Last year the Central California Conference proved why it is one of the most dominant leagues in the state when it comes to boys soccer. Five of the six teams finished with at least four draws in league contests, while the first and second place teams — Turlock and Atwater — were only one game apart.
In 2012, for first time in school history, the Turlock High Bulldogs won back-to-back CCC titles with a 7-4-4 league record that included winning five of their final six games leading to the playoffs. The ‘Dogs were also ranked as high as number 11 in the state with a 16-6-5 overall record.
“I think we have a good thing going so far. Winning league back to back is awesome and it is only the third time in school history to win the CCC; that is huge and it was unfortunate losing to Bella Vista in penalty kicks in the playoffs even after taking it to them. I don’t think anybody expected that,” Turlock High assistant coach Flavio Castro said. "I think if we just keep the same pace from last year, we will be alright.”
Turlock coaches are optimistic that their new pool of talent will rise to the occasion and defend the CCC title, even after losing 10 seniors and returning only 11 players from last season. However, Turlock also faces a dilemma at the goalkeeper position and look to find leadership from newcomers, sophomore Raul Castro and first-year varsity man, junior Dalton Gehl.
“Last year seniors were excellent, some of the best and this year we have a number of upperclassmen, and luckily we have five or six guys that can easily be captain,” Castro said. “I think we will be okay this year. Some of these guys are younger and they need to get more serious and mature about it, but these seniors will take care of that with ease.”
Only one freshman will join the Bulldogs varsity squad this season, Marcus DeCouto, who will start as a midfielder. Jose Aguilera will be a key piece who returns after playing striker last season. Martin Castorena will return in his third year at the varsity level, playing utility.
“I think they can expect another great season, we were one of the favorites last year and the favorites this season. We have improved every single year and know we can move a step further,” Castro said. “The way to go further is winning league and a section championship by working hard. The kids need to stay dedicated and sacrifice two months plus to stick with the program until we finish the season.”
Already with a 3-0-1 record in the Pitman Pride Cup, the Bulldogs fell to Patterson in a 0-3 shutout on Wednesday to start the season 0-1 and will play in the Grant Showcase today.
The Pitman High Pride's fourth place finish in league with a 4-3-5 record last season, was not a true representation of the team's talent. The squad scored 15 goals and allowed 14, staying close in tight games defensively, and going 1-2 against first place Turlock High with all three games decided by only one goal.
“Last year was a good season. Although we played well the first part, we fell short of playoff qualification. In the league we are in, and the way it unfolded last year, any loss of points will make you fall drastically,” head coach Oscar Mercado said. “This year we believe all the players on the squad have something to contribute.”
Pitman lost nine seniors from last season’s team that was also composed of only three underclassmen, Fernando Maldonado, Ricky Ramirez, and Adolfo Maldonado. Of last year’s 10 juniors, nine come back for their senior season, and five sophomores join the Pride, to make up a 21 roster team that coach Mercado says does not include one star player, but all contributors.
“We don't like to single out any one player. It is a team performance and talent as a team is more important than any one star player,” Mercado said.
The Pride are currently 1-0-1 this season, after defeating heavily favored Central Valley High 3-2 on Thursday. Pitman will travel to Oakdale on Tuesday as the two square off at 4 p.m.