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Media has Escalon topping TVL
LeGrand picked to repeat in Southern League
Ripon and Ripon Christian continued their Ripon Bowl rivalry game Sept. 11 in non-league action. Ripon Christian now competes in the Southern League, with its rival remaining in the Trans Valley League. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Graduation turnover along with some injuries to key players has suddenly made the always-competitive Trans Valley League race a wide-open one — for second place.

Escalon is the near-unanimous favorite in the TVL according to a media poll. The Escalon Times, Turlock Journal, The Record, Modesto Bee, Ripon Record and Merced Sun-Star were polled along with the Bulletin.

The Cougars (2-1), coming off a tough 22-15 loss to powerful Patterson, were predicted to finish first by six of the eight poll participants. Surprise first-place votes went to Ripon (2-2) and Hilmar (2-2) with one apiece.

Defending league, Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV and state small-school division champion Modesto Christian was hit the hardest by graduation losses as evidenced by its 0-4 record. Still, the Crusaders are predicted to finish fourth in the TVL.

Hilmar returns to the TVL after a four-year stint with the Western Athletic Conference. Orestimba (2-2) followed the Yellowjackets north, and the newcomers have certainly deepened the conference with Ripon Christian moving into the Southern League.

Hughson and Riverbank are both winless and have been blown out by wide margins in every contest. Modesto Christian may also be winless, but its losses were against stiffer competition. One of those defeats was a forfeit against Calaveras in Week 2.

Hilmar was expected to come in and immediately compete for a championship and may very well still do so, but standout quarterback Andrew Olson’s season-ending wrist injury along with ailments to other key players will make it tougher. It’s the third straight year in which Hilmar lost its starting QB for the season.

Feature running back Isaac Diaz took over under center in last week’s 45-14 loss at Buhach Colony, but he exited the game with a left-ankle injury. And defensive end Daniel Greenleaf was out with tonsillitis, leaving the Yellowjackets with just 23 healthy players.

Ripon has the toughest start to the TVL season, but fortunately for the Indians their meetings with Hilmar (this Friday at home) and Escalon (Oct. 8) are sandwiched by their bye week. A playoff qualifier in 2009 Ripon’s offense is improved with additional weapons, but the defense starts five juniors and three sophomores. The Indians’ toughest non-league test ended in a 30-19 loss to unbeaten Argonaut last week on the road, but it should serve as a good tune-up for league.

Southern League
The move to the SL makes things competitive for small-school Ripon Christian in the future. For now, the Knights (0-3) will be welcomed in by three teams expected to finish in the top half of the eight-school league over the next four weeks.

Up first for RC is defending conference champion and 2009 Sac-Joaquin Section Division-V playoff finalist LeGrand this Friday. The Bulldogs (1-2) received four first-place votes, with the other two going to the SL’s only 3-0 squad, Waterford.

Waterford may open some eyes with its perfect record. It handed Big Valley Christian its only non-league losses, but the rest of the SL’s contenders were pitted against better opposition.

Mariposa (1-2) and Denair (1-2) are predicted to finish third and fourth, with Ripon Christian, Turlock Christian (1-2), Gustine (0-3) and Delhi (1-2) following suit in order.