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YEAR IN REVIEW

Looking back at an eventful year of area sports

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POSTED January 2, 2012 1:48 a.m.

It was a year of “first time evers” and “first time in a long times” in Manteca area sports.

History was made and repeated. Records were set and broken.

One local legend was mourned by the hundreds whose lives were impacted by the revered gentleman.

Another local legend was welcomed home, albeit for a brief time.

Common themes revealed themselves throughout 2011. Here are a few worth noting:

First evers

In the first all-girls state wrestling tournament sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation, Ripon High’s Julianna Triplett became one of its first champions by claiming the 165-pound title. East Union’s Sarah Phillips placed fourth in the 98-pound division.

Sierra High’s athletic program had a banner season over the spring. Its softball team — led by star freshman pitcher Allison Walljasper — earned its first titles in the Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, while Drew Allen became the first male golfer in school history to win the conference’s MVP honor.

Manteca High’s baseball club made it to the SJS Division-IV championship round, where it lost to league rival Oakdale after dispatching crosstown foe East Union in a wild and memorable best-of-three series. All five of the Manteca-East Union baseball contests were decided by a single run.

In the summer, Manteca’s three Little League organizations held the first all-Manteca city tournament in the major and minor divisions. Both titles were captured by Manteca Little League.

Also over the summer, the city’s first track and field club was formed by East Union High parents and coaches, providing a need for area athletes who have had to travel out of town to practice and compete with similar organizations.

Lathrop High football program achieved its own first-time milestone by winning its first VOL contest, 20-0 over Kimball, on the final week of the regular season. The Spartans went 0-7 in 2010, their inaugural campaign in the VOL.

Ly Hoang was Weston Ranch’s first VOL girls tennis champion — a surprising feat for someone who had little to no prior experience as a single player.

East Union’s boys soccer team made its first appearance in a Sac-Joaquin Section championship game, losing 2-0 to nationally-ranked Vista del Lago in the Division-IV finals.

Ripon Christian’s football squad enjoyed its finest season, which included its first postseason victory highlighted by a sophomore running back, Andrew Brown, who set several of the program’s single-season rushing records.

In youth football, the Lathrop Jr. Spartans — formerly the Lathrop Titans — made their first Delta Youth Football League Super Bowl appearance in their 10th year, doing so at the junior varsity level.

First time, long times

Old rivalries were rekindled when the Manteca-East Union alumni football game took place 17 years after the last one was played. East Union graduates Jeff and Brian Wood spearheaded the event, which included former players from Sierra — the city’s third school in town. Manteca High beat Sierra 20-0 in the game featuring graduates from 2002-2010, while East Union edged the Buffaloes 7-6 in the Class of 2001-and-older contest.

Both East Union’s baseball and Manteca’s girls basketball teams ended 10-year droughts by claiming VOL championships. The two schools engaged in some memorable battles in different sports, one being Manteca’s first softball win over EU in 15 years. In boys soccer, East Union won its first VOL title in 18 years and kept Manteca from sharing the crown by beating the Buffs 1-0 in the regular-season finale.

Manteca’s cross country program, rejuvenated by longtime area coach Rick Cuevas’ first season at the helm, took a big step in the right direction. The varsity boys seized their first title in 24 years, while standout female harrier Harleen Pabla — a first-year runner who is a sophomore — became the first Buffalo to qualify for the state meet since 1997.

Ripon Christian’s boys basketball team went 14-0 to claim a title in its return to the Southern League. Logan Vos scored 36 points in the clincher. It was the Knights’ first title since annexing the Trans-Valley League crown back in 2001.

Ripon High’s football team had its best season in over a decade and was rewarded with its first home playoff game since 1993. The Indians were upset by Livingston 12-10 in the opening round of the Division-IV playoffs.

Encore performances

Alex Nuanez became Sierra’s first wrestler to compete in the state tournament in 2010 and returned last winter.

In the spring, Sierra’s boys track team garnered its fifth SJS Division-III banner in seven years while its 4x100 relay team qualified for the state meet. The East Union boys golf team won the VOL title for the fourth time in five seasons.

This past fall, Weston Ranch’s girls tennis team repeated as VOL champions, EU’s girls golf team made it five straight titles in the VOL, Ripon Christian grabbed its fifth straight SJS Division V title and Ripon High’s boys cross country team returned to the state meet after making it for the first time last year.

Other milestones

The Weston Ranch boys basketball team captured its third VOL championship and set a new program record with a 20-game winning streak — and that’s with three sophomores in the starting lineup.

East Union sophomore Sarah Phillips earned gold at the USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle National Championship in Oklahoma City.

Will Brink, also an East Union sophomore at the time, had one of the biggest clutch moments of the year among area athletes. Actually, two of the biggest clutch moments. He was the Manteca area’s only qualifier in the CIF NorCal tournament after advancing through the SJS Division IV and Masters tournaments via tiebreaking playoff holes.

Sierra’s girls soccer team was also clutch in the spring. The Timberwolves’ scored a second-round upset of Vista del Lago in the SJS Division-IV playoffs, netting the tying goal in the final minute of regulation before prevailing 2-1 in overtime. In the finals they beat Oakdale 1-0 for the program’s fourth section title in seven championship-round appearances.

Manteca High senior Paul Lyons accomplished a rare feat for area athletes by qualifying for the state track and field championships in more than one event — the 110- and 300-meter hurdles.

A handful of Mantecans flourished on tracks of a different sort over the summer.

The “Manteca Missile” Johnny Brazil, 77, won his 100th race at 99 Speedway in a special Vintagae Super Modifieds feature on July 22.

In the SRL Southwest Racing Tour, 18-year-old Jacob Gomes furthered his young professional career by finishing second in the final points standings. Fellow Manteca driver Michael Sandoval Jr. was ninth and named the circuit’s Rookie of the Year after Gomes earned the same title in 2010.

The Manteca Little League 9-10-year-old all-stars won the District 67 title and became the first team in town in five years to advance to the California Section 3 title round. Northgate’s 11-year-old all-stars did it in 2006.

Matthew Guerrero, 15, reached new heights as an amateur boxer. The two-time Junior Golden Gloves champion competed in the USA boxing Junior Olympic Championships for the first time and took third in the 119-pound division.

The Next Level & Beyond

Sierra High graduate Nigel Malone is having quite the first season with nationally-ranked Kansas State’s football team. The junior was a semifinalist for the coveted Jim Thorpe Award (which recognizes the country’s top NCAA Division-I defensive back) while being named to the Associated Press All-American third-team defense. The Wildcats, ranked eighth in the BCS, take on No. 6 Arkanas in the Cotton Bowl Jan. 6.

Former East Union star Ashley Rose was named the California Pacific Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Year after averaging 18.1 points per league game for third place William Jessup University. The NAIA All-American is redshirting her junior year.

Four other former Lancers — Christin Gowan, Amy Haapanen, Demitrius Snaer and Scott Brooks — had some noteworthy accomplishments.

Gowan, who played her final season for CSU Stanislaus’ women’s basketball squad, was named to the Capital One Academic All-District second team. She carried a 3.8 grade point average and was the team’s starting point guard.

Haapanen continued her climb up the professional ranks by placing fifth in the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships hammer throw. It was her best finish in her fifth appearance at the meet.

Snear was a part of Team USA’s record-setting 35-39-year-old 4x100 team in the World Masters Athletics Championships held at Sacramento State.

Then there’s Brooks — you may have heard of him. The head coach of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder made a brief appearance in his hometown of Lathrop. The Lathrop City Council honored the town’s famous native — who starred at East Union — by naming the community center’s gym after him, which was made official during a special dinner event on June 25. The day before, he was at Lathrop High leading a basketball clinic.

Bidding Farewell

In early January of 2011, two high school coaches stepped down after successful seasons.

East Union football coach Mike James stepped down after 28 years on the staff. The last seven of those years were as head coach of the varsity team. In the fall of 2010 the Lancers made the SJS playoffs for the first time since 1992 while upsetting undefeated rival Manteca on the final week of the regular season.

Larry Keethe called it quits after six stellar seasons as Ripon High’s volleyball coach. He led the Indians to five straight TVL titles, four consecutive SJS Division-IV runner-up finishes and the program’s first SJS championship (2010) since 1983.

East Union boys soccer coach Clarence Goes made his retirement public on the final night of the VOL season when his Lancers secured the outright title and the first since 1993. They went on to make their first section finals appearance.

Manteca Babe Ruth folded due to low numbers, forcing the few who signed up to join the league in Ripon. Manteca Babe Ruth was the city’s first youth baseball organization that was established in 1962.

And finally, East Union High coaching icon Jim Brown — known by many as “Gentleman Jim” passed away in April while vacationing in Georgia. He taught in the Manteca Unified School District for 30 years while guiding East Union’s football team to three league championships. Nearly 1,000 people were in attendance at Brown’s memorial services held at East Union’s Dalben Center gymnasium. He is revered as a mentor and friend to many of the district’s current and former leaders.

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