Leroy Lutu, Laura Maruhashi named Athletes of the Year
September 9, 2008 · Updated 1:56 PM
Leroy Lutu and Laura Maruhashi achieved very different things this year in athletics. One guided the boys basketball program back to state prominence and an undefeated regular-season title. The other won the All-Around district title in gymnastics and helped the girls lacrosse program to the state semifinals in her fourth year playing the sport.
But the two athletes will be forever linked as Mercer Island High Schools male and female Athletes of the Year for 2008.
Winning a district gymnastics title is very difficult. Most girls who win the crown compete in gymnastics all year round and train relentlessly. Only two Mercer Island gymnasts in the past 20 years have achieved the feat. Maruhashi won the championship despite competing in two other sports and only training in the sport during the high school season.
I didnt know where the competition would be this season, said Maruhashi, who was a co-captain for the gymnastics team. I have been doing gymnastics for so long, and it was great to win the district title.
The combination of competing girls lacrosse, gymnastics and cross country is rare. The combination takes all-around athletic talent.
Maruhashi began running on the cross country team when she was a junior, after diving for the Mercer Island girls swim team during her freshman and sophomore years.
Cross country really helped me to stay in shape, said Maruhashi. Lacrosse was the hardest because of the hand-eye coordination.
While she competed in gymnastics for most of her life, the senior took up lacrosse as a freshman. By the time she reached her senior season, she was one of the best players on the team.
Maruhashi said that one of the best parts of receiving the award was getting it from one of her favorite coaches.
I have known Jeff [Lowell] for a long time, so that was special, said Maruhashi. I was really excited to get the award. It is such an honor.
Maruhashi earned a 3.85 GPA at Mercer Island High School and will attend Western Washington University next year.
I might play club lacrosse at Western, she said.
Not too many Islanders have won the Athlete of the Year award competing in just one sport. This season Lutus play on the Mercer Island boys basketball team earned him many accolades, including the high schools male Athlete of the Year award.
I was surprised, said Lutu. There are a lot of great athletes at this school. I am honored to just be a part of this group.
In presenting the award to Lutu, Lowell stated something that most at the high school already know.
For him to say that I am one of the best in the last 50 years at the high school, well, words cant describe how humbled I am about that.
Lutu helped to guide the Mercer Island boys basketball to an undefeated regular season record, the 3A KingCo title and into the state tournament for the first time in four years. But Lutus efforts did not go unnoticed by the larger western Washington community. The senior guard was named to the Rise Magazines first team all-area, the 3A KingCo Most Valuable Player, all-KingCo first team, first team on the Seattle PI all-area team and to the all-state first team by the high school Coaches Association.
Lutus career at Mercer Island was not just forged on the basketball court. He broke hearts when he decided to forego his senior football season to concentrate on basketball.
I played three years of football and it was an unforgettable ride, said Lutu. I am just so blessed.
Lutus choice paid off, though, as the senior accepted a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Hawaii, where his dad was a star athlete.
I may not get immediate playing time but I am willing to work for it, said Lutu. I am ready for the challenge.
Lutu said that one game and one win will stand out for him.
When we beat Seattle Prep at Bellevue Community College to advance to state, it was with the most unbelievable feelings, said Lutu.
Lutu will also be the last Mercer Island athlete to play for two of the most successful coaches in current basketball coach Ed Pepple and retired coach Dick Nicholl.
I dont know where I would be without them, said Lutu.
of the year
The Mercer Island High School Scholar Athletes of the Year were announced and for the first time in 16 years the male award was split between two students.
Islander Sarah Stern was named the female athlete and Evan Zahniser and Brian Tolkin shared the boys award.
Tolkin graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA while competing in golf. Zahniser earned a GPA of 3.9 while competing in basketball and boys soccer.
Evan is a far more gifted athlete than I am, said Tolkin. I am honored to get it with him.
Tolkin tied for 16th at state this season by shooting a 150 during the final meet of the year. The golf season was the most difficult for Tolkin in keeping his GPA at the edge of perfection.
We wouldnt get home from practice until 7:30 p.m., said Tolkin, who will most likely attend Stanford next fall. I had to be a lot more efficient with my time.
Zahniser achieved a feat rarely realized by any athlete, winning two KingCo titles in one year. He played alongside Lutu on the undefeated regular-season 3A KingCo championship boys basketball team and then helped the boys soccer team to move from a 3-3 record and fifth place in the division to the season title.
This has been an unbelievable senior year for sports, said Zahniser. They were both very different teams.
Zahniser knows what the recognition means.
I remember watching my teammate, Trevor Fulp, get this, said Zahniser, who will play for Pamona College next year in basketball. To follow in his foot steps and have all the seniors cheer was amazing. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Islander Sara Stern earned a 3.9 GPA this year while also competing in two sports.
I was really surprised, said Stern. It is a great honor.
Stern competed for the girls soccer team during the fall season and the girls lacrosse team with Maruhashi during the spring.
I was always expected to do well academically because of sports, said Stern, who will attend Claremont McKenna College next fall.