Community mourns the loss of class of 2020 alumna

April 30, 2021 — by Selina Chen
Photo by Courtesy of National Horseman

The community is mourning the death of class of 2020 alumna Ava Boyce-Bender, who passed away in a car accident near SeaWorld San Diego on the night of April 21. Boyce-Bender, 18, and the driver, Kulten Sargent, 18, died in a pickup truck veered off the road and into a light pole. 


Coming to SHS as a sophomore

Boyce-Bender transferred to the school from Presentation High School as a sophomore. In an 2017 interview with The Falcon, she talked about the positive changes that resulted from her transfer, such as her newfound freedom to choose any appropriate articles of clothing.

“I now have time for my friends, my sports and just enjoying high school in general,” she said.

English teacher Meg Battey taught Boyce-Bender for three years. Battey said that whenever a topic piqued Boyce-Bender’s interest, she dug in deep and grappled with the concept, like in her memorable senior research paper.

Boyce-Bender always had a story to tell that would demonstrate her opinionated and spunky side, Battey said. She fondly recalled that whenever she pointed this out, Boyce-Bender would always sigh, “Ugh, Ms. Battey,” and roll her eyes.

“She wore her big heart on her sleeve much like her mom and her twin brother James,” Battey said.

Math teacher Kristen Hamilton was also close to Boyce-Bender.

Hamilton met Boyce-Bender when she had just begun elementary school through because she has a daughter of the same age. Hamilton remembered telling her “I love your spunk and sass.” She became close with Boyce-Bender over the years through her involvement in Girl Scouts and as her class adviser for the National Charity League.

“Ava often volunteered her home for gatherings and was always a fantastic hostess,” Hamilton said. “She loved fiercely, and all who knew her have been graced by her light.”

Hamilton remembered her excitement to see Boyce-Bender on her math class list for her junior year.

“When she walked through the door she knew she was family,” Hamilton said. “She took the time to talk to me about anything and everything.”

We will always love you. Please cheer loudly from heaven for your family and friends, but mostly for Mom (Sharon), James, Pookie, Guppy and all your horses. — Kristen Hamilton


Cheerleading becomes a passion

Boyce-Bender was a valued member of the cheer team, but her association with coach Chelsea Miller went much further back.

Miller was Boyce-Bender’s babysitter and recalled that Boyce-Bender had a lot of energy ever since she was young. She would make up dances and perform them, basking in the presence of an audience and lighting up the room wherever she went.

As a cheerleader, Boyce-Bender always wanted others to feel confident in their performance, so she would work one-on-one with her teammates until they felt like they understood the movements.

“When putting together routines, Ava would always ask me what she could do to help me,” Miller said. “She would often offer to have the less fun positions — such as being in the back of formations — so that others could have the spotlight.”

Miller said Boyce-Bender’s death has devastated the team because everyone looked to her as a role model. “The Saratoga community has experienced a major loss with her tragic accident,” Miller said.

Class of 2020 alumna Monica Lubyanitsky said Boyce-Bender was always passionate about the success of the cheer team and showed endless support for her teammates through hard times.

When junior Chelsea Potter started cheer in freshman year, Boyce-Bender was the “big sister” who looked out for her. 

“She was my back spot when I used to fly in different stunts, so I trusted her with my life,” Potter said. “Ava was the type of friend who was there for anyone at any time. Any time you called her crying, she would be there giving you all sorts of advice. Any time you needed to rant, she would listen. Any time you needed a ride home, she wouldn’t hesitate to take you.”

Potter wished that she could thank Boyce-Bender for all the amazing memories. She said she would do anything to have Boyce-Bender back and make their plans into reality.

Posting, talking and sharing won’t bring her back, Potter said, but people should realize that when their family and friends say “drive safe,” they mean it. They don’t say it out of habit; they say it out of love.

“I know Ava is looking down on all of us in her cowgirl hat, cheering and protecting us,” Potter said. “I know she would want all of us to be strong.”

I love you so endlessly. I will never forget you. You will alway be in my thoughts and prayers. Rest In Peace. — Chelsea Potter


As Benefit commissioner

In her senior year, Boyce-Bender served as a commissioner for the Benefit Fashion Show

Fellow commissioner and Class of 2020 alumna Katie Lam noted that Boyce-Bender was very passionate about making a difference in other people’s lives. She always went above and beyond to find sponsors and donations, Lam said.

“I would call her my Benefit Bestie,” Lam said. “We shared the same sense of humor, and she always knew how to make me laugh. We never left each other's sides, whether it was driving to pick up donations, setting up the photo backdrop poles or hosting the actual show.”

Lam recalled that Boyce-Bender was always extremely supportive whenever Lam got nervous about walking the runway. Boyce-Bender would walk with her backstage, peek behind the curtain, cheer her on and give her a hug afterward.

Lam fondly remembers when she and Boyce-Bender got assigned to scream at people backstage to be quiet because they were both known to have the loudest voices of the commission.

At the end of the run-through when she and Boyce-Bender changed out of their heels and sprinted to the dance room to get their bags, they pulled out their shoes and discovered that they had matching Ugg slippers.

“I don’t think having matching slippers was that funny, so maybe it was the extreme exhaustion, but we laughed until our stomachs hurt,” Lam said.

Hi Ava [Ay-va not Ah-va ;)]! You were one of the funniest, happiest and nicest people I have ever met. I miss your smile, your laugh and your ability to bring sunshine to anyone’s rainy day. — Katie Lam


Equestrian and aspiring real estate agent

Boyce-Bender’s passion for horses was well known, as Battey, Hamilton, Miller, Potter and Lam all told The Falcon.

After starting to ride at age 3, Boyce-Bender became an accomplished saddle seat rider, winning five world championships. In high school, she regularly attended around 10 shows or competitions each year.

Following her graduation, she moved to San Diego so that she could easily access River Run Farms where her horses are stabled. Most days she followed a routine of waking up at 5 a.m. and riding until sunset, after which she returned to her apartment to study for her real estate degree, she said in an November 2020 interview with The Falcon for an article covering her unconventional post-graduation path.

When considering career paths, her mother encouraged her to find what made her happy, even if it was not a typical college and career path. Boyce-Bender’s family is already in real-estate business as property managers, and with her love for real-estate and helping people, everything fell into place, Boyce-Bender said in the interview.

“Riding and studying for a real-estate license was just the natural thing to do,” Boyce-Bender said in 2020. “Your career shapes you as a person, so don’t go to a four-year school and get some top-paying job without truly loving it. Why not go out on a limb and try something different?”


On April 25, Boyce-Bender’s friends and family held a vigil to honor her life. Among the attendees was Jordyn Lopez, Boyce-Bender’s roommate.

While Lopez was not ready to talk with The Falcon because she is still grieving, she said, she posted on her social media accounts in Boyce-Bender’s memory.

Ava Jean, yesterday we celebrated you. Thank you for being the best best friend anyone could ever ask for. I'm going to miss driving up the coast with you blasting throwback music and just screaming it in the car on our way up to Oceanside. I miss you more than anything and wish I could just give you one more giant hug and have one more “I love you, see you when I get home.”

05/13/2002 – 04/21/2021

This isn’t a goodbye; it’s a see you later. I hope you ride all the horses you want and drink a twisted up there for me. You will always be my Twin Flame. Until we meet again, sweet angel. — Jordyn Lopez


In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Morgan Horse Association (AMHA) for the Ava Boyce-Bender Memorial Fund, a youth scholarship fund.


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