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Hawks soccer seeks SAL repeat; Hilmar, Denair set sights on playoffs
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Ismael Udave will be a key contributor to the new Delhi squad. Last year the team won the Southern Athletic League title with an 11-1-2 league record. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ/Turlock Journal

The Delhi High boys’ soccer team made a statement in last season's Southern Athletic League. The Hawks finished first in the league with a 11-1-2 record, outscoring opponents 64 to 10, along with a 16-4-2 overall record, and an offense that racked up 85 goals for the season, averaging just under four goals per game.

Denair struggled in league with a 2-11-1 record, respectively. They placed seventh, getting outscored 22 to 83 in the process.

“Last year we had a great team. Last year, the players got along well and played the passing game. We strive to play in a very strong way and we had no selfish players, everyone put it around,” Delhi head coach Armando Salazar said.

Salazar knows it will be hard to repeat as the SAL champions, especially after losing six seniors, but he feels that his squad is young, strong, and talented and will compete against favored Gustine High.

“Our senior starters we lost were critical and we're rebuilding on what we have left and it has been a challenge. It will be hard to repeat the team from last season, but I think we will be competitive this year as well. Every team has a great team. And it is hard and very competitive,” Salazar said.

The Hawks will rely on returning stars like Sergio Espindola, Ismail Udave in the midfield, and right back Pedro Arellano, and the talents of three freshmen. Forward Jorge Aguilar is also expected to be a key player this season. The Hawks return their two goalies from last year’s champion squad, seniors Angel Flores and David Hernandez.

“We have two good goalies, but if we switch them, we go down on the playing level and I hope they do as good as last season,” Salazar said. “If they play as good as last year, we can keep the scores down.”

While Denair went through a rough patch last year with head coach Gregorio De Loa, this year, they begin a new era with head coach Darrin Allen, alongside assistants Carlos Suarez and Paul Lei; they look to bring the Coyotes to the first playoff appearance in school history.

“One big goal we have this year is we would like to make the playoffs, that’s a major goal we have. We want to be competitive all the time and be the first team in Denair soccer history to make playoffs,” Allen said. “How our assistants have helped to build the team in two weeks is crazy. From day one to this past weekend the kids have made such an improvement.”

With the help of only three seniors,and a dozen underclassmen, the Coyotes recently took second in the Big Valley Lion’s Cup, a small school tournament, losing to Ventura Academy out of Stockton in the championship game.

Quentin Allen and Jonathan Oei return as the co-captains as seniors and leaders in their final season after lettering all four years. Some key forwards will consist of sophomore Isaac Starks, and junior Aaron Gutierrez playing behind freshman goalkeeper Tyler Ottis to make up one of the biggest squads in history at 22.

“We have the biggest squad we have ever had,” Allen said. “We are very young and really our expectations are to get better every game and be competitive and leave everything on the field and not getting blown out.”

Coming off a shaky year in the rocky Trans Valley League, Hilmar High looks to dethrone undefeated Riverbank High who went 9-0 in league, while the Yellowjackets sat in third place at 4-4-2 and struggled at times to put up goals, as they were outscored by opponents 21 to 29.

“We started kinda like this year last year — unknown.  I always try to tell these kids they only play three months out of the year and they need to take advantage of that,” Hilmar High head coach Louie Bettencourt said.

The Yellowjackets lost only four seniors, of those, however, three were starters. The return of nine players, now seniors will be a huge asset as they will lead the team. Adrian Yepez will return as a sophomore after a very successful first year. Osiris Guerrero will be playing forward. Gabriel Teixeira will also help tremendously. Alex Lopez, Noel Gutierrez and Andres Moran should help the defense.

“One thing I always try to do is challenge the kids and tell them what to do to succeed. You need repetition and need to continue it because it helps you understand it more,” Bettencourt said. “I try to get them to think more. I tell them that half of it is mental. Sometimes you need to react and be smart.”

Looking ahead, the  Yellowjackets know that the defending champion, Riverbank, will be looking to repeat; but the mentality at Hilmar is different and they will do all they can to come out on top starting with making the postseason.

“To me, I always want to see us make the playoffs, which is the one thing on the agenda,” Bettencourt said. “It is not easy but that is the goal. I have confidence in them and I tell them what they put in they will get out of it."

Hilmar defeated Los Banos on Thursday by a score of 5-2 after hitting 17 shots on goal.