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Nationally-ranked Sierra will battle for fourth title

Ripon vying for program’s first section championship

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Nationally-ranked Sierra will battle for fourth title

After getting past a young and battle-tested West Campus team Thursday, Nicole Vanni, center, and her Sierra Timberwolves will battle Whitney for a section championship today in Stockton.

Bulletin file photo/


POSTED May 16, 2009 2:27 a.m.
Sierra High will make its eighth Sac-Joaquin Section title-game appearance today at Lincoln High in Stockton, but this one has a little more meaning than the rest for 14th-year head coach Manuel Pires.

Pires’ father, Manuel Sr., passed away exactly a week ago, and it’s been an emotional roller coaster since.

On Tuesday, Sierra’s 5-0 Division IV opening victory over visiting El Dorado represented Pires’ 300th career victory.

Then Sierra edged West Campus in Sacramento Thursday by winning a heart-stopping penalty-kick shootout 6-5 after a 1-1 tie in regulation, avenging two-straight playoff losses to the Warriors.

The Pires family then raced back home to attend Manuel Sr.’s rosary, and Friday was the funeral.

Today’s final-round showdown with Whitney of Rocklin will be Sierra’s first since 2006. Before that, the Timberwolves nearly made it an annual event, advancing to the title game in 1998 and 1999, and from 2001-04.

The Sierra-Whitney match is scheduled to begin at noon after Ripon squares off with Central Catholic for the Division V championship starting at 10 a.m.

“It is a little bit more special, because you tend to take things for granted when you’re there all the time,” Pires said after Thursday’s hard-fought win.

Sierra is going after its fourth section title (1999, 2003, 2004) after a handful of members of its current senior class failed to do so as freshman in the 2006 contest. Valley Oak League rival Sonora captured the first of its three consecutive banners that year, beating the T’Wolves, 2-0.

Sierra, boasting a near-perfect 27-0-1 record, is considered the nation’s second best team according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America/adidas spring soccer poll, and sixth on ESPN Rise’s Fab-50 list.

The 10-time Valley Oak League champion faces a third-year varsity program in Whitney (13-1-8), which went 9-0-3 en route to earning the Pioneer Valley League title.

The Wildcats have won eight straight, the latest being a 2-0 victory over Sonora in the semifinals, and gave up just a single goal in over that stretch.

Their stout defense will key in on Sierra’s Nicole Vanni, who recorded her state-best 52nd goal Thursday. Focus solely on her, however, wouldn’t be wise for Whitney.

Michaela Scott has been highly productive from the striker position with 27 goals and 20 assists. Brooke Grant, Kayla Cody and Stephanie Vanni each have contributed at least 10 goals.

“Those 52 goals are just a reflection of how well our team has been playing all year long,” Nicole Vanni said Thursday.

The Ripon-Central Catholic game will also feature two of the most prolific scorers in the section.

Fleet-footed Ripon junior Renae McFadden is second to Vanni in the state with 44 goals. Central Catholic is led by sophomore Sara Pimentel, who scored twice in a 5-4 first-round win over Hughson Tuesday to push her season-long goal total to 31.

The Indians (23-1-1) suffered its only loss of the season to Hughson, 3-2, on April 29 in Trans Valley League play, but they previously defeated them twice by a combined 5-0 margin.

Like Sierra, Ripon is blessed with options other than its top gun. Kallie Jacobs and senior Meredith Perkins are deadly from the wings, and they each have 21 goals.

And like Sierra, Ripon tasted the sweetness of revenge Thursday with a 2-0 win over Hilmar, which beat the Indians in each of the last two postseasons.

Ripon will make its second-ever section finals appearance in three years and aims to hang the first section soccer flag on the school’s gymnasium wall. Central Catholic (18-5-2), which battled Hilmar to a pair of scoreless ties in the Western Athletic Conference earlier this season, has two section titles under its belt.
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