By Bill Sheehan
Trish Parks and Jake Pavletich are both fifth-year seniors who already have earned undergraduate degrees and are working on their master's. They've both excelled on the playing field, one as a softball pitcher, the other as a baseball first baseman. And last month, Parks and Pavletich were named Cal State Fullerton's Big West Conference Scholar-Athletes of the Year. The awards are based on academics, leadership skills and athletic performance.
Parks, 22, transferred to Fullerton after one year at the University of Arizona. She graduated cum laude with a 3.76 grade point average in sociology. She is working on a master's in social work and also plans to pursue a nursing degree. Parks, who was born in Chino, is currently a counseling program intern with the West Covina Unified School District. She received a concussion while training in January and is sitting out this season. Parks said she will seek an NCAA medical redshirt that would give her a sixth year of eligibility. Last season, Parks was 9-0 in Big West play and led the team to a conference softball title. She was named second-team All-Big West in 2018. Parks has an 18-month-old son, Kaysen Ahmad. Kaysen's father is Khalil Ahmad, who was a standout guard on the Titan basketball team.
Pavletich, 23, graduated with a 3.4 GPA in communications with a concentration in public relations. The Bakersfield native is working on a master's in industrial design and technology. Last year, he served as an intern with Fullerton's Athletics Communications. Pavletich was named to an All Super Regional Team in Mississippi State in 2016 and was a second-team all-Big West pick last year.
Parks and Pavletich recently sat down for a question-and-answer session. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity, and comments from their academic and athletic mentors are presented after the Q&A.
What was your reaction to being named a Big West Scholar-Athlete?
Parks: When I got the award, I was shocked. I felt blessed and just thought of all my efforts last year and all the support from my team and my parents. I can see, with their support, how I won it.
Pavletich: I was definitely shocked. I had wanted to get into the master's program without having to worry about, 'Oh, why didn't you get a certain GPA?' So as a redshirt junior, I was really working hard in the classroom and had a 3.9 GPA that year.
How did you learn to balance school and sports and pace yourself?
Pavletich: Time management was a huge thing for me. I had to plan out my homework days and my test days and learned to do things in advance and know what I had upcoming. That really helped me succeed.
Parks: Participating in athletics helped me learn to develop a plan. Being able to schedule and see on paper when something is due helped. Having the athletic department being there for support or guiding me to other resources helped a lot. I always have assignments done a week ahead of time only because I am a mom and other things can come up.
Pavletich and Parks already have earned their undergraduate degrees and currently are in master's programs.
What would be your advice to a freshman who is an aspiring Scholar-Athlete?
Parks: Work hard and ask for help if you need it. Go to the professor's office hours. Plan everything out to become successful.
Pavletich: Make sure that your academics get done before your play on the field. If you are trying to just play and not worry about school, you're going to get in trouble. Manage your time wisely. I would designate days to meet with professors and do homework.
How important was it to have the support of your family?
Pavletich: Huge. They were pushing me to graduate and succeed on the field. Whenever I received a call from my parents, the first question was: "How are your grades?' The second question was: "How are you doing on the field?"
Parks: At the Scholar-Athlete brunch, having them recognize our parents was a huge moment for me. My mom has been so helpful to me and my son, and she has motivated me to keep going.
How have your Fullerton studies prepared you for your career path?
Parks: I want to run a department at a hospital as an RN case manager. Getting a master's degree in social work is getting my case manager part down. Then I plan to get a nursing degree.
Pavletich: I came in as a freshman wanting to be a business major but switched to communications. I want to pursue coaching. I will be done with my master's program in May of 2020, and hopefully that will help me coach at the Division 1 level. Next year, I will be a graduate assistant with the baseball team. I like my online design major, but it is very challenging. Being an online student, you have to teach yourself.
What did the team concept in sports mean for you?
Pavletich: The relationships that we have now and will have moving on after this are incredible. I get to be around a bunch of guys that help pick each other up.
Parks: I love it. This year, being redshirted and being out so long, I can already feel the difference. I miss being around the team. They are a second set of family, they are my sisters. They are always there for me and so supportive. They lift your day when it is bad.
What have you taken away from your travels with the team?
Parks: It can get tiring during the season. My favorite place traveling for a game was Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in my sophomore year and Hawaii in my junior year.
Pavletich: Everyone talks about being on the road and how much fun it is. But you have so much stuff to do, in terms of study hall and watching film. When we traveled to Starkville and played Mississippi State in the Super-Regionals, it was the craziest game atmosphere I've ever been part of, with 16,000 fans yelling and screaming. A cool environment to be in.
What has been your biggest challenge on or off the field?
Parks: Coming back stronger from my setbacks. I had a shoulder injury coming into my sophomore year. The next setback was getting pregnant. And now this head injury.
Pavletich: Coming back from wrist surgery. Mentally, I was trying to tell myself that you can still play this game even though you've taken three months off for healing and physical therapy.
If you had to choose another sport to play, what would it be?
Parks: Basketball. I played in high school. That was my fun sport, and softball is my serious sport.
Pavletich: Golf. In the little free time that I've had, I used to play golf – I still do -- with my Poppa, who is my mom's dad. All of his firemen buddies play on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday in Bakersfield. This summer, I hope to go out with them a few times.
Who are the best student-athletes you have played with?
Pavletich: I have two. The pitcher was Thomas Eshelman. When I came in as a freshman and he was a junior, the way he carried himself on and off the field in everything he did was second to none. He was a perfectionist. As a position player, I would say Scott Hurst. I watched him play for three years. Strong arm, fast, can hit the ball extremely well and a great dude to be around.
Parks: Danielle O'Toole and Katiyana Mauga at Arizona State. Danielle recently played on the USA softball team. She redshirted my freshman year at Arizona, and she helped me. She's a very smart player, and having her insight was really helpful in my development. Katiyana at Arizona and Missy Taukeiaho at Fullerton were very talented and smart players who just had that edge. I wanted to be like them.
How would you sum up your Fullerton experience?
Parks: I love it. I would recommend it to anyone who is even thinking of coming here. I love the team, the coaches and the athletic staff. And the academic center has been amazing. Everyone is just so supportive. I wouldn't change my experience for anything.
Pavletich: If I would take away one thing, it would be the brotherhood that we have as a team. We don't do anything without anyone. On and off the field, we're all buddies, we're all friends and we're all close. And academically, the Fullerton staff helps us all the time.
WHAT THEIR MENTORS SAY
Lori Allemand, Department of Social Work lecturer:
"Trish is a dedicated hard working and excellent student. She takes pride in her work has a zest for learning and is a wonderful person."
Kelly Ford, Titan softball head coach:
"Trish is like fire and ice. Ice in her veins when competing and fire when she is supporting her teammates. She is a born leader and insane athletic talent. Trish is a special young lady and one of the purest athletes to wear a Titan jersey."
Kenneth Hagihara, College of Communications lecturer:
"Jake was a student in COMM 464 Public Relations Management, the capstone course for students majoring and minoring in communications with an emphasis in public relations. Jake was taking the course during baseball season. I can't imagine how he was able to juggle his responsibilities to the baseball team with the intensive coursework required of the capstone course, and the obligations of his other classes and personal life. However, he was one of the top students in the class and his classmates spoke very highly of his leadership and his participation throughout the semester."
Rick Vanderhook, Titan baseball head coach:
"Jake is what we call an old school baseball player, and that is the best way to describe what a Titan is. He plays the game with his head and finds a way to help the team win. He will be a good coach one day."