BY CHRISTOPHER CORREA AND JOE CORTEZ
Both Turlock and Pitman high boys varsity soccer squads had forgetful 2021-22 campaigns, as they each ended the season with losing records. While the Bulldogs (4-11-3 overall, 1-7-2 CCAL) finished in last place, the Pride had slightly better success (9-8-2 overall, 3-5-2 CCAL) to grab the fourth-place position. Nevertheless, both teams hope that the tides are turning.
At Pitman, a new coach with plenty of collegiate playing and coaching experience looks to change the culture and push the Pride back into title contention. Over at Turlock High, the Bulldogs will rely on the experience of over a dozen seniors to recapture a winning record.
Coach: Manuel Romero, first season
2021 record: 9-8-2 overall, 3-5-2 CCAL
Key losses: Jordan Rodriguez, forward; Esteban Rodriguez, defender; Diego Lopez, defender
Key returners: Jonathan Rocha, senior, midfielder; Zach Looney, sophomore, forward and defender; Gabe Shallou-Enes, junior, forward and midfielder; Sebastian Rios, senior, goalkeeper; Ivan Sandoval, senior, goalkeeper
Key newcomers: Gio Decasso-Mercado, freshman, forward
Next game: Nov. 28 vs Merced, 3:30 p.m., Pitman Field
Outlook: Asking around with those in the Pitman High athletics department and members of the school’s soccer program, there is a consensus feeling that there is a turning of the tides when it comes to the boys varsity squad. Last year, the Pride finished just one game over .500 and had a losing record in CCAL play, but with a new head coach with years of experience at the collegiate level, they are hoping to return to the top of the standings.
It was this August, just under two months ago that Manuel Romero applied and was officially offered the head coaching position. Romero is a former player on the UC Merced men’s team and has been an assistant coach with them in recent years.
“With me coaching at other places where soccer is played at a higher level, the kids here at Pitman understood what I wanted from them,” Romero explained. “The vibe since I’ve been here has been very good. The players took me in right away even though I was a stranger to most of them. They’re a team that wants to win, and I’ve made it known that I’m a coach that does not like losing.”
Looking back at the ups and downs of past seasons, Romero emphasized that he wants to build a consistent winner at Pitman.
“Pitman is a pretty big name in the region, and I feel like they deserve to be successful in all sports. These kids have the talent to be champions. So far, they’re showing that they want to win and I’m going to push them to their limits so that they can become those winners,” he said.
It won’t be without difficulty, though. One of the key returners that was supposed to make a significant on-field impact was midfielder Andrew Acevedo. Acevedo, a multi-sport athlete, will be limited to the sidelines this season as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in a Pride preseason football game.
“He was a key player, but we’re going to have to navigate things without him this year, and that means that other some of the younger guys will need to step up,” Romero said.
With the major injury, Romero expects around three freshman players to be on the varsity roster, including talented freshman forward Gio Decasso-Mercado. He also expects a big year from junior striker Gabe Shallou-Enes.
The first-year coach also expects for backup goalkeeper Ivan Sandoval to make an impact early on, as starter Sebastian Rios is also dealing with a strained finger. Nevertheless, Romero has confidence in both players.
“Sebastian has been a starter in year’s past and I really like him, and while I expect him to return as a starter, I also really like Ivan. He’s a really good too and he will be a big part of this season’s success,” Romero said.
With just over a month of being around his new roster because of his late hiring, Romero believes that the preseason is essential to analyzing the team.
“These four games we have will really show me what I’m working with,” he said. “We’re playing some really tough teams, and my hope is that the boys can learn and get more experience and that it translates to practice, where we learn and get better… Just keep an eye out for Pitman because we’re coming out for people and we’re making a run for it.”
Coach: Jose Garcia Alonso, second season
2021 record: 4-11-3 overall, 1-7-2 CCAL
Key losses: Jacob Flora, midfielder; Esgar Alvares-Madriz striker/center-back.
Key returners: Nicolas Pelayo, senior, center-defensive-midfielder; Eduardo Zamudio, senior, attacking midfielder; Jose Zuniga, junior, goalkeeper; senior Oved Bravo, center-back, Oskar Rodriguez, striker/left wing; senior Ramon Lomeli, right-wing. senior Leo Garcia, right and left back; junior Cristian Diaz left back; senior Juan Lara right-fullback; Cesar Vega senior, center-back; Ibrahim Sherzad, senior, striker.
Next game: Monday at Pacheco (Los Banos), 5:45 p.m.
Outlook: The Bulldogs already are off to a fast start, taking care of Atwater 4-2 in a scrimmage and then opening the season officially with a 3-0 win over El Capitan in Merced.
After a rough season in 2021 under first-year coach Garcia Alonso, the Bulldogs looked poised to make a run at the Central California Athletic League title with 10 seniors returning from last year’s lineup.
“Last year was basically a transition year,” said Garcia Alonso. “Coming out of the pandemic, it was a new group of players with a new coach.”
With the lessons learned last year, Garcia Alonso thinks Turlock can make a run at the conference title.
“That’s our goal,” said Garcia Alonso, who’s added assistants Memo Ramirez and Juan Perez to his staff this season. “The kids are hungry for it. And we’re already starting to see the results this year. We’ll be there.”