Weston Ranch High staked its claim as one of the Valley Oak League’s boys basketball powers in 2006, the school’s first year with a senior class.
The Cougars have since developed quite a rivalry with Sierra, and it appears that the two teams are frontrunners for the 2011 title.
In 2007, Sierra avenged a 23-point loss by upsetting Weston Ranch 49-47 on the road to earn an outright championship. Sierra finished as the league runner-up in every season since.
Last year, Weston Ranch beat the Timberwolves twice by a combined four-point margin to take a 7-5 all-time series lead. Though both teams went 11-5 in the VOL, Sierra qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs and Weston Ranch did not.
Sierra (9-3) is coming off a championship run in the Fuchs Memorial Classic at Columbia College, where budding sophomore guard Guillermo Nunez was named MVP.
Weston Ranch (9-2) won the Bradshaw Christian Holiday Jamboree and took second in the 16-team Tracy Winter Holiday Classic, with non-league losses coming to 10-4 McNair of Stockton and 11-3 West of Tracy.
No one in the VOL matches Weston Ranch’s blend of size and athletic ability, but the Cougars, with three sophomores in the starting lineup, are still developing experience and chemistry.
Oakdale’s 9-3 start may surprise some the program missed the playoffs seven straight years, but anyone paying attention saw this coming.
The Mustangs lost in the championship round of their Oakdale Rotary Classic last week but were champions of the Save Mart Classic in Atwater.
They are led by third-year post Jake Martinez, wing Vince Thompson and second-year junior point guard Marcus Hernandez.
Two-time defending champion Manteca (3-7) and East Union (6-5) were up and down in pre-league play, but neither should be counted out yet.
Manteca has one of the league’s best inside scorers in senior EJ Godfrey, and the majority of its defeats were by single digits against Division-I schools.
And East Union’s top scorer from 2009-10, sophomore Jordan Kron, was a latecomer from an ankle injury suffered over the fall soccer season. The Lancers are even deeper with guards and can beat anyone in the VOL if the 3-pointers are falling.
Sonora (5-6) is always a team no one can look past and are especially tough at home. The Wildcats are deep with post players and have arguably the league’s best returning player in 6-4 forward Alex Kiriluk (14.1 points, 5.9 rebounds per game).
Kimball of Tracy, the VOL’s newest member, isn’t taking the lumps that most first-year varsity squads do. Despite not having any seniors, the Jaguars are 7-6 with two impressive wins over crosstown rival Tracy, which beat Sonora and lost to East Union in a competitive game.
Lathrop (2-8), another VOL newcomer, is finding its way in its first year with seniors, but things are looking up. Wing forward Andrew Kouvanis has emerged as a consistent scorer, and the Spartans’ best post player last year, Umar Muriset, is expected to return to the team from ineligibility during the league season.