STOCKTON — The blond streak in Esteban Paramo’s hair may have started as a personal statement of style, but it’s come to symbolize something much bigger.
The junior captain is the vocal leader of a Weston Ranch boys soccer team blazing a path through the Valley Oak League; a team hell-bent on making a run at the school’s first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section championship.
The young and brash Cougars play with a speed that jars its opponents, attacking like from all angles like bolts of lightning.
Manteca was the latest burned by these streakin’ Cougars.
Weston Ranch scored the first five goals, including two in the game’s first 10 minutes to take control of Monday’s matchup of league unbeatens.
In the end, the Buffaloes made the final score respectable, 5-3, but played out of sorts in the first 40 minutes.
“To be honest, this was our best first half,” said Paramo, a right fullback who set up two goals with a cross and a shot, respectively. “All season, this is what we’ve been looking for. We knew that Manteca would come out with everything they had. It started during warm-ups; we had to come out hard.”
Joseph Mayorca tallied two goals, Kevin Medina had a goal and an assist, and Angel Portillo and Omar Centeno also found the back of the net for the Cougars (12-2-3), the class of the Valley Oak League at 5-0.
Weston Ranch has now won six straight heading into a pivotal stretch in its schedule. The Cougars start a five-game road swing on Wednesday at defending champion Oakdale. The stretch also includes trips to Sierra and back-to-back games at East Union.
On Monday, the Cougars bid farewell to their home crowd with perhaps their finest opening act of the season.
“These guys came out sharp today. We’ve been trying to put that type of half together and we have in the past, but I think against a really good team like Manteca that’s what you have to do,” head coach Francisco Cisneros said. “We did a good job of being up 3-0 and not relaxing.”
With the wind at its back, Weston Ranch attacked from distance to start the match.
Portillo and Mayorca scored back-to-back goals in the 8th and 10th minutes on drives beyond 20 yards.
Medina stretched the lead to 3-0 in the 16th minute with a twisting right-footed blast to the left post. Medina struck the ball from the edge of the penalty box with the outside of his foot, bending it around the defense and inside the post.
The shot followed a cross from Paramo, setting off a melee in front of goal. Two Cougars had shots batted out by the defense, the latter falling at Medina’s foot.
Mayorca notched his second goal just before the intermission on a cross from Francisco Garcia. The Cougars outshot Manteca 13-1 in the first 40 minutes.
“That was one of the worst halves from a team of mine for as long as I can remember,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “I can’t even remember the last time we’ve been down 5-0, boys or girls. I take a lot of pride and spend a lot of time on defense and not giving up goals.
“That was disheartening to come out and get rolled up like that in the first half.”
The Buffaloes didn’t go quietly.
Marcus Montano scored twice in dead-ball situations to pull Manteca within two late.
The perennial All-Area striker cashed in on a penalty kick in the 54th minute and then beat the keeper on a 25-yard free kick with about five minutes left.
Jason Maravilla also had a goal as the Buffaloes answered Coenenberg’s challenge at halftime.
“I knew going down 4-0 against a team like this it would be tough to come back,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, this is the most important half of soccer in our season. Either we come out and give up four more goals and lose 8-0, or we battle and compete and show some pride.’ “
The Cougars showed some pride, too, answering a challenge of their own.
Following a banner season in 2013, one that saw the Cougars reach the Division IV title game, Cisneros tweaked their style. He wanted to possess the ball and attack with speed, focusing less on the long through ball.
“This year, our coaches decided to change our game. Last year, we played sloppy, always playing kick ball,” Paramo said. “This year, we were lucky to get good players. Coach said we had to step it up a notch and change the game. That’s what we’ve done. Every practice we take it serious and play (the ball) quick on the floor.”
Cisneros said Paramo -- the kid with with the streak in his hair -- has fueled his high-octane attack with his play and his voice.
“That’s why we picked Esteban as one of our captains. He always talks,” Cisneros said. “When we hit rough patches, he has a way of calming the team down. That’s what we look for from our leadership.”
Manteca 5, Weston Ranch 2
Alexus Ochoa, Tyler Clark, Everardo Velasquez, Edgar Oropeza and Fernando Rocha scored for Manteca, now 3-1 in VOL play.
Weston Ranch (2-3) got goals from Giovanni Trejo and Mario Martinez.