,” Bret Harte head swim coach Katlyn Rugo said. “I honestly can’t even imagine a swim season without her. Next year is going to be really different.”

Enjoying the ride

When Avila wasn’t playing one of her four sports, she made sure that she attended a Bret Harte athletic event. Avila, who isn’t known for being quiet, prided herself on not only being one of the loudest in the area, but realized how important it is to support other Bret Harte athletes.

“I love it so much,” she said. “I’ll finish practice to go early. My friends support me in my sports, and I want to show that I’m there for them. It’s nice to have friends support you.”

With Avila now graduated and no longer a Bret Harte athlete, all she has left are fond memories and gratitude.

“I wouldn’t change anything about being a Bullfrog,” Avila said. “Every single coach that I’ve had for each sport has pushed me in some type of way and has made me stronger and I’m grateful for that.”

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