All along the path of a student-athlete’s life, people offer help. Parents and teachers provide guidance, teammates and classmates may lend encouragement.
But at some point the student must be able to help himself or herself. He’s got to find the motivation from within to spend the hours necessary to land an A on that term paper. She’s the one who has to put in the work required to excel at her chosen sport. Not anyone else.
Robinson’s Hannah Wolfe and West’s Mason Tobola are certainly grateful for the help they received along their high school journeys. That assistance would have been fruitless, however, had either not been the kind of self-driven scholars and athletes that they were. It’s that type of commitment that separated Wolfe and Tobola as the Tribune-Herald’s choices for Super Centex Student-Athletes of the Year.
Wolfe will cop to it. She’s a perfectionist at heart. She went 28-2 as the ace pitcher for one of the top softball teams in all of Class 4A this year at Robinson. Yet she’s as apt to grouse over the two losses as she was to revel over those 28 wins.
“I think the two still comes back to haunt you after all of that,” said Wolfe, the District 17-4A MVP and a first-team Super Centex standout. “Really, we’d win a game but I’d still see all my flaws in that game. I was always trying to work to be better and fix those.”
She’s always been willing to tackle a challenge, no matter how big it was. Wolfe played on her first T-ball team when she was 3, against girls two and three years older.
She spent those formative years in the one-stoplight town of Mount Calm before moving to Robinson at the start of her freshman year of high school.
“I went from a class of 17, where we had six-man football and everyone played every sport, to one where everyone was just devoted to one thing,” Wolfe said. “Everyone already had known each other, and I was just kind of like, ‘Oh gosh.’”
Fortunately, Wolfe discovered a warm welcoming committee. For as long as she could remember, she had felt at home in that center circle in the middle of a softball diamond, and the one at Robinson was no different.
“She came in as a freshman, and kind of got thrown into the frying pan,” Robinson softball coach Robert Cervenka said. “But she handled it well.”
Wolfe exhibited a deep devotion to her softball craft, but it wasn’t her singular focus. She demonstrated the same dedication to her studies. She made straight A’s all through high school, and ended up as Robinson’s senior class valedictorian this year, with a grade-point average of better than 99.
“I don’t think going into Robinson I expected to be at the top,” Wolfe said. “It was really just focusing on myself and worrying about all of that. It’s always been part of my perfectionism, I guess.”
She refused to take the easy way out, either. If that meant spending extra time after practice working on the intricacies of her riseball, so be it. If it meant challenging herself in school, Wolfe was ready. She didn’t scare easily.
“This year I took a dual-credit class, and it was composition,” she said. “(The teacher) asked a lot of us, and I guess adjusting to the workload was a little challenging with practices and stuff. Once I figured it out, I was fine. Of course I dreaded it every day, but it worked.”
Wolfe will play college softball for the University of Houston next year. She wanted somewhere she could make a “sudden impact,” and believed Houston best provided that opportunity.
She figures college will require “a lot of adjusting,” but negotiating obstacles suits her personality.
“I’m pretty self-driven. If I don’t have things done on time and things like that, everything seems to be falling apart,” Wolfe said. “(My parents) enforced it early on when I was younger, and my grandma was a big part of that. She was always like, ‘Come home and do your homework.’ For the most part, it was myself, but they were always pushing me to do better.”
Speaking of tight-knit families, Mason Tobola has lived in West his whole life, like many a Tobola before him.
“That’s my hometown, I’ve been there forever. It’s a Czech last name,” Tobola said. “My grandparents are still there.”
Tobola grew up chasing his older brother Haden around. Both boys enjoyed all sports. Football, however, resonated with Mason. In those gridiron locker rooms, he found his people.
“Moving to football in fourth grade, I learned that was my passion,” Tobola said. “It was the passion everyone had for it, and all the bonds you made with your teammates and your classmates on and off the field.”
Even as a kid, though, Tobola understood that he didn’t want football to consume his entire life. He yearned to learn, whether his education came in a film room looking for the soft spot in a nickel defense, or in a biology class studying the life cycle of a houseplant.
“Being educated was really a motivation, an inspiration, for me,” Tobola said. “I thought you needed to be educated to really move on in the world. There’s more than just sports in life. You’re going to have to do something else.”
That perspective allowed Tobola to balance the books and the balls better than most. He graduated as one of the top students in his class, with a 102.931 grade-point average. Moreover, Tobola served the community with generosity, volunteering in the summer at Hillcrest Hospital and recently organizing an effort at Waco’s Church Under the Bridge called “Small Comforts,” which provides snacks and water to the church’s congregants.
“His parents did a great job of raising him, and he was always really striving for success in everything,” West football coach David Woodard said. “It says a lot about his work ethic that he was able to succeed in the classroom equally as well as he did on the athletic field.”
Oh yeah, the field. He schooled defenses as West’s quarterback in the 2015 season, directing the Trojans to an 11-2 record and their first playoff berth since 2010. Tobola passed for 3,346 yards and ran for more than 800 while accounting for 50 touchdowns. He also punted, kicked and started at safety.
“It was challenging, but now looking back on it, I wouldn’t take it back,” Tobola said of his various assignments for the football team. “I would definitely play as long as I could, every down that I could.”
Tobola went on to earn all-district status for West’s basketball team once the football year ended.
Like Robinson’s Wolfe, Tobola is headed for the University of Houston in the fall. He plans to pursue a degree in biology, with the thought of becoming a pharmacist someday. He also aims to walk-on to the football team, which would make him the second football-playing family member in the city, as his brother Haden is a kicker at Rice.
Mason figures that juggling a biology degree path and football practice could prove taxing at times. But he is well-heeled for the rigorous road ahead.
“I don’t think you can ever be the best you can be,” Tobola said. “You always have to continue to strive to be better. You always have to do the best you can in order to be your best – which you’ll never reach.”
2016 Super Centex All-Academic Team
Jordan Hand, Axtell: While ranking second in senior class, Hand made all-district in basketball and softball.
Brielle Bobo, Chilton: Multi-sport standout, cross country champ graduated with enough college credits to take junior-level classes.
Kassidy Munden, China Spring: When she wasn’t playing volleyball or softball, Munden stayed busy in PALS and National Honor Society.
Harley Gervais, Connally: Softball player registered 101.8 GPA, was a regional qualifier in UIL journalism events.
Jae Moore, Frost: Salutatorian found time to play five sports, volunteer as youth sports coach and Vacation Bible School leader.
Holly Sohns, Gatesville: Soccer standout made academic all-state while ranking third in her class.
Michal Bennett, Lorena: Senior class valedictorian played varsity basketball for four years while earning academic excellence in 12 different subjects.
Leah Bates, McGregor: Academic all-state in basketball, golf and volleyball, she plans to attend nursing school in Minnesota.
Brittnie Dunn, Robinson: All-state volleyball player also ran track while netting a 99.3 GPA.
Lexi Newman, Vanguard: Basketball and volleyball standout, National Honor Society leader tallied 100 GPA.
Reagan Reed and Brittni Schmidt, Connally; Laura Vega and Kenzie Winkler, Gatesville; Kobi Gill, La Vega; Tracy Jander, Lorena; Angela Rost and Caitlin Zacharias, McGregor; Erin Kadlacek and Kaylee Wood, Riesel; Rylie Fuentes and Bailey Meggs, Robinson
Javier Sauceda, China Spring: Four-sport letterman placed second in the state in technology competition, tallied 98 GPA.
Dylan Fuschino, Connally: Cadets’ valedictorian achieved 102.2 GPA while making all-district in both football and soccer.
Mason Matthews, Gatesville: Academic all-state honoree in two sports (football, golf), also finished fourth in Hornets’ senior class.
Zach Grimm, Lorena: Wendy’s High School Heisman winner also won Rotary Youth Leadership Award while balancing three varsity sports.
Jordan Stroope, McGregor: Valedictorian made UIL’s all-academic elite team in all of his sports – all four of them.
Nick Hovde, Reicher: Academic all-state honoree in three different sports for Cougars; tallied GPA of 99.55.
Tanner Smith, Robinson: Two-year football starter also donated his time to Mission Waco and church mission trips.
Max Harmon, Vanguard: Team captain of state champion golf team mentored elementary students at Mountainview in spare time.
Eric Cuffee, Waco High: Football All-American was straight-A student while garnering scholarship to University of Texas.
Griffin Paxton, West: District baseball MVP guided team to state title while also volunteering his time reading to elementary students.
Kameron Coe and George Gutierrez, China Spring; Chiddy Nwaeze and Tye Francis, Connally; Cooper Edmiston and Nick Gibson, Gatesville; Mitchell Donahue and Jake Donahue, Lorena; Triston Rogers and Josh Turner, McGregor; Alex Tagle, Reicher; Jorge Cerrillo, Waco High