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The Activities Matter - Student Spotlight Blog

March Student Spotlight

Clai Quintanilla

Four time district champion, four time regional champion and four time State champion in 3A boys wrestling, Clai Quintanilla is this month’s Student Spotlight. Quintanilla is a senior and captain of the wrestling team from North Central High School in Spokane, Wash.

Quintanilla has been wrestling since the years of elementary school. Similar to other wrestlers, he has been coached by the same few people throughout his career, both in club wrestling and on the school team. Since the beginning, Quintanilla started competing in the footsteps of his older brother (a previous HS State champ and current collegiate wrestler at the University of Wisconsin) while being coached by their father. From sixth grade on, Quintanilla was also coached by Luke Leifer, his high school coach of the last four years.

When asked what all good coaches have in common, Quintanilla had an answer right away.


“They get you to push yourself in the practice room,” he said. “I’m never really settled as being as good as I am right now. They help me push through in wrestling and in life, in the classroom and stuff. They really push you.”

Coach Leifer gave a great example of this style of coaching when describing a memory of a young Quintanilla in his freshman year.

“He was our 106 and he was so talented that he didn’t have any competition in the practice room,” Leifer said. “I’m a light weight coach (about 140 lbs) so I took on the responsibility to be his practice partner for the entire year and really push him. It was a great year and I was so impressed with how hard he worked and how talented he was.”

Leifer’s second-favorite memory of his senior star is a more recent one, from this year’s Mat Classic.

“Winning his 4th state title his senior year,” Leifer said. “He had a knee injury and at state I wanted him to wrestle conservative and that’s just not the athlete that he is.  He asked if he could open up and try and put more points on the board, and I respected his drive to win and perform.  He had four outstanding matches that he dominated every position.  He didn’t let the fear of losing get to him, he went into every match with confidence and you could see it in the way he wrestled.  It was a lot of fun being a part of his journey.”

Quintanilla is extremely dedicated to his sport. He travels and competes nationally on a regular basis and has serious goals of competing collegiately and winning a national title. Giving credit to his strong support network, including his family, coaches, teammates and friends, Quintanilla has put in a lot of time on the mat working to be better than his opponent, whoever that may be.

His father gave him some of the best advice when it comes to performing in a match and rising to any occasion, whether wrestling or not.

“My dad always said – ‘don’t let anything be up to the officials.’ Don’t leave anything for someone else to decide who wins the match. I’ve gone by that. You have to take the calls and keep going.”

Quintanilla noted how surreal it was finishing his high school wrestling career as four time State champ on his 18th birthday. The fan section sang happy birthday to him while his hand was being raised. Despite his success, Quintanilla remains humble and grounded.

“Losses were the best thing that ever happened to me in high school,” he said. “I was able to learn. If you never lose you don’t have a chance to get better.”

Zella Conley

Zella Conley is this year’s 4A gymnastics vault and floor champion as well as this month’s Student Spotlight. From Mead High School in Spokane, Wash., Conley participates in gymnastics as well as track and field.

Conley comes from a large family, one of 14 children. She has two younger brothers currently attending Mead who are also running track, while other siblings have followed suit and taken gymnastics classes. As a junior who has already overcome multiple injuries, Conley is rightfully excited and proud of her most recent accomplishments at State.

Gymnastics coach and assistant track coach Laurie Chadwick explained what Conley overcame to place first in the floor event at State.

“Last year at our State qualifying meet, the back one and a half skill is the skill that she [Conley] twanked her knee on and fell out of bounds,” said Chadwick. “That mistake last year caused  her to not qualify for State on floor. To be brave enough to put the back one and a half in her State final routine this year was a mental challenge that she took and the payoff was great.”

Conley herself explains that overcoming injuries and pushing herself in her practice is why she loves the activities she participates in.

“I love the competitiveness,” she said. “To be able to put in all the hard work and see what you are really capable of is what I like.”

Conley said that participating in these sports and activities have taught her that she really can set and accomplish any goal - it’s all about the work she puts in. A great example was at State this year. Conley was going into finals in eighth place for the floor event, but managed to bring herself all the way up to first, claiming the championship title. She worked on that same floor routine all year. 

While dominating the gymnastics scene, Conley is even more excited for her future in track and field. She is most recently running hurdle events as well as  relay events for Mead. She is looking to hopefully run in college, opting for track instead of gymnastics.

Due to a schedule that is packed with practice, school, family and squeezing in some sleep every now and then, Conley has missed out on some events and parties, but she doesn’t let it phase her.

“I think about the things I’ve achieved, if I would’ve gone to the parties I wouldn’t have gotten that practice or that experience of whatever I was working on. I kind of like that I don’t have as much time to do whatever I want - I like how I’m on a certain schedule.”

Chadwick describes Conley as “powerful, personable and poised”, all traits which are evident through her floor routine and stories of hard work and level-headedness. 
“Zella is a two sport athlete,” Chadwick said. “She learns to be a better competitor by challenging herself. She learns to be a goal setter and work toward her goals. She learns the payoff of all those ‘grinding’ practices that might not be all about fun! Zella is learning what it takes to succeed and that even ‘the best’ can always get better.”


March 2017

3/7/2017 March Student Spotlight

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