By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Cougars wont let lack of depth be an issue
Sept 3: at Calaveras
Sept 10: vs. Tokay
Sept. 17: at B. Creek
Sept. 24: vs. Sonora
Oct. 1: at Manteca
Oct. 8: at East Union
Oct 15: vs. Lathrop
Oct. 22: at Oakdale
Oct. 29: vs. Kimball
Nov. 5: vs. Sierra
The challenges that await Weston Ranch have not varied too much since head coach Mike Hale’s inaugural season two years ago.

The Cougars have had to battle through an always-competitive Valley Oak League schedule that sends them to Manteca and Oakdale this season. The team has had to adjust to the coaching style and philosophy of Hale in a short period of time, and of course the low turnout of players have plagued the Cougars since their 2005 VOL championship.

Few of the hurdles have been cleared, but Hale’s group of 2010 Cougars have a clear understanding of what it is going to take to compete for at least a Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III postseason spot.

“We might find some struggles against some of the upper-echelon teams of the league,” Hale said. “But at the end, I feel that we will be in the hunt for one of the last playoff spots.

“There are some games that we are definitely capable of winning, so I feel we’ll be able to handle our schedule.”

Weston Ranch finished last season with a 3-7 record, garnering victories against Lathrop, East Union and Ceres. The three wins were one more that the Cougars got in Hale’s first season, but their 2-5 record in VOL action left Weston Ranch out of the postseason for the fourth straight year.

With a new playoff format in place, league champions and runner-ups will be automatic qualifiers with the remainder of the 16-team bracket earning at-large berths. The at-large teams will be selected according to regular season victories and wins of opposing teams.

After putting together an offseason regimen designed to lift the Cougars back into the postseason, Weston Ranch will need instant contributions from the few returning seniors.

“We have a great group of young men that are definitely out here working on their craft,” Hale said. “We are sort of fazed by our numbers, but our kids are realizing that they are going to have to compete and compete on a high level.

“I think they’ve bought into the fact that we are all going to be important.”

Weston Ranch will depend on two-way starter Jesus Fuentes (5-10, 200-pound) to handle the bulk of the leadership role, while Newark Memorial transfer Antoin Robinson will control the Cougars’ offense from the quarterback position.

“Fuentes is going to be a guy that anchors our offensive line and starts at linebacker for us,” Hale said. “And Robinson has really come in and stepped up to be a leader for us, and the guys have really responded well to that.”

The Cougars will begin their playoff quest with a trip to Calaveras to meet up with the Redskins, followed by their home opener against Hale’s alma-mater Tokay High. The Cougars will close the non-league schedule with a trip to Stockton to battle Bear Creek.

Both Tokay and Calaveras found their way into the 2009 postseason, and Bear Creek competes in the Division-I San Joaquin Athletic Association, giving the Cougars a short list of formidable opponents to lead them into VOL play.

“The VOL is a tough, tough league, so our preseason is the gauge – it will definitely tell us where we’re at,” Hale said. “To come out and go get some wins against some Division-I teams will obviously say a lot to our team. All of it is in preparation for our VOL schedule.

“There are no cupcakes in this league; any team can get it done on any Friday night.”

The Cougars will need to see some quick testing through their non-league schedule, as they open VOL action with a visit from the Sonora Wildcats and then a trip south to take on the Buffaloes. A bye week will take them into a meeting with Lathrop followed by a trip to Oakdale to tangle with the defending co-league champions.

“The players definitely realize the significance of who we open up league with,” Hale said. “To open with those two teams, two hard-nosed teams that are always at top levels in this league, we know we have an uphill battle.

“It is our job to get those guys prepared and to understand that it is something that we will simply have to go through.”

Regardless, the Cougars are going to have to take strides on the field. Closing out this season with more wins than last is the primary focus. The Cougars are on their way to new levels, and all associated with the program feel the program is on the climb.

“This team shows a big difference from out team last year, and for any of our other teams,” two-way starter Embry Allen said. “Even though we are low in numbers, a lot of our guys are very aggressive and we have heart. These guys are not scared. They get their work done and they don’t complain.

“We are all coachable; it’s just about getting the job done.”