We cannot move ahead into 2019 without looking back at 2018, which was arguably one of the most memorable years for the Turlock Journal’s sports coverage area.
There were state champions for football, state finalists for volleyball, new league winners in various sports, college football stars, and professional baseball players arose from the area and into the majors.
There’s no way one column could do justice to every athletic highlight of 2018, but here’s just a few memorable moments to look back on:
1. Football state titles (Hilmar and Denair)
How can you not put both of these teams to the top of the list of memorable moments from 2018? Hilmar and Denair High’s respective 2018 football teams will forever be remembered as the first teams to capture state championships in their programs’ history. What made things even sweeter was the fact that the Journal had two state winners out of the six high schools from the minimal coverage area. It proved that school size is no indication of what makes a champion. Head coach Anthony Armas (Denair) was two years out from barely fielding a team of as little as 13, to guiding his team not only to a state title, but a section banner in the same year. Denair closed out the year with a 12-1 record, marking it the most wins in a single season as well. The Denair offense was stunning after they averaged just over 40 points per game in 13 contests. In their three playoff games, Denair scored 39, 43 and 42 points. They scored 524 points and won the Division-VII Sac-Joaquin Section title along with the CIF 7-AA trophy.
When Hilmar High scrimmaged against Pitman in early August, the Yellowjacket first team defense didn’t allow a single score. This was a true indication of the protentional of Hilmar, as Pitman went on to win their first nine games of the season, losing just once in the regular season while Hilmar dropped two league games—their only losses of the year. Hilmar went 13-2 for the year. They handled all opponents with the exception of their two losses. Hilmar outscored their opponents 612-173. They also won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-VI banner and the CIF 6-AA title in the process.
2. Kevin Kramer (MLB Pro)
Turlock High graduate Kevin Kramer, 25, made his professional baseball debut this year for the Pittsburgh Pirates Major League Baseball team on Sept. 5, after working his way up from the farm system. He followed up his single plate appearance by starting and playing eight innings on Sept. 7 against Miami. In that game, Kramer recorded his first big league hit, run scored and run batted in. He finished that game 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. He made 11 appearances as a pinch hitter in 21 games played. He finished the year with 40 plate appearances and tallied five hits, five runs, two walks, four RBI while also playing third base and second base. The Pirates closed out the year with a winning record of 82-79, but failed to make the postseason after placing fourth in the most competitive Division, the National League Central.
3. Mustafa Johnson (Pac 12 AP first team)
Turlock High grad Mustafa Johnson is a collegiate football star at the moment after his first year at Division-I, Pac-12’s University of Colorado, Boulder. Johnson earned Pac-12 All-Conference honorable mention after a memorable breakout sophomore campaign. He also earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors by the Associated Press. Following a memorable outing at Turlock High, Johnson continued his football career at Modesto Junior College, and immediately made it known that he was on to bigger things after one standout season with MJC in the fall of 2017. Johnson finished tied for first on the team with sacks (6.5) while also finishing second in tackles (58). While at Colorado, competing in arguably the most balanced and competitive conference in college football, Johnson made a statement early on. He paved the way for the Buffaloes defense, becoming an anchor in the interior line while finishing the year with a team-high 8.5 sacks, adding 73 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback pressures.
4. Collegiate volleyball stars
It is rare to get one athlete from any rural area to compete in the Pac-12 or collegiately at the highest level, but Turlock and the surrounding towns now have a reputation of building standout volleyball players. Turlock, Pitman and Hilmar high schools each had at least one graduate on the roster of a D-I school this fall. These included players starring for Oregon, University of Arizona and University of Southern California.
While Pitman’s Lindsey Vander Weide made her name known setting records at Oregon, Hilmar’s Emily Baptista transferred over to the USC—a powerhouse at almost everything. Pac-12 is one of the most established and dynamic conferences for volleyball, just as it is for football. Recent Turlock High grad Julia Handy was the youngest of the trio, but still was on the roster for the Arizona Wildcats this past fall season. Pitman High grad Madelyn Halteman was a starting setter at Fresno State this fall, tallying 1,285 assists in 130 sets played. These are three of the Journal’s six high schools from the coverage area, and a unique treat for the area that has been one of the hot beds for prep volleyball over the last half decade.
5. Mann’s XC legacy at Pitman; local track stars
Mavleen Mann of Pitman High has already established herself as the greatest female cross country runner in program history this past fall after breaking numerous school records, while also earning a scholarship from UC Davis. Along with Mann was a herd of track stars that flourished in 2018 and made their marks by reaching the CIF state tournament.
Hilmar High’s Mikela Labno reached the state meet in the high jump while clearing a personal record of 5 feet, 4 inches. Pitman’s Whitney Barnes reached the state meet for the second consecutive year in the girls shot put while also taking third at Master’s. Barnes was part of three straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division-I Championships for the Pride volleyball squad and is currently playing collegiate volleyball at San Jose State. Turlock High had five qualifiers advance to the state meet, the first to advance in 14 years. These athletes included pole-vaulter Silas Fredeen and the 4x1 relay team of Colton Cummings, Sammy Wilson, Antonio Ruiz and Bryce Souza.
6. Hilmar volleyball section winners and state finalists
There has never been a season as good as the fall of 2018 for the Hilmar High varsity volleyball team and head coach Patti Harris, despite so much success over the past six seasons for the Yellowjackets. Harris led the ‘Jackets to six straight Division-IV Sac-Joaquin Section Finals appearances and their second straight title after they went 35-13 for the year. This season they also won their first ever Nor Cal Regional title (D-IV) after beating Shasta, 3-0. This earned them their first ever berth in the State Championship game against San Luis Obispo where their fairytale season came to an end as they finished as runners-up. Harris was named the Journal’s Coach of the Year while they also had the Player of the Year in Mikela Labno, a state qualifier in track and field as well.
7. Turlock High football CCAL champs
The inaugural year for the Central California Athletic League was a good one for both Pitman and Turlock High football. Both teams beat every single competitor in their new league, which then set-up the winner-take-all scenario at this year’s Harvest Bowl crosstown matchup. Turlock took the win in that game in the first ever Harvest Bowl shutout result, 33-0. The win made it a perfect 5-0 for Turlock, while they also won their third straight league title, including their fifth straight win over Pitman. Pitman’s defense was second best in league as far as points allowed with 88, while Turlock outscored league opponents, 204-71. This was the most points scored by any CCAL team and the least amount of points allowed. The team also currently boasts at least three players committed to playing D-I in college—not to mention a state wrestling medalist. Turlock also had the CCAL coach of the year in James Peterson, the league’s Most Valuable Player, top Offensive Lineman, top Defensive Player, co share of the top linebacker and the top defensive lineman.
8. Turlock girls and boys water polo notch CCAL titles
Can you say double champs? Well that was the case for water polo in the first ever season competing in the Central California Athletic League after Turlock High’s varsity boys and girls each won a league crown with perfect records. There were no losses in league this year for either side as they went a combined 20-0 in CCAL games. It was the best way to kick things off in the new league as they captured playoff berths in the process. The girls managed to win over 16 games while going 10-0 in the CCAL with head coach Anne Cornell at the helm. Colin Wenstrand made his way back to his alma mater after coaching the Pitman Pride the year before. Led by a standout goalkeeper in Brandon Dhanowa, the Bulldogs handled all their league foes, scoring seven goals or more in all but one CCAL game.
9. Pitman and Turlock 2017-18 wrestling teams
The spring of 2018 was memorable for Pitman and Turlock High wrestling after they advanced seven wrestlers to the boys California Interscholastic Federation State Tournament. The most memorable conclusions consisted of female wrestler Hailey Ward, who earned a medal after placing fifth in state at 101 pounds. Ward was also crowned back-to-back Master’s Champion for the second straight year, looking to earn her third straight this year as a junior.
On the boy’s side, now Fresno State wrestler Isaiah Perez (Pitman), closed out the boy’s state tournament by capturing the program’s best finish at a state tournament at second. Perez made his mark after he became the first state finalist and first Pitman runner-up, establishing himself as the most accomplished Pride wrestle in the program’s history. Perez closed out the state tournament as a senior with a 5-1 record, falling only in the state finale.
10. Pitman volley CCAL winners
If you would have caught the Pitman Pride varsity volleyball team compete in their first exhibition game of 2018, then watched them play in their final regular season week, you would think it was two totally different squads. Pride volleyball head coach Kristen Pontes-Christian put her magic to use again after she helped her team progress as the year carried forward. Led by a herd of seniors that saw success as underclassmen, they knew that they wanted to finish stronger than they started. They fell in their first CCAL matchup against Modesto High, but never lost again, at least not for the remainder of the regular season or in league. Pitman won nine straight CCAL games, avenging their only loss to Modesto by beating them in their second meeting convincingly to cap off the season at 9-1 in league games and to clinch a playoff berth.