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Ceres schools leave VOL wide open
Junior Victor Garibay is one of just two returning starters from last season’s East Union squad that finished 10-5-1 in the ultra-competitive Valley Oak League. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO


• Aug. 27: Manteca at Modesto
• Aug. 27: Escalon at Sierra
• Aug. 30: Weston Ranch at Stagg
• Aug. 31: East Union at West
• Sept. 1: Edison at Lathrop

Goodbye Ceres and Central Valley, and good riddance.

The Valley Oak League’s top two boys soccer schools in 2008 and 09 are now in the Western Athletic Conference as part of the Sac-Joaquin Section-wide realignment, and the consensus among coaches who lead Manteca Unified schools is that the conference title is now up for grabs.

Sierra (11-2-3, 17-8-3 overall), the only team from the area to advance to the SJS Division IV playoffs out of the VOL, lost 10 players to graduation, and East Union (10-5-1, 13-8-2), which placed fourth, graduated 15.

But with the powerhouses from Ceres gone, there is still hope — even for Lathrop, which welcomes its first senior class this season.

Last year, the Spartans debuted in the VOL with a 1-15 record. Head coach Ryan Biedermann took over for the team late in the season, when Lathrop recorded its first-ever varsity boys victory in league 4-3 against Sonora.

“We’re very optimistic this year,” Biedermann said. “With Central Valley and Ceres leaving, it kind of opens up the (league) a little bit. And some of the other teams graduated a lot of players, so everyone looks equal going into the season.”

Sierra coach Jose Montes sees the good and the bad with the new-look league. The VOL was represented in the Division III or IV postseason finals every year since 2003. Last year, Ceres upset rival Central Valley, the two-time defending VOL champ, for the section crown.

Without Ceres and Central Valley, Montes thinks the VOL loses a little of its luster.

“It’s kind of sad to see those two schools go because they brought out everybody’s ‘A’ game,” Montes said.

Sierra is back to where it was in 2007 when it had to begin rebuilding after a successful season. Sierra joined Ceres and Central Valley in the semifinal round of the playoffs last year, losing 2-0 at Ceres.

The 2009 team was loaded with senior team, chiefly Bulletin All-Area MVP Braian Gomez — who netted 29 goals.

The T’Wolves return four starters, and a fifth has already been lost to grades. Defender Caleb Young is one of few seniors on the team. Erick Noriega saw significant time as a freshman on the varsity team last year and will lead the midfield along with junior returners Aaron Montes and Alex Gonzalez.

Goalkeeper Armando Gonzalez also returns after backing up all-VOL first-team selection Luis Garcia in 2009.  

Sophomore transfer Niko Gonzalez figures to make an immediate impact on the attacking third after helping Manteca capture its frosh-soph championship last year. Another newcomer of note is Scotty DeBrouwer — a first-year varsity senior more known for his prowess on the baseball diamond.

Manteca appears to be on the rise after back-to-back losing seasons. Justin Coenenberg led the Buffaloes to the VOL title in 2007 as a co-head coach, and he believes that the new breed of talent can be better than that team.

Team captain and senior midfielder Robbie Geerlof (six goals, five assists in 2009) and senior forward Jose Maravilla (team-high seven goals) return to anchor what could end up being the most explosive offense in the area.

Sophomore striker Ricardo Marin and brother Giovanni were two of Manteca’s top frosh-soph players last year, leading the squad to the VOL title and a 17-1 overall record.

Brandon Basuil and Gabe Zamudio anchored the frosh-soph team’s defense and will join senior veterans Jose Ramirez and Emanuel Pulido on the back line, completing an all-around solid Buffalo lineup.

“As far as raw talent goes, this may be my most talented team,” Coenenberg said. “If they’re willing to come together and work hard, the sky’s the limit for them.

“I feel that if we play up to our potential we should be somewhere up there at the end competing for the title. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t make the playoffs.”

East Union may have been hit hardest by graduation, but the Lancers, too, have reason for optimism.

They must find someone to replace last year’s leading scorer, Julio Pimentel (15 goals, 10 assists).

Cruz Hernandez and Victor Garibay, both juniors, will lead from the middle, but they are EU’s only returning starters. The rest of the starting lineup will be filled mostly by members of last year’s frosh-soph team that placed second in league and handed Manteca its only loss in the final match of the season.

East Union finished one place shy of a playoff berth the last two seasons, and though talented, coach Clarence Goes isn’t ready to predict big things out of a team consisting mostly of juniors.

“Varsity is a totally different level — you can’t compare that with the JV,” said Goes, who shares head coaching duties with Allan Green this year. “We haven’t had any preseason games yet, so it’s hard to judge how good we are.”

Like East Union, Weston Ranch returns only two starters. Junior David Molina is one of the area’s most skilled players, and senior goalie Jesus Pacheco is back to head a young defense.

Third-year coach Carlos Gaspar likes what he sees out of a group that features talented underclassmen and first-year seniors that the rest of the league hasn’t seen yet.

And with a full offseason under Biedermann, Lathrop has a chance to be more of a factor with a roster of experienced varsity players including forwards Wilmer Alvarez and Miguel Chavez, goalkeeper Omar Guzman, Oscar Mejia and Ernesto Lua. Biedermann added that incoming transfers give the Spartans depth.

The always-dangerous Oakdale Mustangs also figure to be in the mix. Sonora’s varsity and frosh-soph teams finished in the bottom two of the standings last season, and first-year varsity Kimball of Tracy will make its inaugural appearance in the VOL without seniors.