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An eventful — and yet uneventful — year for prep sports
2020 in review
Goalkeeper Fernando Ambriz and the rest of the East Union boys soccer team acknowledge the home crowd at Dino Cunial Field on March 7 after the Lancers defeated Harker 2-0 for the California Interscholastic Federation Division III NorCal Regional title. - photo by DAVE CAMPBELL/The Bulletin

2020 had much to live up to.
The 2019 calendar year was highlighted by some heroic and historic moments in prep sports, as student-athletes representing all seven Manteca-area schools penned their own memorable stories.
A downtown parade on Dec. 20, 2019 was the epilogue for the Ripon High football team’s sensational season, fresh off winning its first-ever California Interscholastic Federation state championship with a dramatic last-minute field goal against the elements and a much-deeper Highland team from Palmdale.
From there, the focus quickly shifted to the winter sports campaign. More history was made on basketball courts and soccer fields.
With a promising spring ahead, could 2020 top its predecessor?
The answer came swiftly and unexpectedly, just as seasons were changing. The COVID-19 pandemic halted the world, and student-athletes have been waiting for their chance to play again since sports were suspended in mid-March.
In a year most would like to forget, there were certainly some events worth noting locally. Here is a look back at some of the top stories of 2020 and what’s ahead, hopefully sooner than much later:

2020 in review
Gavin Wilburn and the Weston Ranch boys basketball team show off their California Interscholastic Federation Division II NorCal Regional Championships trophy after beating St. Patrick-St. Vincent 62-61 in Vallejo. - photo by SEAN KAHLER

WINTER WINNERS: The march to March did not always go so smoothly for three Sac-Joaquin Section championship teams that didn't even win league titles.
Expectations were gaudy for the Weston Ranch boys basketball team that started 4-9 in 2019-20. Its runner-up finish in league was cemented by a heart-breaking, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from half court on their own home floor against Central Catholic.
Things turned around from there for the Cougars. They won nine of their next 10, with the lone loss coming in the semifinal round of the SJS Division I playoffs. That was good enough for a berth to the CIF State Northern California Division II playoffs. As the No. 4 seed, they went on to upset No. 2 St. Patrick-St. Vincent 62-61 for the school's first NorCal title.
Meanwhile, Ripon Christian — after a hard-earned Trans-Valley League co-championship with rival Ripon — racked up the fourth NorCal title for the boys hoops program, traveling close 300 miles to Siskiyou County to blow out top-seeded Weed 79-42 in the Division VI finale.
NorCal glory extended to the pitch where underdog East Union rallied to its first CIF championship for boys soccer. The Lancers first knocked off all of the top three-seeded clubs in the SJS Division III playoffs, shutting out heavy favorite Galt 2-0 in the title round. They later got to host the NorCal D-III finale, prevailing against San Jose powerhouse Harker.
Manteca’s girls soccer team captured its second SJS title with a 2-1 win over Christian Brothers, capping an impressive four-match run for Kaley Miller who netted the game-winner. Her older sister Ashlee was the goalie on the 2016 section championship squad.
Additionally, six area wrestlers advanced to the CIF State Championships in Bakersfield. Sierra senior Alexa Garcia wrapped up her decorated career with a third-place finish, and Lathrop freshman Janida Garcia placed fourth. East Union junior Tyler Diaz was the lone male qualifier from the area, and he had a solid 2-2 outing.

COVID STRIKES: Weston Ranch’s boys basketball team was denied the opportunity to play for the overall Division II state crown.
On March 12, CIF cancelled its 40th state championships at Golden 1 Center just one day before the start of the two-day jamboree. The decision was made after an NBA referee had tested positive at the venue where the host Sacramento Kings cancelled their game with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Weston Ranch was set to face SoCal Division II champ LA Canada. Ripon Christian’s season had already ended since the Division VI playoffs ended with the NorCal final.
The rest of the dominoes soon followed.
The final spring sports events took place on March 13 when San Joaquin County schools were advised to shut down for three weeks as COVID-19 began its rise in the region. Those would be the last interscholastic competitions for the rest of the year. CIF called off all spring postseason events on April 3, and with state officials urging all campuses to remain closed through the end of the academic year that essentially marked the end of sports.
The hope was for the 2020 fall sports to kick off as planned, but that was scrapped on July 21 when the CIF and its 10 sections released a revised schedule in which official practices would begin in December. “Season 2,” combining traditional winter and spring sports, was set to begin late February/early March.
Now, things are looking bleak for many sports in 2020-21.
Earlier this month, the California Department of Public Health released its long-awaited guidelines for the return of youth and high school sports, allowing for some competitions to begin Jan. 25.
Low-contact high school sports such as golf, tennis and swimming are among those that could get the go-ahead even in counties that remain in the purple tier of the state’s reopening plan. Baseball and softball are possible in counties in the red tier, but for other major team sports — namely football, basketball, soccer and volleyball — to get going a sudden and drastic decrease in coronavirus cases would be required, according to CDPH’s guidelines.
In response to the latest delay of sports, the SJS cancelled postseason tournaments for Season 1. CIF will continue to urge the state to allow all sports in red-tiered counties. The CDPH will re-evaluate its proposed Jan. 25 start date next Monday.

COACHING CAROUSEL: Some familiar faces have returned to area campuses as head coaches.
Former Ripon Christian volleyball star Kayla (Mulder) Kootstra has taken the reins at her alma mater after the Knights won the SJS Division V title under Ava Vander Woude. Kootstra was part of RC’s 1999 state championship team.
Charles Legan is the new East Union boys basketball coach after serving as co-head coach at Oakdale. The Oakdale resident was previously an assistant coach at East Union for seven years. At Lathrop, Alfredo Reynaga is ready for a second go-around as boys soccer coach after a two-year hiatus, while Charles Roth is back to lead the boys hoops program after a successful run at Orestimba. Roth was previously junior varsity coach at Lathrop. 
Elsewhere, JV coach Robin Chandler was promoted to varsity for Manteca’s girls volleyball program, taking over for Kevin Bolding. Girls basketball teams at Manteca and Weston Ranch have new figures in charge in Greg Azevedo and Damion McMiller, respectively.
Weston Ranch is in search of a new boys hoops coach after Chris Teevan stepped down last month after eight highly-successful years. His resignation was announced two days after the program was scrutinized for not following COVID-19 protocols in practice.