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Benander, James honored by Oak Ridge

By: Matt Long
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Connor Benander and Sara James have been involved in athletics as far back as they can remember so it’s no surprise that they were recognized by the coaches at Oak Ridge High as the school’s Outstanding Career Athletes. Benander played football and basketball all four years at Oak Ridge and also was a member of the varsity swim team as a freshman and sophomore. James played on the varsity basketball team all four years and played on the varsity soccer team her first two years at the school. Benander began swimming when he was 6 years old; picked up basketball in third grade followed by football in fifth grade. He quit the swim team after his sophomore year to concentrate on football. While he said whatever sport is in season is his favorite, Benander made his biggest impact at Oak Ridge on the football field, as he was the team’s starting quarterback the last two seasons. Following his senior year, Benander was named the Most Valuable Player of the Sierra Valley Conference and he earned the same award with the team. After his junior year, Benander was named Most Improved on the team and was also a second-team all-SVC selection. On top of being a good athlete, Benander also possess leadership skills. Not only did he play natural leadership positions in quarterback in football and point guard on the basketball team, but he was also team captain on the basketball team and as a sophomore on the swim team. Following his senior football season, Benander was also selected to play in the Holiday Bowl All-Star game. “I was a little surprised to win the (Career Athlete) award,” Benander said. “I’m honored to win it. There have been a lot of great athletes at Oak Ridge that have won it and it’s an honor.” Benander has lots of memories to reflect on from playing sports at Oak Ridge. “I will always remember beating Ponderosa and Vista in football and basketball,” Benander said. “Those are always big wins. I’ll also remember just being part of a team and the atmosphere that comes with it. Only your teammates know what goes on and the sacrifices that are made and I’m glad I got to experience that with friends.” Benander will attend Cal Poly in the fall and study business. He has yet to decide whether he will attempt to make the football team as a walk-on. James capped off her standout basketball career at Oak Ridge by leading the team to a state championship, easily her career highlight. She’s a two-time Sierra Valley Conference Most Valuable Player and was a first-team selection as a sophomore and an honorable mention selection as a freshman. James began playing soccer before she started with basketball and for a while soccer was her preferred sport. As a freshman, she was the Sierra Valley Conference’s Most Valuable Player and helped league the team to a section title. James was a first-team all-star as a sophomore, after which she quit the sport to devote her time to basketball. For her accomplishment in the classroom and on the basketball court, James earned a scholarship to Stanford, where she will also play on the basketball team. Cross country and track stars Amjed Aboukhadijeh and Hayley Scott were named Senior Athletes of the Year. “Amjed’s goal this year was the break the school record in the two-mile and he did that by running a 9:14,” Oak Ridge cross country and track coach Rob Fairley said. “That’s a big accomplishment for him. During cross country he was a leader of the team and one of the top runners in the section.” Aboukhadijeh is headed to UCLA and will compete on the cross country and track and field teams. Scott won a section championship in cross country and also helped lead her team to a section title. “Hayley always had great speed on the track, but she worked and improved to become a strong cross country runner,” Fairley said. Scott will attend and compete on the cross country and track and field teams at UC Davis. Junior Athletes of the Year included Vinny Waldhauser (wrestling), Ashley Adams (water polo, swimming) and Samantha Ralstin (cross country, track). Haley Simmons (volleyball) and Preston Dean (football, wrestling) were the sophomore athletes of the year, while Haley Anderson (basketball, softball) and Keaton Subjeck (football, wrestling) were the freshman athletes of the year.