There is a major upside for this year's varsity soccer team at Pitman High and head coach Cris Castro, which is, they still have Rayana Plancarte, for one final season.
And it is one that Plancarte is looking to dominate, not only in the Central California Conference, but against every opponent the Pride will face in the upcoming year as she looks to break the school’s scoring record.
Easier said than done, especially in an ultra competitive CCC, which their crosstown rivals Turlock have dominated over the last three seasons, but anything is possible.
“This year it could be anybody, hopefully us, but it can be anybody,” said Castro. “A big focus for me is to get the best supporting cast around No. 21 [Plancarte], because she is a great player, but this is a team game. So my focus is figuring out who are going to be the other 10 on the field with her.”
As of Friday, the back-line will look quite similar from a year ago, with the likes of Serena Walls, Liz Perez and Alexis Castro all returning. Castro and Perez were both all-league selections last year behind a defense that allowed only 21 goals in 15 league contests.
Sophomores Jolee Sylvester and Giselle Barajas will be competing for a midfield spot, along with junior Yisel Perez.
“It will be interesting because they are all great players but the good thing about that is if one or two of them get tired, we have another two to switch from, level stays about the same,” said Castro about his team's depth this year.
Just a year ago, the Pride found a rough stretch at first and accumulated only a 2-4-1 CCC record before going off in the final stretch.
In the team's final eight games, they only lost a single game, and went 4-1-3 in the process, allowing only 10 goals. However, it still wasn't enough to secure a playoff spot after they finished fourth in the CCC at 6-5-4.
“The girls are excited as last year, but they were scared at first. As the season went along, they grew, their confidence grew and by the time the year ended we felt we had a playoff team,” said Castro. “But by that time the record didn't help us so we hope to carry that momentum from last year.”
This year, the Pride and coach Castro are more than confident that they can compete for a playoff spot, mainly because of the ability that Plancarte brings.
“Well, anytime you have No. 21, you are always in the game,” Castro said of Plancarte. “We are going to compete, but as far as league is concerned, it is very tight, I mean real tight from week to week it can fluctuate and it can be chaotic week in and week out because one game makes a big difference.”
“Obviously the expectations are a little higher this year because last year we took our bumps and bruises, we had a really young team,” Castro added. “All the girls are a bit older and more experienced as far as playing so I am really looking forward to a better year this year and I think we will have a better season.”
The first game for the Pride will be their home tournament which is scheduled to begin on Feb. 26 with an opponent and time yet to be determined.