Youth Sports: Nanez captures third AOY title

Kayla Nanez, an eighth-grader at Valley Christian in San Jose, is a five-sport athlete and three-time Athlete of the Year. She's a Gilroy native who got her start with the Gilroy Recreation program. 

GILROY—Kayla Nanez has won soccer championships, broken track records and has been named the Valley Christian School’s Female Athlete of the Year for three consecutive years—and she’s only in eighth grade.
Nanez is only the second Valley Christian student to receive the Athlete of the Year award all three years of her middle school career, and she said she was shocked each time she won.
“It feels really good,” said a beaming Nanez. “It’s something I should definitely be proud of.”
The 14-year-old is a five-sport athlete, participating in soccer, wrestling, cross country and track and field at Valley Christian in addition to playing field hockey with Gilroy’s Infinity team.
Her life, she said, revolves around sports—both practicing and playing them. Even on Friday, the only day she doesn’t have practice or games, she still trains.
Nanez’s busy schedule doesn’t leave room for much else, but she makes time to get her schoolwork done in the car or right when she gets home. Sports and school play an equal role in her life and she works just as hard in the classroom.
Balancing school and athletics requires a lot of discipline, but she is no stranger to that. The daughter of a retired Marine and long-time coach, Gene Nanez, Kayla has grown up in a structured environment, which helped her thrive. But the biggest key to her success, Kayla said, has been her father’s support.
“(His support) is one of main things that keeps me going,” Kayla said. “I just love doing sports and I don’t know what I’d do without sports.”
“I think sports have just always been around our family,” Gene added.
Kayla got her start playing soccer with a Gilroy Recreation team at 4 years old, playing at Christmas Hill Park while being coached by her father. At 7, she started playing with the Orchard Valley Youth Soccer team and took up field hockey at 8 with Infinity.
She tried her hand at softball for a year at 11, but said it was too “slow paced” for her.
In sixth grade, she began her track career and set the 800-meter record for that grade level. Nanez also holds the seventh grade 800m and long jump records and was part of the 4×400 seventh grade record setting Warriors’ relay team.
As the daughter of a wrestling referee, it was only natural for Kayla to find herself on the mat, too. She did it for two years—seventh and eighth grades—and was coached by her father. Kayla finally rounded out her sports resume with cross country this year and was part of the Santa Clara County Central Division and East Section Championship eighth grade girls’ team.
Though she enjoys all her sports, her first love is soccer. She was the Warriors team captain this season and led her team to its fourth straight East Section Championship. She made the team in sixth grade, which Warriors soccer coach Everett Cheadle said is something few have done.
“Kayla is a rare kid. She is incredibly athletic and intelligent on top of it,” Cheadle said. “For a sixth-grader to make the team, they not only have to have the soccer skills, but the aggressiveness to go with it; she has both.”
Kayla has also found success on the pitch outside of Valley Christian, winning the NorCal State Premier Group Championship with the Los Gatos United Gold 00 Girls U14 soccer team as well as making the Olympic Development Program the last two years.
Though Kayla, who wears No. 11 in honor of her dad’s birthday, has blossomed into an accomplished athlete at such a young age, she still maintains her modesty.
“The Lord says not to boast,” she said. “It’s great to get awards, but when I score a goal, I don’t really cheer that much.”
Kayla looks to continue her education and athletic career at Valley Christian next year for high school. Because the prep level is more demanding than junior high, Gene said he and Kayla are currently re-evaluating what her athletic future looks like, as she will almost certainly have to reduce the number of sports she plays.
The one thing Kayla is certain of is that she’ll continue to have a soccer ball at her feet as she looks to earn a scholarship to pay for college.
“If she’s able to continue to on in college and get a college degree as well as play sports, that that’s just the icing on the cake,” Gene said. “It’s just a blessing on top of something already awesome.”