Pre-league play is already underway for Southern League teams Delhi, Turlock Christian, and Denair High. After finishing third, fifth, and eighth last season, respectively, the Hawks, Eagles, and Coyotes are ready to make a push towards improvement in what will be the final year of the existing SL lineup as three-time defending league champs Ripon Christian High will be moving back to the Trans Valley League next season.
Perhaps no team is more eager for this season, or more confident, than TC.
“I told the guys — we’re all seniors — that we have a destiny to meet. To win league and knock off RC before they leave,” TC head coach Eddie Sai said. “We’re fairly confident in what we can do with the players we have.”
The Eagles return with Josh Wright, Brady Turner, and 1st team all leaguer Cameron Vogt along with big man Ben Van Vliet. Jordan Riise, Seth Retemeyer, and lefty Egan Farrar have also emerged as key contributors and are expected to aid TC in its mission to dethrone the Knights.
“We’re pretty blessed in having eight to nine guys that I can interchange without missing a beat,” Sai said. “We will contend with them (RC) this year.”
TC’s confidence stems from its summer play where they contended with Division I and II schools, beating the likes of Oakdale and Livingston High along the way.
“With a full year under my belt, and with a full summer to prepare, we will be in the top tier of the league this year,” Sai stated.
Delhi doesn’t care much about RC’s departure; however, instead its boys are focused on a top three league finish and another playoff berth. After falling short to the eventual Division IV Sac-Joaquin Section champion Liberty Ranch in the first round, the Hawks want another taste of the post-season tournament.
“We actually did well with the young and undersized team we had,” Delhi head coach Eugene Drummond said. “We played a tough schedule in preseason and played tough pressure ball and we just competed along with working hard and sometimes it pays off and other times it doesn’t.”
Delhi enters this season with an experienced senior group of seven, led by three-year varsity starter and second team all-leaguer Nick Hernandez.
“Nick does all the things right. This year as a senior he will have some games where we will need him to defend well,” Drummond said.
The focus on defense doesn’t just extend to Hernandez. With more experience spread throughout their roster the Hawks have been working on a fast paced and aggressive style of play.
“No secret, it’s who we are. We defend. The seniors now know how to play better and understand the game better this year,” Drummond said. “We don’t like to give up many points. We like a high tempo game with low turnovers and don’t like to give up layups.”
Freshman Mario Moran and Chance Browning are expected to see significant minutes this season along with sophomores Carlos Alvarez and Jose Cruz.
Denair’s season aim doesn’t involve another school nor does it involve a quest for the post-season. Instead, the Coyotes hit the court with the short-term focus to improve as a unit and climb out of last year’s eighth place standing.
Limited in height and in roster size, Denair’s success will be one dependent on gains by committee. Returners Salvador De La Cruz, Trey Howze, and Tristen Lima will band together with budding players like Dominyc Silva to find success in the SL.
“It’s going to be a more athletic team. We’ll be able to do more defensively and I think we’ll be able to hang with the Southern League back courts,” Denair head coach R.J Henderson said. “Hopefully we’ll get much better than we are now. That’s a growth a development process we’ll have to go through.
All three SL teams will continue their development process this week with a mix of tournaments and games. TC will take park in the Big Valley Christian Tournament from Dec 5-7, Delhi will face Stone Ridge Christian on the road today, and Denair will compete in the Riverbank Tournament from Thursday through Saturday.