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Area coaches weigh in on soggy, sloppy soccer season
SOC--Move to Winter file pic
Sierras Kevin Mendiola tees up a shot with the muddy ball during a cold, rainy night at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium on Jan. 3 when the Timberwolves won a thrilling Valley Oak League match 5-4 against visiting Weston Ranch. - photo by WAYNE THALLANDER/The Bulletin

Another day, another game cancelled for Manteca High boys and girls soccer coach Justin Coenenberg.

Both of his teams were scheduled to face off with rival East Union in a varsity doubleheader last Friday, but the Valley Oak League matches were called off because of poor field conditions caused by inclement weather and over usage. 

So far, the sports’ move to the winter season has been a headache for area teams and their coaches, and for various reasons. Last spring, the Sac-Joaquin Section Board of Managers voted in favor of moving both the boys and girls soccer seasons to the winter by a 31-23 count. The boys season in the SJS previously took place in the fall, while girls played in the spring. 

With soccer in most sections in the California Interscholastic Federation already being played in the winter, the change for the SJS — the second largest section in the CIF — creates the opportunity for regional and state playoffs in the near future. It also allows female athletes to participate in spring sports such as track, swimming and softball. 

In addition, girls who typically play for their club teams over the spring can now play for their schools. Last year, two Ripon High student-athletes — Jill Jamero (Air Force) and Kaylyn Evans (Sacramento State) — signed to play for Division I programs after going four years without ever competing for the school’s team. 

Before area athletes and coaches can see the all benefits of the change, they’ll have to slog through persistent rainstorms, swamp-like playing surfaces and an ever-changing schedule. 

Coenenberg has had his fill of postponements — five to be exact. One game was cancelled in mid-December because of a chemical spill near campus. The game with Central Catholic has yet to be played.

“I’ve spent hours trying to figure out dates and times with other schools,” Coenenberg said. “Once you get into league you have a routine, but having to reschedule games just really throws off your routine.”

It has been especially tough on Coenenberg since he’s in charge of both varsity squads at Manteca —  he is the only coach in the area to do so. Valley Oak League boys games are on Mondays and Wednesday, and the girls on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Rescheduled games are now being played on Fridays and Saturdays, thinning out the already-short staffed officials.

When teams do get the thumbs-up to play, it’s usually on less-than desirable field conditions. Area fields have taken a beating by both the rain and constant usage, with lower-level and varsity teams from both genders taking turns on the muck. This has led to a drop-off in the pace of play and hinders highly-skilled players. 

“Every field we play on has a lot of bad spots, and it doesn’t help us play the game the way we like to play it,” Sierra girls coach Manuel Pires said, joking that his players should exchange rain boots for soccer cleats. “Our girls are used to moving the ball on the ground, but it’s difficult when we’re trying to move it across the mud. It makes the game a lot more difficult and we have had to change some things up.”

More of a concern to Pires is the health of his players. His Timberwolves, who are in first place in the VOL, have been hit hard by a variety of ailments.

“One thing I’m concerned about is how easily these players can get hurt by slipping and sliding,” Pires said. “It doesn’t take much to pull a muscle or roll an ankle. And this is the time of year when kids are getting hit hard by the flu, and that knocks them out for about a week. They’re not only out there playing in these conditions but practicing in it, too.”

Soccer’s move to the winter has been tough on smaller schools like Ripon Christian. Both of RC’s girls basketball and soccer teams have enjoyed some success in recent years, but this season the hoops squad has been decimated. 

“Our basketball and soccer teams have shared a high number of athletes, but the girls have had to make some tough decisions this winter,” Ripon Christian athletic director and girls soccer coach Kevin Tameling said. “Our girls winter programs are very tight on numbers.”

There are currently only seven players on the varsity girls basketball team and another seven on the sophomore team. Ripon Christian is in its third year without a freshman team.

“I have maybe 10 freshmen playing soccer this year, and from what it sounds like they would have played basketball if soccer was still in the spring,” Tameling said. “If there’s a bonus for us it’s that softball is going to see an uptick in participation, which was one of the intents of the section.”

The good news, at least in the short term, is that there is no rain in the forecast for this week. It isn’t the perfect and windless 80-degree weather available late in the fall and early in the spring, but for now they’ll welcome a few days without the wet stuff.

“To me it’s getting kind of old,” Coenenberg said. “In the past, the girls would play a couple times in the rain early in the spring and it was kind of fun for them because it didn’t happen so often. Now it’s lost its luster. I do miss the fall and spring.”