In leading up to the start of the 2017-18 athletics campaign at Irvine Valley, which starts on Aug. 23 with the women's volleyball team hosting Citrus, the Laser athletic department will count down the top 10 IVC sports stories from the 2016-17 school year.
The No. 10 story on the list was Irvine Valley women's basketball player Serena Saba earning the Orange Empire Conference's Fair Play Female Champion of Character Award for the 2016-17 school year.
The award is given to the student athlete who displays the following values; sportsmanship, respect, caring, fairness, civility, honesty, integrity and responsibility shown through a specific action, ideally directed toward an opponent during competition.
The criteria also includes the action of putting the team and teammates before oneself while acting as a positive role model.
Each college in the conference nominated a male and female student-athlete.
The inaugural award was given out following the 2009-10 academic year. Since its inception, the OEC Character Champion Award has been sponsored by Fair-Play Scoreboards.
Irvine Valley has had an overall winner in each year but one.
Caitlin Segert (2010), Chris Popke (2011), Melanie Kashanchi and Kevin Ringuette (2012), Josh Popke (2013), Marisa Doran (2014) and Kobi Pekich (2015) were previous overall winners for Irvine Valley.
Saba was a two-time IVC Scholar-Athlete, three-time Dean's List honoree, and is currently maintaining a 3.77 GPA while majoring in Psych/Pre-Med.
She graduated in Spring 2017 with two degrees and a minor in Neuroscience and was deciding among athletic and academic offers from some of the premier liberal arts universities in the country. Saba ended up choosing Lewis and Clark College where she will also continue her basketball career.
The red-shirt freshman point guard was named captain by her teammates leading into the 2016-17 season. Saba averaged 9.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game, earning her second team all-OEC honors. Saba was tied for third in scoring for IVC, led the team in assists and was second on the team in steals per game. She also ended up ranking third in the conference in assists per game.
She scored double figures in eight games and topped 20 or more points three times. The former San Clemente High standout had a season-high 28 points in Irvine Valley's season finale at Riverside.
She also had a season-best 12 assists in Irvine Valley's 60-54 win at Santa Ana on Jan. 4.
Saba has been volunteering at the J.F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center for more than a year. Shea is a nonprofit organization that offer a variety of therapies such as occupational, physical, and speech therapy, as well as giving children with disabilities (ages 2 years and above) the opportunity to experience an activity that brings a sense of normalcy to their life.
She serves in the equestrian program ensuring safety and stability for children who may not even be able to walk.
Saba has also served on a global level. She spent two weeks in Tanzania volunteering as a doctor's aid by filling prescriptions, taking statistics and consulting with one of the poorest populations in the world. It was in this context that she found her calling – the desire to become a doctor.
Saba understands that her work has been of benefit to others, but feels fortunate that she has benefitted as well.
"Being able to form bonds with others and see the impact of my time and effort has been the most rewarding experience," she said. "Community service has given me the opportunity of a lifetime and through it I have discovered my love for children and helping others."
Irvine Valley coach Julie Hanks said the award couldn't have gone to a better player and person.
"Serena has been a great teammate not only on the court but in the classroom," Hanks said. "She has tutored several girls on the team to help them with class work. She has instilled the importance of academics for our team.
"On the court, she never took a day off, earning our HIP (Hustle Intensity Pride) award. She was our team captain, and her sacrifices in keeping the competitive level at its highest at practice every day made her very valuable to the continuing success of the basketball program.
"Her interaction with opponents was very positive, and was always trying to improve as a player, a teammate and a student."