Alex Palacio is co-captain of St. Anthony’s defending CIF championship football team, and a three-year member of its golf team. As a freshman, Tiare Jennings played on two CIF championship teams for St. Anthony High School, and was named Division 6 player of the year in softball. (Courtesy: ST. ANTHONY HIGH SCHOOL)

Ask star student-athletes Alex Palacio and Tiare Jennings of St. Anthony High School about their primary sources of inspiration — and you’ll get almost the same answer.

“My family and my coaches; they push me to be the best I can be,” grinned Palacio, senior free safety and co-captain of the Saints’ defending CIF Division 10 champion football team, and a three-year member of the Long Beach school’s golf team.

“My parents and my coaches, who always push me to be the best I can be,” smiled Jennings, a sophomore outside hitter on St. Anthony’s girls’ volleyball team who, as a freshman, was named CIF Division 6 player of the year for the Saints’ CIF champion softball squad last spring.

Both Palacio and Jennings are part of the ongoing resurgence of athletic excellence at St. Anthony, which in recent years has piled up numerous league titles in various sports and now contends regularly for post-season honors.

Jennings, for example, was part of a freshman-dominated softball team that ended last season on a 17-game winning streak, including a perfect 12-0 Camino Real League mark and the Division 6 title. She also played on St. Anthony’s Division 7 volleyball champions.

“It’s really exciting to achieve something great for your school, especially when you are playing with all of your friends,” said the Holy Trinity (San Pedro) parishioner, where she helps with confirmation preparation. “And we have a young volleyball squad this year, and a young softball team next spring, so our future looks really bright.”

The oldest of four children, Jennings has played softball since age 6, and came to St. Anthony from Holy Trinity School because “I knew of the great softball program here, my friends were coming here, and I really wanted to stay in Catholic school and continue my Catholic education.”

Primarily a second baseman who plays some shortstop and pitches when needed, Jennings hit .521 in 24 games with 27 runs scored, 23 runs batted in, 11 steals in 11 tries, and a .533 on-base percentage.

She’s made a verbal commitment to the University of Oklahoma to play softball and study sports medicine, but for now is happy to help St. Anthony continue its string of successes.

“I enjoy being with my teammates, doing what we love, making great memories,” said Jennings, happy to be part of a team that prays together before practices and games. “And we believe we can keep doing that.”

She also enjoys studying math, going to the beach, “hanging out with friends,” and being with her family. “We have a really close family, and they support me so much. That and my faith really make a difference in what I’m able to do.”

Lessons from Grandpa

Palacio likewise comes from a close-knit family, and has a special fondness for his grandfather, who taught him to play golf and how to work to achieve what he wanted in life.

“He played sports, went to UC Santa Barbara, and worked his way through school so he could pay for his education himself,” said Palacio. “Seeing how determined he was to realize his goals really inspires me to do the same.”

After growing up in Carson and Bellflower, and attending public school, Palacio came to St. Anthony, he says, “for the smaller class sizes, where I could have more one-on-one with the teachers, and it’s been great. My grades are way up.”

Having played almost every sport he could, from golf to rugby, Palacio said, “Football has always been number one. There’s a core group of us who came to St. Anthony about the same time and have developed a real bonding, a brotherhood that extends to the whole team. That’s what brought us to the championship last year, and we’re aiming to do that again this year.”

Through the first three games, St. Anthony stood 2-1 and fifth in Division 9 (having moved up from D-10), its only loss to Division 6 school St. Paul. As free safety in St. Anthony’s “Purple People Eaters” defense, Palacio made a late interception and scored a 2-point conversion in its 14-6 win over Long Beach Wilson, and looks forward to a successful Santa Fe League season that begins Oct. 20.

And after next spring’s golf season and his graduation, Palacio hopes to play sports and study law in college, though he’s not sure exactly where. “I’d like to stay on the West Coast but leave California, establish my independence,” he grins.

Until then, he will continue to pursue athletic and academic excellence at St. Anthony, where he also participates in campus-ministry service efforts, collecting food and clothes for the homeless. “Helping people, and seeing how the little things we take for granted matter so much to them, means a lot,” he said, “and it helps out the community.”

Like Tiare Jennings, Alex Palacio also will continue to treasure the support he receives from his parents, younger sister and extended family. “They come to all my games, and it really makes a difference, knowing that they care,” he said quietly. “It’s definitely a blessing in my life.”