With preseason currently in play, the Southern Athletic League and Trans Valley League girls soccer teams prepare for another fresh season.
The Hilmar Lady ‘Jackets finished atop the TVL once again last year, striking back-to-back league titles while finishing with a 19-2-1 league record over the past two seasons. They eventually lost in the semifinal game against Liberty Ranch in last year’s final playoff game.
“We did really well last year, just unfortunate the way the year ended. Those are things we must learn to adapt to,” Hilmar head coach Louie Bettencourt said. “I was pleased with what we did, which we were one game away from the finals, it has been that way the last two seasons.”
It will be a difficult task for the ‘Jackets to repeat as league champions, especially after losing eight seniors and welcoming five freshman. But coach Bettencourt is up for the challenge and expects good things from his defense that returns last year’s goalkeeper in Rebecca Sanders.
“Overall, I think we are still going to be very competitive in our league,” Bettencourt said. “Our strengths will be on defense and it should keep improving.”
Yellowjacket returners include senior Carrie Machado, who will lead the defense, along with junior Gia Barcelos. Junior Monica Madriz should be the key midfielder for a team that lacks midfielders with varsity experience.
Up front on the offensive side will be junior Kinsey Pettigrew alongside newcomer and sophomore Sara Theodozio, who should rack up the goals this season as they make up one of the youngest forward tandems in the TVL.
“Midfield will probably be where we have a lot of new players. Hopefully, we get some breakaways and exploit teams with our young quick strikers,” Bettencourt said. “They will be fun to watch, we will have our ups and downs, but hopefully more ups. It will take some games to get settled in.”
Hilmar lost to Livingston High, 3-0, in its opening game of the season on Monday night. The ‘Jackets will host Los Banos at 3:45 p.m. today.
Turlock Christian, Delhi and Denair finished in the bottom half of the SAL standings last year after struggling to match up with the top teams in league such as Ripon Christian and Gustine.
The Delhi Hawks placed fifth in the SAL last season after posting up a 5-7-2 league record and failing to make the postseason with 10 seniors, but this year it’s a whole new ball game.
Head coach Armando Salazar knows it will be tough to finish near the top in league as the SAL is a very competitive league but he is using this season as a building year as he welcomes an entirely new team.
“Last year we did well, we had talent in the middle and on defense. This year we are kind of rebuilding,” Salazar said. “We have the numbers, but not much experience to help. We're trying to basically build from the bottom up and hopefully by the end of the season we will have made some progress.”
While the Hawks are young and lack the experience, there will be a handful of players to look out for. Freshman Amandeep Sandhu will be taking on the midfield and forward duties as she is expected to play big minutes early on.
Sophomore Diana Cervantes will be one of the key midfielders along with the lone returner in senior Jovanna Delgadillo. Senior Jakelyn Castellanos will take on the goalkeeper duties.
“We have a large number of players, we just don’t have the skills,” Salazar said. “One year you can have a good team and the next year a team that needs to be built. Our goals are to get them stronger and better so hopefully they keep on playing and they can help us next year.”
Turlock Christian finished just below the Hawks in league, tallying a 4-9-1 record in the SAL last year. After graduating 11 seniors, head coach Shirley Brand, who enters her 10th season, knows that success might not come right away as she will have no seniors in her squad this year.
“We are all excited; it should be a fun year. It is a whole other team, losing 11 seniors and bringing back only three returners. It’s a new year I don’t know what to look forward to,” Brand said. “These girls are like sponges, so let’s see if they take what they have learned and put it in practice out on the field.”
Due to the girls basketball section title game on Thursday, the Eagles soccer squad had to postpone its season opener until next week as they await a handful of players.
Among those players on the basketball team that should contribute immediately will be junior Abi Bawcum and sophomore Mikayla Yagi.
Playing alongside the few veterans, which includes only three juniors, will be incoming freshman Emilie Bakker who will be playing striker for the Eagles.
The Eagles will host Elliot Christian on Monday with the game set to begin at 3:45 p.m.
In his first year as the Denair High girls soccer head coach, Paul Oei will have to rebuild a team that finished second to last in the SAL with a 1-12-1 league record last season.
It might be a struggle at first for the Coyotes on the defensive side as they welcome a handful of younger players and only four seniors.
“This year we're hoping to start the program from scratch and build on it for the next couple years,” Oei said.
Janet Garcia will be a key contributor as a freshman in the midfield, side by side with sophomore Abi Dirkse.
Junior forward Jailey Bordenave will be one of the few returners from last season, alongside goalkeeper Selena Ortiz who comes in as a sophomore and possibly the best player on the squad Oei said.
“Our biggest returner is Selena Ortiz, she is one of the best players on the team,” Oei said. “Defensively, we are not too strong though. It’s as much a learning experience for me as the girls.”
The other leader of the team will be Gloria Olivas, who is a senior and should be a vocal leader aside her toughness as a midfielder.
Denair will travel to Modesto to take on Davis High at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.