As the clock struck zeros and the Big Valley (Bieber, Calif.)
playoff run ended on the football field in November, the finality of it struck the team immediately. It especially hit junior TzinTzintli Moya
, a girl who played every snap of the season as a center and nose tackle on the line in the trenches.
"We just wanted to win so badly that by the time it's all over, we just want to get back to work," Moya said.
Known as CeCe, the 5-foot-4 Moya has been a football starter since her freshman year of high school. Now she is on the basketball court, playing for a boys team with an 8-10 record.
Moya helped the girls basketball team make a trip to the section semifinals last year. But this season Big Valley, a school with about 40 students, didn't have enough players to field a team. Moya was joined by sophomores Lexie Shepherd
and Ahtziri Barba
at girls tryouts.
All three now play for the boys team under head coach Brett Gagnon.
"I think the team was excited as everyone else that CeCe's gonna be part of this team," Gagnon said. "They all played with her in football so they know how tough she is."
Moya has played in every game this season and is the first player off the bench while Shepherd and Barba have each appeared in eight games.
"I'm used to getting hit from the football field," Moya said. "By the time I hit the basketball court, it's like nothing."
Moya grew up in Bieber, a town with a population of 145. She watched her two older brothers and cousins play Pop Warner and wanted to play, but was never allowed to strap up the pads until high school.
"My brothers pretty much pushed me to just try my hardest and do whatever I want," Moya said. "They'd go outside and play with me all the time to teach me their techniques to make myself better."
When she got to high school, Moya immediately went to the field to play 8-man football for head coach Buddy Davies. The coach knew how tough she was by watching her play basketball and volleyball with his daughter as a sixth-grader.
"I wasn't sure how she was going to transition to a football standpoint," Davies said. "But I knew she was going to be OK."
On Sept. 1, 2021, the Cardinals traveled to Burney (Calif.) to open its season. Moya would be the starter on the offensive and defensive lines as a freshman.
"I was so scared," Moya said. "What did I get myself into? Then after the game started and I got hit like two or three times it was go-time."
The team lost 22-14 but Moya recovered a fumble and didn't allow the powerful Burney run game to break loose.
She said that hanging out and having team dinners with teammates, which are like family in this small town, is one of her favorite aspects of participating in high school sports.
The Cardinals have won two league titles and gone 21-6 with Moya playing on both sides of the ball. Davies said she got even better as a junior by calling in plays or blocking schemes at the line of scrimmage.
"CeCe wants to win, she wants to work hard and she wants everybody else to do the same," Davies said. "I don't think people understand how much we count on her."
As soon as football ended, basketball became the focus. On the boys team she can shoot with the guards and rebound with the bigs.
"There was a couple of tall kids and she just straight up boxed them out completely to get the rebound," Gagnon said.
He also mentioned how Moya rolled her ankle in one game but shook it off and kept competing.
"She doesn't want to be pulled out, that's just the kind of mindset she has," Gagnon said.
Gagnon said Moya is a great shooter who can do everything. She has a single-game high of 11 points.
"I hope they have a girls team next year for their sake," Gagnon said. "If there's not I'd be more than willing to take this group of girls on the boys team again."
School is very important to Moya and her family. She has a 3.9 grade point average, is the student body president and the treasurer for Future Farmers of America at Big Valley.
"My sister was great in school, she had straight As and was ASB President," Moya said. "When she graduated it was my turn to step up. My parents were expecting me to do so well and I didn't want to let them down."
As part of FFA, she shows a steer weighing more than 1,000 pounds each year. That requires her to wake up hours before school begins to feed and take care of the animal. After practice she is back at the farm, working with the animal again.
Moya wants to go to college, potentially at Fresno State and study biology.
"CeCe's a go-getter and I honestly believe she will be successful with whatever she does," Davies said.