Alumni Spotlight

Sydney Immel ’17

By Lindsey Munar ’16 | August 3, 2020

“I learned how to slaughter, butcher, and make sausage… as a class. My sophomore year, I was collecting stallions and breeding mares… as a class.” An inside look into the life of a pre-vet student and dedicated rider on the Cal Poly Equestrian team. Class of 2017 graduate, Sydney Immel, has more than just human teammates. Her most important teammate is a horse weighing at least a thousand pounds and standing at 16 hands high. While Immel is in her third year at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, she is experiencing her first as a member of the Equestrian team. Immel is a Rookie B rider on the Western Show Team. 

Immel and her teammates devote their hard work to horsemanship. Horsemanship entails the execution of maneuvers, smoothness, the geometry of the pattern, equitation (the properness of your seat and riding), and your bond with the horse.

Just like any other sport, the team practices day in and day out to master these skills. The competition aspect involves an interesting element of surprise. Riders learn the riding pattern on the day of the show. Most exciting, just twenty minutes before performing, the riders draw a random horse and are expected to show that horse to the best of their ability. More often than not,the rider has never been on that horse unless they have the home advantage. “It’s extremely stressful but it really shapes you into a better rider,” Immel discloses. “Every horse person knows the more horses you ride, the better you become.” Immel expresses she has been lucky to draw great horses but also has been very unlucky. Sometimes, unlucky means being thrown off. Thankfully, that has yet to happen to her.

“Giving medical care, exercising [the horses], feeding them, foaling them out, all of it makes me feel like I am where I am supposed to be.” Immel is fulfilled by her line of work, but more than that, she thrives from the challenges that come with working with these animals.

If not tending to her responsibilities of being on the Equestrian team, Immel is working at the Cal Poly Equine Unit, a student trainer for the Cal Poly Performance Horse sale, and a member of the Young Cattlemen’s Association. She is an Animal Science major on the pre-vet track. Needless to say, Immel is devoted to animals for most of her day, but she would not want to have it any other way. As an extension of her daily studies, her favorite experience has been her job at the Cal Poly Equine Unit.  “Giving medical care, exercising [the horses], feeding them, foaling them out, all of it makes me feel like I am where I am supposed to be.” Immel is fulfilled by her line of work, but more than that, she thrives from the challenges that come with working with these animals. “We get all kinds of injuries and infections that we get to work on first hand with some of the best veterinarians in the nation. It sounds like I do a lot for them but really, they do a lot for me. I don’t think I would be half as sane as I am without them.”

Immel is thriving in her new home on the Central Coast. Cal Poly’s ‘learn by doing philosophy’ has influenced her education in a way that she expresses will pay dividends when she enters the professional realm. “This year, I have stayed up overnight at the Equine unit to help mares deliver their foals as well as start a two-year-old horse to be sold in our Performance Horse sale.” As an aspiring veterinarian, Immel reflects on these experiences as more than valuable for her potential career, and for her life in general. “Cal Poly just really has my heart. Once I plugged into the equine scene sophomore year, I have never once wanted to leave.”

During her time at VCHS, Immel was a 4-year varsity soccer player. She played as a defender throughout her career, riding wherever time permitted. Coincidentally, the two sports of riding and soccer drew a parallel for Immel. Past the substantial amount of dedication, Immel discovered a similarity between training her two-year-old horse, Brandy, and defending an opponent.

“You move a cow how you play defense,” she spilled. “You watch their hips and their eyes, when they stop you stop, when they move you move. If you want to get a cow to change directions, you cut them off, just as you would a forward coming at you with a ball.”

As unique as it is, this perspective worked for Immel to combine her two athletic worlds into one.

Immel is only in her first year of being a part of the Western Show team, but she has accomplished plenty in a short amount of time. Placing first at four of the shows and making it to the semi-finals on the Western Show team have been some of her highlights. She plans to gain residency in Oregon and apply to Oregon State’s vet school, but she is open to where her career takes her. In face of uncertainty, Immel is eager for her future, being that she is content with the route she has chosen. If she has learned any lesson since leaving VCHS, it is that you could have the straight A’s but still fail. “If I wanted a 4.0, I would have to give up everything else, and to me, that is not worth it.” Immel shares that she has met incredible people along the way and has devoted her effort to exactly what she wants to do for the rest of her life. “When I come out of college with my degree, I might not be the most stellar student, but I will be a well-rounded person that can get myself through the rest of whatever life throws at me. It is not about the numbers.”

From Sydney Immel to her VCHS community: If you are in the market for a horse, please come to the Cal Poly Performance Horse Sale next May! Thank you for all the love and support! P.S. I love you Mrs. Golden!

VCHS Alumni Lucas Sweany ’17 Signs With Minnesota Twins – University of the Pacific

STOCKTON, Calif. – The Pacific baseball program has officially announced that former Tiger Lucas Sweany has signed a professional contract with the Minnesota Twins.
 
Despite a shortened season in 2020, Sweany becomes the 95th student-athlete in program history to reach the professional ranks. Additionally, it also marks the eighth consecutive year that a Tiger has turned pro following their career in Stockton, dating back to Tyger Pederson in 2013.
 
“Playing professional baseball has always been a dream of mine and today, that lifelong dream came true,” said Sweany. “Thank you to the Minnesota Twins for making all of this possible… I am so thankful for everyone that has helped me achieve this dream. Thank you to Pacific for being my home the last three years… thank you to all of the coaching staff for developing me into the player that I am today… I truly couldn’t have done it without all of you.”

Click here for more…

https://pacifictigers.com/news/2020/6/15/baseball-sweany-signs-with-minnesota-twins.aspx

Harrington photo

Maxie Harrington ’18

By Lindsey Munar ’16 | June 5, 2020

Moving across the country was the first of many changes in Maxie Harrington’s collegiate career. Recruited to a NCAA Division 1 school, Howard University, the 2018 VCHS graduate left the familiar to meet a promising athletic and academic career. An unforeseen injury caused her anticipated experience to be redirected to one of joy despite disappointment. Harrington has found hope through the trial of a career-impacting setback. Though her physical skills are on temporary hold, her mindset has grown and deepened throughout her journey.

Harrington

Harrington was a true athlete in her time at VCHS as not only a softball player, but a member of the volleyball and track team as well. Leaving her successful 4-year varsity softball season with the Lady Falcons, Harrington trained for months in the offseason to finally take the field as a Bison shortstop and an occasional infield fill-in when needed. Unfortunately, Harrington tore her ACL and meniscus during an away game in one of the final weeks of her first season. Soon after the injury she underwent surgery and has since been in physical therapy.  Most athletes can relate to the emotional pain that accompanies the physical pain of an injury. Harrington refuses to succumb to the mental struggle.

“This injury has been one of the most impactful things that’s ever happened to me,” Harrington shares, “and I am only allowing myself to look at it as a blessing.”

Harrington admits to learning numerous lessons since leaving VCHS, but the one most significant is, “…you get out what you put in. Meaning, however much effort you put into something directly correlates to how much you will get out of it.” Harrington’s optimistic attitude intertwined with her competitive spirit proves evident that this mantra infiltrates every aspect of her life, starting with her outlook on the sport she loves. Humbled by her new role due to her injury, the sophomore expresses a new perspective, still resounding with hope. “I have been able to look at the game of softball from a different point of view and am now the most knowledgeable I’ve ever been about the game! But still learning, of course.” 

Instead of playing the field, Harrington has become an extra help to the coaching staff. This has been a step forward rather than a stepback for the shortstop. In fact, Harrington is thankful for the advantages that have come with a new change of pace. “I am so thankful to have had that opportunity because it will help me immensely as I am making my transition back onto the field. This experience was definitely a highlight, because it is one of the things that has helped me grow the most! This injury has taught me resilience, patience, and has helped me to appreciate each moment of every day even more.” She urges athletes to welcome every day on the field as a gift to never be taken for granted, even when times are tough.  

“…you get out what you put in. Meaning, however much effort you put into something directly correlates to how much you will get out of it.”

Harrington

Off the field, Harrington relishes in her new home at Howard. Holding a deep admiration for the history of the college, specifically the influential black leaders that have come from her school, Harrington chose Howard in hopes to be a part of their inspiring legacy. One of Harrington’s favorite classes thus far is titled Black Women in America. “Throughout the course of this class, we studied the impact of black women on society, especially during the civil rights movement. Oftentimes, women were the ones taking the lead during this time, but do not get the credit for it. Not only this, but we also studied all of the turmoil black women were put through and they persevered through all of their obstacles.” Outside the classroom, Harrington has met “so many amazing people”. She professes that putting herself out of her comfort zone and interacting with people who she might not have otherwise is one of her highlights of college. “There is something to learn from everyone we meet and there are so many incredible people we walk by every single day!” Exemplifying her greatest lesson in the social world – you get what you put in. 

“There is something to learn from everyone we meet and there are so many incredible people we walk by every single day!”

Harrington

Currently, Harrington is home with her family since her season was cancelled due to COVID-19. She and her teammates learned their season was over in between a doubleheader. Heartbreaking and abrupt, the cancellation brought an unforeseen transition that had Harrington on a plane back home the next afternoon. “Even though athletes all over the country had their seasons cut short and we are currently surrounded by tragedy and uncertainty, I feel that this great loss will also bring about great change. Or at least it has the potential to.” She shares this shift in society has caused us as a nation to focus on what is important. Harrington anticipates a positive refinement of how we operate as a whole. She expresses optimism for her journey to come, and encourages others to endure the lows in athletics for the even greater highs on the horizon – it is one of the most rewarding things one could do.

From Maxie Harrington to her Vacaville Christian Community: “Don’t give up on your dreams just because you’re not where you want to be yet! Focus on your own path and don’t worry about what people are doing to the left or right of you. If you continue to work hard, remain honest, and treat people with respect, the good that you have put out into the world will come back to you at some point. God has a plan.”

Olivia Petnicki image

Olivia Petnicki ’16

By Lindsey Munar ’16 | May 8, 2020

College sports are no walk in the park – in fact, they are more like a full-time job. A mix of classes, weights, practices, film, and meetings, are just the average schedule for these athletes. Mix in travel time and in-season obligations, and the amount of commitment gets higher than one thought possible. VCHS class of 2016 alumna, Olivia Petnicki, has now graduated from the tireless routine of being a NCAA Division 1 student-athlete. Through her experience, she learned the valuable lesson of taking the leap of faith, despite hesitation, trusting there is more to come. 

Once Petnicki left her successful volleyball career at Vacaville Christian in 2016, she went off to play as a defensive-specialist for the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. While at UOP, Petnicki played indoor and beach volleyball – a year-round commitment. A highlight during her time as a Tiger includes a five set victory against Oregon State in front of a packed Spanos Center. The Spanos Center can seat over 5,000 people – imagine how the environment must have been during that thriller. After two years with the Tigers, Petnicki chose to transfer to the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, Texas. Unhappy with the culture of her program at the time, she knew she needed a change. “Looking back on my decision to transfer I remember being so worried of the unknown and taking a leap of faith, but I could not be more happy with my decision,” expressed Petnicki.

“I love where I am at in life and the friends I have made and the amazing experiences I have made out here in Texas.”

UNT proved to be a worthwhile jump. In her first season with the Mean Green, Petnicki appeared in 89 sets, averaging 0.53 assists per set. In the National Invitational Volleyball Championship post-season tournament, Petnicki and her team advanced all the way to the semi-finals. Their run was cut short by Iowa State, but UNT took out Tulsa and Wichita State on the way – “two really good teams”. After her final season, Petnicki walked away with 55 digs and six aces. Unfortunately, she also encountered a serious injury in her last season as a D1 volleyball player. 

Petnicki developed thoracic outlet syndrome at the start of her senior year. “My whole arm would be in extreme pain and there were days I could not play through the pain. I struggled for about 6 months before I got an appointment with a vascular surgeon.” Almost immediately after the appointment she braved a surgery where her first rib was removed. Additionally, the doctors released her pec minor muscle and three scalene muscles. “Thoracic outlet is a pretty rare syndrome where the veins, arteries, and/or nerves are getting cut off in your shoulder/neck area and cause symptoms in your arm. For me my symptoms were swelling of the whole arm, constant aching from my neck to my hand, and nerve issues.” After two months of unanswered questions, Petnicki found a solution and much needed relief in order to help her pain. She is now happily on the road to recovery.

Olivia Petnicki imageBack in high school, Petnicki was an essential piece to the three-peat volleyball section champion team of 2013 to 2015. She was Player of the Game in the 2015 section finals and was also nominated for the Sacramento Optimist All-Star game the same year. Though she has been privileged with once in a lifetime experiences as a college athlete, she still faced temporary doubt when considering the commitment of D1 sports. 

“Sometimes I feel like I missed out on a normal college experience because I was so busy with volleyball. I wish I could have had more free time or even rushed a sorority at a big school. However,  looking back I would not want to do it any other way!”

Petnicki shares that she loved being a college athlete and all the perks that came with being a division one player. Not only were the free clothes awesome, but the valuable lessons made the sacrifice worth it.  

Now graduated from UNT, Petnicki is pursuing her MBA in Marketing Analytics. If she could share any piece of advice to prospective athletes who want to play at the collegiate level, she tells first and foremost to believe in yourself!

“You have to be your biggest supporter and advocate, especially mentally! College sports are NOT easy at all, especially at the division 1 level. There are so many days athletes don’t enjoy what they do at all, and even think if any of it is worth it. I have been there, trust me. But you have to push through the hard times and always believe you are the best on that court or field.”

She encourages athletes to give their 110%, stay present, and be a respectable teammate on and off the court, as those relationships you have off the court end up being far more important than the games you play.

From Olivia Petnicki to her Vacaville Christian community: I am very grateful for the extremely supportive Vacaville Christian family! I attended VCS since I was 4 years old, and grew up in the school. I feel so blessed to have gotten to grow up in such a Christian environment, especially as I have gone to a public college where many did not get the upbringing I did. I fell in love with volleyball at VCS, made some of my closest friends, created some of the best memories, and ultimately learned how to be a hard worker. The most important thing I learned at VCS was how to love God and trust Him in everything I do. I cannot imagine how my life could be right now if I did not have all of the support I did from the Vacaville Christian community! Thank you!!!

Sweany Photo Alumni Highlight

Lucas Sweany ’17​

By Lindsey Munar ’16 | April 20, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak has without a doubt tremendously impacted our current world. Schools across the country have transitioned to remote learning, businesses have closed indefinitely, and sports seasons have been cancelled. Though the current circumstances can seem dreary, Lucas Sweany clings to his hope in God’s control and sovereign plan in the midst of this pandemic. Sweany was only a third of the way into his junior season of collegiate baseball when his season faced an abrupt end. Though an obvious disappointment, Sweany expressed his understanding of the cancellation, stating he thought it was ultimately the right decision since it will protect people from being exposed to the virus.

Sweany graduated from Vacaville Christian High School in 2017 and went on to pursue his collegiate career at the University of the Pacific (UOP) in Stockton, California. Sweany initially chose Pacific for its professionalism, but the impact of the team has made a true difference in his experience.

“The baseball program at UOP is special to me because of all the relationships I have developed in my three years. I have developed such amazing connections with the guys I have played with and they are relationships that will last forever.” ​

Sweany is a pitcher for the Pacific Tigers. In his first year, he pitched a season-high six innings against No. 12 Indiana with three strikeouts. Sweany defines this moment as the highlight of his collegiate career thus far. “ I began [my freshman year] as a starter and started the second game of the series at Indiana, who was ranked #12 at the time. This was the best start of my career, I threw 6 innings allowing only 1 run.” In the brief season UOP had this spring, Sweany held a 1.23 WHIP in his four appearances and three starts, totalling to 21.2 innings. When Sweany is not on the field, he is developing stronger relationships with his teammates. Specifically, Sweany leads his baseball team’s Bible study group. Though the team is now dispersed and no longer on campus together, Sweany carries on the meetings through Zoom every Sunday. The relationships built with his teammates in Bible study as well as in the locker room has become Sweany’s favorite aspect of college, apart from playing the sport he loves.

Deservingly, Sweany was a highly-decorated 4-year varsity starter during his time at VCHS. Recognized as an All-League selection for 3 seasons back to back, to back, Sweany earned the League MVP accolade after his senior season. Additionally, he was chosen for the Maxpreps CA Small School All-State First Team. Back in 2017, Sweany and the VCHS baseball team made a section appearance where they walked away with the title.

“The best memory from my high school career was our playoff run my senior year. It started out with me throwing back to back no hitters to get us to the section Championship and ultimately winning. It was just so awesome finally being able to beat Bradshaw three times and win a Championship.”

Sweany VCHS Photo

The same year, Sweany held a 0.65 ERA with 159 strikeouts – the second most in the nation at the time. With the many well-earned awards and recognitions based on his high school performance, Sweany’s character and leadership were just as evident. He cared just as much about his teammates as he did the game. “I was so glad to be able to win [the section championship] with that group of guys too because I felt that we were such a tight knit squad.”

Sweany hopes to play professionally after his time at Pacific. If not that route, he hopes to work in the analytics department of some professional sports team whether it be baseball, basketball, or football. If he could share any advice to student-athletes wishing to play at the collegiate level, Sweany preaches that hard work pays off – in every aspect. “It is so important to take every rep seriously and give 100% in everything you do because when your career is over you’ll look back at it and will have so much regret if you didn’t give 100%. This also pertains to the classroom, get the best grades you can get! Good grades will make it easier for you to get recruited because coaches will trust that you can get stuff done on your own.”

From Sweany to his Vacaville Christian community: “I appreciate all of you at Vacaville Christian and miss you all a lot! I hope you’re all doing well and I can’t wait to see the baseball team bring home another section championship!”

Follow Sweany’s baseball experiences at Pacific Tigers Baseball.

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