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Celeste Vasquez, Jaime Albarran named Whittier High’s Athletes of the Year

WHITTIER — Culminating the 2019-20 sports year was the naming of the top Whittier High School male and female awards recently.

Seniors Jaime Albarran, winner of the Bob Chandler Award, and Celeste Vasquez, winner of the newly named Patty Caretto Award, were the recipients.

Albarran was a three-year varsity water polo player, three-year varsity swimmer, and one-year varsity basketball player. He also received an academic letter.

Vasquez was a four-year varsity starter for volleyball, in addition to earning an academic letter.

“The Chandler and Caretto awards are the highest awards to seniors the school offers,” Whittier Athletic Director Jim Marilley said. “The award goes to the student who is a very good athlete, but also a very good person.

“We call it CLASS: a Cardinal with citizenship, leadership, achievement (academic or other), sacrifice (community service) and self-respect.”

The Bob Chandler award was named after the Whittier alum, who graduated in 1967 and excelled in football, basketball and track. Chandler went on to play football at USC and later had a 12-year NFL career with the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills.

Chandler was one of the best all-around high school athletes and was named All-CIF in football and basketball. In track at Whittier, he high-jumped 6 feet 7 inches, pole vaulted over 13 feet and tossed the 12-pound shot an amazing 57 feet. Chandler passed away in 1995.

“My family and I are honored to have the WHS male athlete of the year, Jaime Albarran, receive the Bob Chandler Award,” said Catherine Chandler George, who is the sister of Bob Chandler and mother to current La Serna football coach, Andy George. “Bob would be proud to know this award is being given out each year to a most deserving student-athlete, who exemplifies the same character and commitment he had to sports. Congratulations Jaime.”

As for the female award, it was also named the Bob Chandler award prior to this year, but was renamed after Whittier graduate and former Olympian Patty Caretto.

Caretto competed in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics at 17 years old and set numerous world records and was named to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1987. Caretto placed fifth in the 800-meter freestyle final in the Olympics and also set world records in the 800 and 1,500 free on eight different occasions through the years.

“I just feel very honored that they would think of me and I thought, ‘Wow’,” said Caretto, from her Laguna Hills home. “I would like to congratulate the winner, Celeste Vasquez. It was really something. It’s a great honor and I would have loved to come up and presented the award in person to the young lady.”

Caretto, whose married name is Brown, was inducted into the WHS Hall of Fame a few years ago.

Current longtime Whittier teacher, Kele Perkins, who teaches AP Government, Economics and AP Psychology, was the catalyst for the name change.

Perkins felt there must be a WHS female alum worthy of acknowledgement for an award.

Danny Calvillo (varsity basketball and track) and Makayla Hernandez (varsity soccer, track and academic letter) were named male and female Athletes of the Year, respectively.

Receiving the Scholar Athlete of the Year for male and female, respectively, were Joseph Ancich and Julia Casas.

Since there are no gatherings anymore with school being closed for the year, both winners found out by different means.

“I found out through the virtual ceremony,” Vasquez said. “I was definitely surprised and only played one sport.

“It’s an honor and was a lot of hard work and I am glad I had a part in helping to reform the program in my first year. I’m glad to be recognized for it.”

Albarran, who was named to the All-CIF team this past season and played as a utility and attacker, found out he won while at school.

“When I was returning my books and I opened up my envelope, my sister (Jade Sanchez) noticed that I had won the award,” said Albarran, who will attend Rio Hondo College and continue playing. “Just hard work and that’s how you get recognized. I said, ‘Wow’, there’s always one favorite and my hard work paid off with everything I did.”

His sister, Jade, just completed her junior year at Whittier College and was part of the SCIAC Tournament Championship team in 2019.

Albarran originally started out as a goalie in the summer in club, but Whittier water polo coach Allen Johnson saw something and told him, “I need you in the field.”

Albarran, who also played basketball in his senior year on the team that advanced to the CIF quarterfinals, knew that the move by Johnson was a difference-maker.

“I feel that transition molded me as a player,” he said.

Albarran was also involved in ASB and was a cage leader for football and basketball games, except of course in his senior year on the court. He was also team captain for the swim and water polo team.

After Johnson spent years as water polo coach, Albarran remembers that the coach was “retiring on that note,” referring to the team advancing to the quarterfinals this past season.

Albarran also said of Vasquez winning her award, “She’s awesome and a leader for sure and led by example.”

Coach Johnson, who is an English teacher at Whittier, always was looking for players in his class and Jamie was one of them. After he was cut from making the freshman basketball team, Johnson talked Jaime into coming out to water polo.

“I could tell he was a smart kid,” Johnson remembers. Albarran had a 3.8 GPA in school.

“After a year on the JV team (water polo) and a summer of club, Jaime grew a lot in one year. He made leaps and bounds from his freshman to sophomore year.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him grow and whatever level he is at he will step up to the challenge.”

Vasquez, who played in an amazing 111 of 112 matches in her four-year career as libero, also was a busy student-athlete on campus in her many activities.

To name a few: Puente Program (college preparatory program and learning about Latino culture); ASB (athletic rep in charge of advertising through social media for sports events); academic mentor (class mentor for freshmen); Cardinals with Class Program (picking up trash, asking students to write to a friend) and Keep Whittier Clean Program.

“I tried my best and was involved with a lot of academic activities this year,” said Vasquez, who is a 4.0 student on the presidents list.

“Honestly, it all started in my freshman year,” added Vasquez, who is 5 feet, 4 inches tall. “I was put in there and never played libero before. Ever since I started playing, I was the first to get there (in practice) and last to leave.”

Vasquez, who will attend Whittier College and major in math, wants to pursue a career in cyber security.

“A part of my senior year I didn’t get to say goodbye and achieve closure,” she said. “The whole shutdown changed my direction in college.”

She had a recruiting trip planned to Central College in Iowa, but had it cancelled due to the shutdown. She will instead concentrate on her studies.

“Honestly, it’s a great honor to be given an award named after her (Caretto) and her accomplishments,” added Vasquez.

Volleyball coach Michael Ledford said of Celeste: “She was a special player this year. She’s such a huge asset to our program and it’s (volleyball) a lot more excited because of her. A lot of girls would like to have similar qualities to her. I’m sure the freshmen looked up to her and what it meant to be a student-athlete. She is very mature for her age.” 

And of the award, Ledford said. “When Jim (Marilley) announced it, I was so happy for her for this award to be named in her honor. It’s phenomenal to be recognized by the other coaches at the school.”

Some of her other stats in her career compiled by Ledford: aces: 310; serve/receive passing average (on a scale of 3.0): 2.08; digs: 2,021.

Vasquez was ranked in the top ten in California, according to MaxPreps.

Ledford remembers when she started as the libero in the first match of the season and what she said: “I don’t know how to play libero” and the rest is history.

Athletic Director Jim Marilley’s comments on Jaime Albarran and Celeste Vasquez:

Albarran: “Whittier’s 2020 best man. No need to visit the Wizard of Oz, Jaime has all the brain, heart and courage necessary to carry any team on his back. Yet what I will miss is his warm friendly smile, no matter the occasion. Simply put, he’s a great guy.”

Vasquez: “Whittier’s only four-year varsity captain in my tenure. Her leadership raised girls volleyball up a class, while she performed even higher in the classroom. Celeste is truly one Classy Cardinal.”

Other WHS award winners:

Sports Leadership Award: Male – Juan Cueva, Isaac Moisa and Marc Trujillo. Female – Rose Alvarez, Samantha Bumanglag and Jaylene Ross.

Cardinal Spirit Award: Male – Martin Lusinyan and Ian Yepez. Female – Jazmine Anguiano and Nataly Ramirez.

Athletic Director Award: Male – Vance Aguilar and Christian Guerrero. Female – Leah Kauhola and Mina Patino.

Twenty-one athletes received a Don Kelly Lifetime Pass to all Whittier home games (except CIF).

The criteria is four varsity letters in one sport or three varsity letters in one sport and two varsity letters in another sport, or receive a total of six varsity letters for all sports.

Kelly, who was a math teacher, PE teacher, head football coach and athletic director, was and is an icon of Whittier athletics.

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