Last year Turlock and Pitman High’s girls had a season to remember in the Central California Conference. After a tight, three game series the Bulldogs emerged as undefeated CCC Champions having edged their rivals out of the honor by a single game. Both teams continued playing into the post-season, but while Pitman fell in the first round Turlock orchestrated a memorable playoff run that ultimately ended at the hands of Franklin High of Elk Grove in the Division I San Joaquin Section semi-finals.
Now, the rivals are back and ready for action as the spring season of prep sports begins.
Turlock’s goals should come as no surprise—another CCC title and an appearance in the Div.I SJS Final. With a core foundation returning from last season, the Bulldogs’ goal is a viable one. Nicole Larson, Isabele Sousa, Ashlen Kuntz, and Aubrey Glidden will provide Turlock with some much needed experience through the season which will be complemented by the sophomore tandem of Fallon Beaber and Natalie Larson—back after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
“They’re a great group of respectable ladies with great soccer skills,” Turlock’s head coach Cathi Cshali-Lopez said.
And while veterans like Cayla Donahue and Carissa Lopez will miss this season with their own knee injuries, Vanessa Orozco and Stephanie Partida are expected to add significant contributions to the team and help fill the gaps.
“They were critical players last year,” Cshali-Lopez said of Donahue and Lopez. “Right now we’re building off hard work and effort one game at a time.”
Part of Turlock’s path to a potential section final appearance is an improved scoring effort. The Bulldogs found themselves in multiple penalty kick shootouts in last year’s playoffs and are hoping that more offensive production will make things easier for them. But before Turlock can chip away at post-season dreams, it will have to overcome the CCC and its field of competitors.
“From what I’ve seen, we’re going to have to come out and play well in every game to win,” Cshali-Lopez said. “Hopefully by the time we peak we’ll be in the playoffs.”
Pitman’s attitude about the CCC is similar.
“One thing I’ve learned already is you can’t underestimate any teams in the CCC,” Pitman’s first year head coach Christina Garcia said. “I know Turlock’s always a strong competitor and probably our biggest competition.”
Back on the scene to help the Pride try and overthrow the Bulldogs are Marissa Rouse, Courtney Phelps, Mariah Emmons, Sienna Samra, Cady Hamf, and Brittany Leon. Pitman’s veteran group of girls will also be complemented by the young and energetic combination of freshman Rayana Palncarte and sophomore Audrey Hamf.
“We have a lot of strength in every line of offense and defense,” Garcia said.
Though this may be Garcia’s first year at the helm for Pitman it’s not her first experience in the league—she was an assistant at Pitman in 2010—which is reflected by her ambitions for this season.
“I definitely expect a positive outcome this season; we have a lot of talent,” Garcia said. “Do I feel we’re capable of a title? Absolutely.”
Turlock and Pitman’s first cross town matchup will take place on March 20 at Turlock. As far as their immediate schedule, the Bulldogs will host Atwater High and the Pride will host Merced High on Wednesday.