The Turlock High boys soccer squad is the 2016-17 Central California Conference Champions after blanking Merced 2-0 in Saturday's make-up and penultimate game of the regular season.
“It’s always a challenge, I keep repeating our league is so good, even making playoffs is hard for everybody,” said Turlock head coach Doug Sperry. “The key has been we have so many guys returning and the difference in a successful team is senior leadership, you have to have a group of guys who work hard and want to win.”
This team has had plenty of it, anchored by heavily recruited captain and four-year varsity starter Marcus Decouto.
Decouto, along with his seven senior peers have been able to lead a 'Dogs team that has defied the odds this year in all aspects of their game and went through some growing pains.
“It’s very exciting. I am just super happy…these guys deserve it, just lucky they get to go to playoffs. I think we have a good shot to win,” said Sperry.
With one game remaining, Turlock improves to 13-6-3 overall and 7-2-2 in CCC play.
The change of season from fall to winter wasn't the smoothest conversion for the Turlock boys team.
The 'Dogs had to deal with major weather changes, buckets of rain that brought powerful winds, and many game cancellations due to the bad conditions on the pitch.
“It's been such a different year, with weather, changes in time, cards, you name it,” said Sperry.
The big turning point happened after Turlock's 1-0 defeat at the hands of Pitman back on Jan. 23.
From that point on, Turlock went 5-1-1.
“That loss to Pitman was a turning point. [We] had two road games following that day with kids missing due to sickness and the guys realized how important the team was,” said Sperry. “We won on the road down five guys.”
Turlock won three straight heading into its regular season finale, including four wins out of the last five contests. The 'Dogs had not lost since Feb. 1, when they fell 2-1 to Atwater.
Since then, they have been consistent and effective.
Turlock has also scored the most goals in league after 11 games with 28 goals. They have also allowed 14 goals, the second smallest number in league next to Pitman (10). The Pride have a CCC record of 4-4-2.
“After that Falcons game, we got everybody back,” said Sperry. “We were getting most guys back from red cards and we’ve been healthy since then; everybody has been there.”
Turlock hasn't made the playoffs since the 2012 season, when they reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Championship game back on Nov. 10, 2012, versus Bella Vista.
Since then, they have had three consecutive losing seasons in league, including a playoff drought for three straight years.
Turlock handled Merced on Saturday after going up 1-0 after the first half.
The 'Dogs added another goal in the second half from Jesus Estrada to go up for good and held on for the clean sheet.
Turlock also had to deal with their goalkeeper Luis Carrillo going out with an apparent knee injury for the remainder of the game.
Fortunately for the 'Dogs they have had the luxury of boasting two keepers this year including Edwin Medina.
“Winning Saturday was huge for us,” said Sperry. “I didn't want to go into the last game with Pitman deciding anything. It’s always a tough game with extra motivation, so I am sure it’s the same as always but luckily we wrapped it up and will rest some guys and get healthy.”