Miami’s Nicolas Aixala (Conchita Espinosa Academy), Bal Harbour’s Maria Alvarez (Miami Country Day School), Miami Beach’s Sebastian Vidal-Casanova (St. Patrick School), Davie’s Emily Davidovic (Hochberg Preparatory School) and Hialeah’s Ulises Hernandez III (Our Lady of the Lakes School) were honored on the court as the Miami Heat/Miami Herald March Academic/Sportsmanship Team Players in conjunction with Gatorade at the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Youth league coaches, team reps, school coaches, administrators, teachers and family members nominated South Florida recreational, travel league, elementary school, middle school or junior varsity basketball players who exhibit sportsmanship and display good grades or improvement in the classroom.
They were congratulated by Miami Heat forward Michael Beasley, guard Goran Dragic and forward Henry Walker before the Heat’s win against the Portland Trailblazers.
Each honoree received two game tickets, a Heat T-shirt, an award certificate.
Miami Herald Youth Sports Reporter Samantha Hahn interviewed the honorees, their chaperons and Leon Bichachi, the Miami Heat Senior Program Manager/Community Affairs.
Event Intro: https://youtu.be/snwW_rCX4SY
Honoree Alvarez: https://youtu.be/9IioQMgmlhM
Honoree Hernandez: https://youtu.be/uK_nrAxFXdc
Honoree Davidovic: https://youtu.be/1LxuaKABL0M
Honoree Aixala: https://youtu.be/6Q5Ccl1qMQ0
Honoree Casanova: https://youtu.be/nfL8bH1ky3s
Miami Heat Bichachi: https://youtu.be/6tWkAPriH38
Event Close: https://youtu.be/vfAbTlCN6Mg
About the honorees
Nicolas Aixala, 13, of Miami is an eighth grader at Conchita Espinsoa Academy in Miami.
He helped the Cougars’ boys’ basketball team go 15-1, finishing runner-up in the Greater Miami Athletic League.
Carlos Salvat, athletic director of Conchita Espinosa Academy, said: “Nicholas has been in the school from kindergarten to eighth grade. He maintained an ‘A’ average academically. He has participated in varsity basketball, cross country, track & field and flag football. He is a member of the National Junior honor Society and exemplifies the true meaning of student athlete.”
Nicolas displays sportsmanship and leadership. He is a dedicated student and role model for his peers.
Carmen Mazarredo Santalo, language arts teacher at Conchita Espinosa Academy, said: “Nicolas is a sweet and responsible young man. He is a role model to his peers on and off the court. He always demonstrates great sportsmanship and is very positive. He has a warm smile and a helping hand to share. Nicolas is always part of the solution.”
Nicolas not only does well competing for his school but also for Thunder Athletics in Doral.
Bal Harbour’s Maria Alvarez, 14, is an eighth grader who starts on the Miami Country Day High School girls’ varsity basketball team in Miami Shores. She played a vital role on the team’s state championship run last season as a seventh grader and did the same as an eighth grader for the Spartans to earn back-to-back state titles.
Maria helped the Spartans capture the school’s first state championship in a team sport last season. In the championship game, she was outstanding, scoring a team-high 15 points (5 of 6 on 3-pointers) against Seffner Christian.
Miami Country Day School Athletic Director Chuck Sennett said: “Maria is a full-time basketball player and played a vital role on the team’s state championship run last season as a seventh grader. She won the team’s Rookie of the Year Award last season.”
Last season, Maria set team records in single season 3-point attempts (146), 3-pointers made (61) and 3-point percentage (41.8). She was named Spartans’ Rookie of the Year.
Miami Country Day School Girls’ Varsity Basketball Coach Ochiel Swaby said: “Maria Alvarez has been an integral part of our girls’ basketball program. Last season, as a seventh grader, she helped lead us to the school’s first state championship [in any team sport] by scoring 15 points [in the state championship game]. This season, as a starter, her precise 3-pointers and tenacious defense has helped lead her Spartans team to a No.1 state and No.6 national ranking in their quest for a second consecutive state championship.”
Maria scored 10 points in the first half with two 3-pointers in a victory over Seffner Christian in the 2015 state finals. The Spartans went 30-2 en route to their second consecutive state title.
In the classroom, Maria scored 94 in Art, 93 in English, 92 in Physical Education, 89 in Integrated Math, 80 in Science, 76 in History and 76 in Spanish.
Maria will be playing for the FGB travel team.
Sebastian Vidal-Casanova, 14, of Miami Beach is an eighth grader at St. Patrick Catholic School in Miami Beach. He is a point guard for the school’s basketball team. He also plays AAU basketball for Team Pete Blue Rays.
Sebastian averaged 12 points per game as he led St. Patrick over St. Timothy 43-33, St. Hugh 34-24 and Belen Jesuit 45-35 to win the Tournament of Champions of the Archdiocese of Miami.
For the season, the co-captain led the team in scoring, assists and steals and was third in rebounds.
St. Patrick School Athletic Director and Coach Art Fernandez said: “Sebastian is a leader with a huge heart and spirit you do not find in many 14-year-olds, He is always available to help with the younger teams at our school.”
Academically, Physical Education (99-98), Reading (93-96), Music (99-96), Algebra (93-94), U.S. History (93-94), Language (92-93), Art (85-92), World Language (93-91), Religion (94-90), Physical Science (92-82).
Mrs. Higgins, eighth grade teacher at St. Patrick School, “Sebastian is the type of student every teacher desires – hard working, dedicated, funny, charismatic, loving, and just plain ol' awesome.”
He is also a member of Junior National Honor Society.
Mrs. Pina, seventh grade teacher and assistant principal at St. Patrick School, said: “As an active member of the National Junior Honor Society, Sebastian has risen in so many occasions. He is a true leader who cares about everyone around him.”
Emily Davidovic, 13, of Davie is a seventh grader at Hochberg Preparatory School in North Miami Beach.
Emily has been a leader on Hochberg’s elementary school and middle school girls’ basketball, volleyball and soccer teams.
Away from school, Emily was selected an all star in the Plantation Athletic Basketball League.
A long-time straight A student, taking advanced classes, Emily is a member of the National Junior Honor Society and the school’s Student Government. She recently organized a drive for Jafco to supply children in need with athletic equipment, because she feels that sports is so important and wanted to share her love of it.
Dayna Wald, MAJE, Principal of Judaics, Hochberg Preparatory School, said: “Emily is a bright and talented young woman. Her abilities and leadership skills extend far beyond the classroom. She understands how to be a role model and balance her academic demands, athletic responsibilities, and still be a reliable and supportive friend to her peers.”
Emily has competed on the school’s basketball team for seven years, on the volleyball team this year and soccer team the past four years. She received the Teammate and Hustle awards at team banquets.
Hochberg Preparatory School Athletic Director Andy Degen said: “Although she is not physically gifted, she is one of our most fundamentally sound players in every sport. She works so hard and easily gets the mental part of every sport.”
Emily has loved sports since she began playing soccer at age 4. She plays basketball, volleyball, flag football, and soccer. She puts her heart and soul into every play and is a leader on all her teams.
Emily is an excellent student and has been nominated for numerous awards from her teachers. She is a member of Student Council and National Junior Honor Society.
Lindsy Seidel, Language Arts Teachers, Hochberg Preparatory School said: “Emily is a model student in our Middle School community and is an absolute pleasure to have in Language Arts. Emily is a leader who always has a positive attitude. Emily is enthusiastic about her academics and performs well in everything she undertakes.”
During her free time, Emily is shooting hoops in her driveway or watching any sport on television.
Hialeah’s Ulises Hernandez III, an eighth grader, led the Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Middle School boys’ varsity basketball team in Miami Lakes.
Ulises, 14, the team leader in assists, had a team-high 121 points, averaging 15 points per game to lead the Cheetahs to the school’s first All Catholic Conference Division title since 2010.
German Garcia, Our Lady of the Lakes physical education teacher, boys’ varsity basketball coach and athletic director, said: “Ulises is a hardworking, determined and passionate player. Throughout the season he showed great poise and displayed his leadership skills in a quiet but very effective way. He put his team on his back which resulted in OLL being crowned the All Catholic Conference 3A champions for the first time since 2010.”
Having a very good conference championship game including scoring the winning basket at the buzzer, Ulises was named conference MVP.
Ulises, who loves basketball, is a young man of integrity. He is called the gentleman of the eighth grade for his compassion with his teachers and fellow students. He volunteers as a youth coach for The Ball Go Get It Basketball League teaching younger children that it’s not only about winning. He tells them they need to have fun, and there is a lot to learn from a loss.
He also plays in the Ball Go Get It Youth Basketball League in Hialeah.
Mrs. Rose Cabrera, Our Lady of the Lakes religion coordinator and middle school religion and English teacher, said: “He displays true sportsmanship. He is a good role model for his peers.”
Ulises earns A’s and B’s in the classroom.
Ms. Krystal Castellano, Our Lady of the Lakes Middle School science teacher and robotics moderator, said: “Ulises is a one of a kind student who shows maturity and hard work in everything that he does.”