By Paul Meadors | Sports Editor
For next two issues of the Clovis Roundup sports section we are going to hear from 10 former Clovis Unified star athletes who just finished up their college season – five this issue and five the next. It’s a diverse group of athletes – five girls and five boys – eight of them playing high level Division I competition and two at Division II. Represented are baseball, softball, football, basketball, track and field and water polo. Two of these athletes were a part of the 2016-17 NCAA champion Oregon Ducks Women’s Track and Field team – and both were true freshman. Two are football players – one made a freshman All-American football list and another is a local boy making good and turning heads at Fresno State. And most of all – they are all high character kids. Ultimately, we love reading and hearing about how our favorite athletes are continuing to find success at the highest collegiate level – so let’s take a look on their just completed year in college.
Rhesa Foster, track and field, Clovis North, University of Oregon
Foster was a standout track and field athlete at Clovis North who graduated in 2016 and recorded Top 10 long jump marks in the country her freshman and sophomore seasons before blowing out her knee in volleyball her junior year. Bouncing back, she won the CIF State Track and Field long jump title her senior year with a leap of 20-7.5. As a true freshman this year at University of Oregon she won the Pac-12 long jump title and advanced to the NCAA championships with a jump of 20-6.5. She was a part of the indoor and outdoor national champion teams along with Buchanan alum and fellow freshman Hannah Waller and on June 23 advanced to the Pan American Championships in Peru in the long jump with a 2nd place finish at the Junior Nationals.
Clovis Roundup: What an incredible freshman year you had at Oregon with the NCAA Track and Field national title and winning the Pac-12 long jump. First of all, describe the emotions winning the long jump and what it means to you.
Foster: I was having a pretty rough year overall, a rollercoaster to say the least. All I wanted at that point was to feel like I brought something to the table at the very least, even if I didn’t PR. I started off the meet with the hurdles and I felt really good, but I hit a hurdle mid-race and was unable to come back from that, so I didn’t advance to the finals. After that, I was so upset that all that energy spilled over into the long jump and I felt like I was bouncing off the walls. I knew I felt good and I wasn’t going to let myself walk away disappointed. So, despite the cold, rainy weather, I left it all on the track and did the best I could and I couldn’t have been happier to do well, especially during that point in the season. At that point I really felt like I was a part of the team and I was someone who could make an impact and be reliable when the team needed me. To me, there’s no better feeling knowing you contributed to the best team in the country.
CR: Oregon won the triple crown of NCAA Track and Field Championships. What was so special about this team? And how awesome is it to be around Olympic athletes like Deajah Stevens and Ariana Washington?
Foster: The girls I work with everyday all have a winning mentality. Despite what people say, we aren’t cocky, we aren’t arrogant, we are confident. Each and every one of us are reminded every day by our coaches and by each other what each of us are capable of and where our potential lies both now and in the future as athletes. With half of the team, maybe even more, being Olympic or pro athlete material, we push ourselves and each other. We show up to practice having our eyes set on one immediate and one future goal: execute the workout and win a championship. Everything we do is with intention and whether we feel like we are at 95 percent or 40 percent that day, we give 100 percent of whatever we have, which makes us so strong both individually and as a team.
CR: What surprised you the most going straight from high school competition to a D-I high-level college? Has the transition been smooth for you since you’ve competed at big events throughout your career?
Foster: To be honest, it was a pretty smooth transition for me. In high school I would run year round, even when I played volleyball in the fall. I knew what I signed myself up for and I was ready for it – no surprises. I joined the team because I wanted to be a part of something special, the very best. I knew most of my teammates had more experience than I did, but I didn’t let that intimidate me – I just jumped right in. I never thought of myself as “just a freshman.” In a meet, a competitor is never going to look at me and think, “Oh she’s just a freshman, I’ll go easy.” Whether I’m at the line or on the runway, everyone is equal. I don’t perform to meet anyone’s “freshman” standards or expectations, I perform to win and do what I know I am capable of, just as I always have. That’s where I think a lot of people struggle with when going to the next level. Athletes think they can’t beat someone because they’re young or have more experience. It does play a factor, but sometimes, athletes downplay or underestimate what they’re really capable of. For me, it’s all a matter of execution and trusting my coaches. As long as I can trust my coaches, trust God’s plan for me, and put in the overtime, I’ll never be surprised, and that was my mentality since the first day of practice.
CR: What were some of your best memories at Clovis North?
Foster: Some of my best memories at CN was when I got third at the state meet my freshman year and won state my senior year. After my third place finish, I had so many goals set out for myself and so many plans for the future but they kept getting sidetracked year after year. My sophomore year I fouled out. My junior year I tore my ACL. My senior year I was unable to run the hurdles due to a hamstring injury. I started to really doubt myself and mentally beat myself up time after time and picked myself up time after time again. After I signed to Oregon on National Signing Day, I hadn’t even run coming off of my injury yet. I thought to myself wow, they really think I can do this, they really want me. I not only had the support of my school and hometown, but my soon to be home of D-I National Champions. When I finally won that state title, I almost cried because I had been through so much the past few years and all that hard work and extra practices I would do on the weekends finally paid off. I was so excited to leave my senior year with a victory and start fresh at the University of Oregon.
CR: How neat was it to be on the same team as freshman Hannah Waller? What do you love about her and did you guys hang out together since you are both from Clovis Unified schools?
Foster: I thought it was pretty cool to have a familiar face around, especially since we had been running both together and against each other since junior high. She’s quite the character and she never fails to make people laugh. To be honest, we are complete opposites. She’s super social and quirky right off the bat and I’m considered quiet or reserved, at least until you get to know me – then people make fun of me cause I’m always laughing (lol). We aren’t in the same event group, so most of the time we don’t practice at the same time. Naturally, you normally end up hanging out and growing closer with people in your own event group, so we aren’t super close, but we get along very well and I’m glad we both ended up on such an amazing team and proud of her accomplishments and that we both made it as far as we did this season.
CR: Names the top three most listened to songs on your phone right now?
Foster: My top three songs would be “Wild Thoughts” by DJ Khaled and Rihanna, “Teenage Fever” by Drake and “Tru” by Lloyd.
CR: Is it safe to say that you don’t miss the Clovis heat?
Foster: Yes! I do miss the sunshine because it is cold and does rain a lot in Eugene, but not so much to say that I’d go back to the Clovis heat!
Josh Hokit, football, Clovis High, Fresno State
Hokit was a walk-on freshman football player at Fresno State after a stellar football and wrestling career at Clovis High. He was the 2015 TRAC Football Player of the Year as a running back and linebacker, was a part of three state wrestling championships and was the 182-pound state champ his senior year. After playing mostly special teams for Fresno State (1-11) last year, he started at running back Week 12 against Hawaii, rushing for 87 yards on 18 carries. He will see more time as a running back in the 2017 season for the Bulldogs.
CR: You had an interesting ride to Fresno State and to the football team as a walk-on but got a good amount of playing time. What are your takeaways from this season? What did you learn from your experience?
Hokit: One of the takeaways from this last football season is that I proved a lot to myself by finding a way to get on the field and get playing time. All my life I’ve always found a way to slowly make it to the top – it just takes time – so I trusted the process and eventually got to start in the last two games as running back. So I really learned how to stay patient and trust the process because I knew my time would come and I gave people a glimpse of it last year so I believe now is the start of the Hokit era.
Just because I had that walk-on label on me wasn’t gonna stop me from seeing the field – I knew as well as anyone that I wasn’t a walk-on.
CR: When you walked out to Bulldog Stadium for the first time and took the field, what thoughts were running through your mind?
Hokit: When I walked into Bulldog Stadium for the first time it was a dream come true. I grew up going to Bulldog games as a kid and now being one of those guys I use to watch and getting to play in front of the hometown crowd is just amazing.
CR: You had an incredible career at Clovis. What are some of your greatest memories at that school?
Hokit: Greatest memories at Clovis high are being on all the successful sports teams I was on and making all those memories on those out-of-state trips to wrestling tournaments and those bus rides to football games are all memories I won’t forget. The most memorable memory of them all will definitely playing in the Valley championship game (a 56-21 loss to Liberty-Bakersfield). Even though we didn’t win it was so cool seeing the whole community there coming together to support us.
CR: You’re planning on becoming a college two-sport athlete, which is rare these days. What’s more in your blood – football or wrestling? (Fresno State wrestling will start up again for the 2017-18 season).
Hokit: I was planning to do both sports but after talking with both coaches we might have some issues but I’ll just have to see how this season goes first. But I’m here to play football, so football comes first.
CR: Was there a moment last year where you got hit hard or hit someone and you were like “Oh man, that hurt”?
Hokit: Last year on the first day of pads I ran full speed into a lineman that probably weighed 320 pounds thinking I would be able to blow right through him like I did to lineman in high school. I learned the hard way because it was like running into a wall which really hurt bad.
CR: Are you into any Netflix shows? If so, which ones do you enjoy?
Hokit: I watch the show “The Flash” on Netflix because I’m into comic book characters and seeing what the different abilities they can do wondering what it’s like to have super powers. I watch “The Flash” because I can’t help to wonder how many touchdowns I would score with the Flash’s speed. I would see the defenders in slow motion because I would be moving so fast so I simply could not lose.
Jack Labosky, baseball, Clovis North, Duke
Labosky played at Clovis North from 2011-14 and was a standout third baseman and pitcher, won the school’s first Valley title in 2013, was the TRAC Player of the Year in 2014 and earned all-state second team as a sophomore and 1st team as a junior and senior. At Duke he started 32 games as a freshman, all 57 as a sophomore where he made 2nd team All-ACC and led the team in on base percentage (.421), runs (38), RBI (47), home runs (8), total bases (100) and walks (32). As a junior he drove in 43 and scored 33 runs and served as the team’s closer with seven saves, a 4.50 ERA and a 24-6 strikeout to walk ratio.
CR: What has your experience been like at Duke both in regards to baseball and academic?
Labosky: Baseball is obviously fun but it’s also no joke. The ACC is arguably one of the best, if not the best conference in the country, with teams like Louisville, Clemson, Florida State, UNC and Virginia. Playing week in and week out against those opponents is an experience I definitely don’t take for granted. Academically, Duke is the Stanford of the South and one of the best colleges in the country, and the world for that matter. It’s demanding, but I’m sure the degree will be worth the effort.
CR: Not only did you anchor third base this season but you got to close too. What do you enjoy more and what is the difference in mental preparation for you?
Labosky: I enjoyed playing third base every day, but closing in high pressure situations is a ton of fun too. There’s differences in preparing mentally, but for the most part I just go play the game. Play it hard and give it your best effort, and usually the game rewards you for that.
CR: What has been the biggest adjustment and surprise for you going from high school baseball to D-I?
Labosky: The speed of the game was definitely a big change. Not only in terms of miles per hour on fastballs, but with speed with runners and the ability to make split second decisions. Thousands of repetitions later, I think I’ve handled it well and I can only work to keep getting better.
CR: Besides pro ball, what would be your dream job?
Labosky: I don’t really have a dream job other than baseball. But if I had to choose, I think I would seriously consider the rodeo. Hopefully I wouldn’t work as the clown, but watching the Clovis Rodeo and the cowboys who ride the broncs is exhilarating. Who knows? Maybe someday I could saddle up!
CR: Thinking of your days at CN, what were some of your favorite memories?
Labosky: I think my relationships from Clovis North are some that will last my entire life. I loved playing with my team there, and being a part of the school really set me forward on the road to success. I think my favorite memory would have to be winning the Valley Championship in 2013. That team was a special one and I made a lot of memories.
CR: The world is in danger so who do you call – The Avengers, X-Men or The Justice League?
Labosky: The Justice League! Between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, nobody could compete.
CR: Where’s your favorite place to eat in Clovis?
Labosky: Dog House Grill is delicious but I think that counts as Fresno. In Clovis, it’s hard to get better Italian food than Luna’s on Pollasky Avenue.
McKay Johnson, track and field, Clovis North, Cal-Berkeley
Johnson just completed his freshman year at Cal-Berkeley and holds Clovis North records in the shot put (64-1.75) and discus (188-10.00). He placed third in the shot put and fourth in the discus at the 2016 CIF State Track and Field Championships. He placed 4th in shot put and 7th in discus in the Pac-12 Championships and recently placed 3rd in the shot put at the Junior Outdoor Championships.
CR: As your freshman year wrapped up at Cal, describe your experience competing in the Pac-12.
Johnson: My experience competing during my first year for Cal fulfilled a lot of my personal expectations, but I am always focused on the next goals once I achieve them. I competed well and exceeded what my coaches had hoped for me, but I will continue to work harder to achieve more. That’s just me. Competing against Stanford was something else. What do you expect for the second longest dual track meet in the country? It’s 123 years old, was exciting, and intense. Scoring points in both events in Eugene at the Pac-12s got me fired up – I look forward to do better there and placing higher in NCAAs.
CR: In your mind, what is the biggest difference between high school and big-time college competition in the throws?
Johnson: The first thing everyone has to deal with (even before you even get to competition) is the big difference in the weight of the implements. The shot put is a 4-pound increase and discus is a pound heavier. That alone will take out most throwers that were good in high school. Competing at the next level is a huge difference especially in a big conference like the Pac-12. In high school you may have one or two guys in your area that are good, but in college your conference is filled with some of the best athletes in the country and All-Americans. They might be four or five years older and you’re competing against them regularly. High school comparatively has a much more relaxed vibe, and usually one guy will usually be the stand out. In college, egos are ignored, there is always someone bigger and everyone else wants to destroy you. They are ruthless about it. If somebody wants to strut around after taking big foul throws in warm-ups, somebody might check you. That is the fun part for me because it is way more competitive than high school and the increased number of good throwers holds me accountable to try and throw my best. I have continued to get better responding in those situations.
CR: What was the highlight of the year for you?
Johnson: The highlight of the year for me was getting to open up my season with such a big throw in the shot put. I set my goals early in the year and most people didn’t expect me to get close to those marks. My discus was good, but will continue to get even better as I put more time on it. Breaking the 60-foot mark in the shot put is a goal most college athletes have for their entire college career. I did it three times this year, and am working hard to be well above that next year. I like to think that shows that with the right amount of hard work and time, anything is possible.
CR: Thinking back to your days at Clovis North, what stands out to you? What are some great memories you take with you?
Johnson: In great part, my time at Clovis North shaped who I became today and I have a lot of fun memories that I will always look back on. Expanding on that, I will always remember the days getting to go out to the track after school to train and hang out with Coach Brazil. After six years, he has made an impact on me as a great coach and now lifetime friend. I’ll always remember going out late at night during school nights to throw with my best friend, Jacob. It was when I went all in on achieving my goals that my life was further impacted positively by my family, Ray Hansen, Dave Wilson and Mike Guidry. My dad was a track athlete at Clovis West and USC and I will always be grateful that he introduced me to the sport. Everyone took a vested interest in supporting me going after what I wanted. Toward the latter part of my time at Clovis North, I learned a lot about hard work, the benefits of it, and how to compete at a higher level. Apart from great memories, I give credit to CUSD and Clovis North for providing a culture and environment that helped me prepare for what was next.
CR: What is your routine on meet day? Take me through from waking up until you lay your head down to sleep.
Johnson: My routine actually starts the day before the meet. It’s important to be constantly thinking about the meet and understanding what I want to both execute on and achieve. Honestly, it’s hard for me to not think about throwing or working out just because I truly love it and it’s a daily routine in of itself. When I wake up on meet day I try to stuff myself with as much food as possible just to ensure I have enough energy because the closer I get to competing the harder it is for me to get anything down. I get really amped and focused. Then sometimes I will watch videos of my favorite all-time throws. One being Adam Nelson because of his aggressiveness, and the others being Ryan Crouser and Randy Barnes because of their technique. Next it’s pretty much a stand still till my event. I really have fun during the throwing (especially shot put) because unlike the discus it reflects a large portion of my emotion and competitiveness. After the meet I will always watch my competition video from the meet, and see my mistakes and then visualize what I need to fix the rest of the day. The fun part about throwing is that it is so technical and there is always something to make yourself throw further. Not much left in the tank after that.
CR: When you’re driving around and you’re in charge of the radio, what are you listening to?
Johnson: I love driving in my car, partly because nothing is better than listening to music with the windows rolled down. So when I’m home, I definitely take advantage of the situation and try to drive as much as possible. Luckily when I was young, my parents would always play ‘70-80’s classics so I have a lot of love for ‘80’s rock music, and other bands from early on such as Gap Band and Earth, Wind & Fire. Apart from that I enjoy listening to rap music and dubstep. Rap has some great beats that I can really get into, and dubstep pounds and really gets me into a competitive mood. I like the intensity of the music.
CR: What do you order when you’re at In-N-Out?
Johnson: When I go to In-N-Out I usually to get two double-doubles spread only with a cheese fry, the two double-doubles are better than a 4×4 because you get more bread.
Portia Neale, basketball, Clovis West, Concordia University
Neale was a four-year varsity player at Clovis West, graduating in 2014 and was a part of two D-I Valley championship teams in 2013 and 2014. After starting her college career at Cal State Fullerton, she transferred to Concordia University in SoCal where she just completed her junior season, averaging 7.9 points per game.
CR: After starting out at Cal State Fullerton, you transferred to Concordia. What were the main reasons for making the change?
Neale: The main reason that I switched schools would be coaching changes and changes within the team environment that pushed me to feel that Fullerton was no longer the right place for me.
CR: What is your major at Concordia?
Neale: At Concordia, my major is Pre-Physical Therapy and Allied Health with a minor in Biology. I intend on attending a Physician’s Assistant master’s program before eventually becoming a PA.
CR: How did you feel your season went on the court and what are you looking forward to next season?
Roundup: Overall, I feel that I struggled for the first half of the season because I wasn’t being aggressive enough and taking enough shots. Toward the end of the season, I found my 3-point shot and attacked aggressively, which enabled me to be more successful. Next season, being my senior season, I am looking forward to leaving it all on the court, working as hard as I can to make sure I have a successful last season, and having fun.
CR: What’s the best thing about living in SoCal so close to cool stuff like the beach?
Neale: Living in SoCal has been a lot of fun because of the beach, meeting new friends outside of Fresno, exploring the many different beaches, being close to so many attractions and the cooler weather of course!
CR: You came from a high school program at CW that had a lot of success, how did playing there and for Coach Campbell prepare you for basketball and life?
Neale: I am extremely blessed to have been coached by Campbell and been a part of his program. He taught me how to be mentally strong and push through, even when my body wants to give up. In terms of life, Campbell has taught me how being a hard worker enables you to be or become anything you want. I wasn’t a shooter at all my freshman year, but by the end of my senior year, I had a reliable 3-point shot.
CR: What are your greatest memories at Clovis West, on or off the court?
Neale: My greatest memories at CW would be winning the valley title my junior and senior year, our trip to North Carolina, being apart of a close knit family and our pregame rituals.
CR: What is your go-to music before a game? How about while studying? What are you listening to just driving around?
Neale: Before games, I only listen to hip-hop and rap because it gets me pumped up and ready to play. While studying, I sometimes listen to indie music which calms me and gets me in the mood to pull an all-nighter. When I’m driving around town I usually listen to feel good music like country, hip-hop, and rock.
CR: What are your favorite basketball shoes of all-time?
Neale: My all time favorite basketball shoes would be the Kobe XI 11 “White Horse” shoes.