Girls soccer is back as Turlock and Pitman high officially kicked off the 2012 season on Tuesday. After five straight top-three finishes in the Central California Conference, the Pride finally earned their second league title last year with a 13-1-1 season. The Bulldogs, who had defended the CCC title for five consecutive years prior to last season, finished in fifth place with a disappointing record of 2-7-3.
Now, with the first CCC game behind them, the Pride aims to defend their title as the Bulldogs begin their quest back to the top.
“I was pleased with the way league unfolded last year,” Pitman’s head coach Oscar Mercado said. “We’re pretty well balanced this year and the girls understand their role. I think that’s our strength.”
Pitman lost six players from its 2011 championship team but junior Sierra Miller, last season’s goal keeper of the year, and senior Marissa Marable, last season’s co-offensive player of the year, have returned to provide the Pride with leadership and experience. Although Miller and Marable are the big names on the team, Pitman has a lot of talent to go around.
“Everyone coming back is important, but they got the recognition,” Mercado said of Miller and Marable. “Every returner is key and has a role on the team.”
Pitman will benefit from a strong defense and apt scorers this season as it enters league play with a target on its back. The Pride’s biggest challenge this year, according to Mercado, is avoiding the comfort that comes with beings champions.
“The returning players know in order to earn what they got last year; they have to work just as hard,” Mercado said. “As defending champions every team is going to come out and try to beat us. We just want to play good soccer.”
Turlock’s record suffered last season due to a rebuilding process and some unfortunate injuries. This year, with seven returning players, the Bulldogs hope to return to championship form.
“Last season was a transition year for Turlock,” Turlock’s head coach Cathi Schali-Lopez said. “I feel confident about this season and the girls are getting used to the new structure.”
Returning senior Lindsey Aldax will be Turlock’s offensive weapon this season and is expected to be complemented by junior Nicole Larson’s defensive prowess. Larsen is back after missing last season with a knee injury. Turlock will also be aided by the addition of Coach Jenna Lewis, a former soccer standout at California State University, Stanislaus.
Despite having seven players with varsity experience, the Bulldogs are still young with a handful of freshman players on the team.
“We have a very young team,” Schali-Lopez said. “They have great soccer skills and everyone is going to contribute in their own way.”
Turlock has its eyes on crosstown rival Pitman, but remains aware that the other CCC schools demand attention as well.
“The CCC is full of competitive teams. On any given day or time any team can step up to the plate and win,” Schali-Lopez said. “Of course, the ultimate goal is to get to the playoffs and win.”