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Full Steam ahead
New coach has VOL co-champs aiming higher
SOCR--Sierra Preview pic 1
Juan Acosta leads a breakaway during a five-on-five session in Tuesdays practice at Sierra - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

Joe Pires watched and waited, studying his players’ tendencies as they plowed through the summer conditioning program.

Which of his boys soccer players hung out with whom? Were there cliques he needed to be concerned about?

Who pushed through the very last push-up? Sprinted through the final lap? Grunted out the final rep?

“I was listening and looking during our conditioning to figure out the kids we have – who did what, who was involved with who. I tried to learn the way they were,” said Pires, who stepped down as boys head coach in 2006 after leading Sierra to its only Sac-Joaquin Section championship appearance.

“I used that time for me. I knew a few from the games I’ve watched, but I really didn’t know how they were in practice.”

With less than a month before their season debut, Pires has dropped the quiet act. He’s “itching” to see his Timberwolves in action, and he’s challenged each to shape their own destiny.

Sierra returns a core group of players from a team that earned a share of the Valley Oak League championship with crosstown rival Manteca in 2012, but Pires has made his expectations clear.

League titles aren’t enough.

The Timberwolves lost just three times in 19 matches,  went 9-1-2 in league play and qualified for the section playoffs for a fourth consecutive year. Sierra topped Colfax 5-1 in the first round, but had its season stopped with a 2-0 loss to Galt in the Division IV semifinal.

Pires is adamant: He didn’t return for another semifinal run. He’s back to finish the job ... to join his brother Manuel Pires in the highest reaches of school lore.

Manuel Pires is the architect of the Sierra High girls soccer program, a four-time section champion that routinely sends its top talent off to four-year schools.

Joe Pires wants to hang the first boys soccer banner and create the same springboard for his players.

“That’s my high school,” said Pires, whose boys, Joe and Bryan, starred for and graduated from Sierra. “I’m in a position to give a little bit back. I still get the itch like the boys do. I still like to play myself, but coaching is something you can have a legacy doing.

“With Manuel over there, I’m thinking maybe it’s my time to start putting some banners up. The boys have no banners. Our goal is go and bring the banner home. I want to be the first to put a banner up for the boys.”

The talent is in place.

Pires believes the Timberwolves’ athleticism, depth and speed on the wings will allow him to switch formations, pivoting out of a 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and 4-3-3 on the fly.

Sierra will be buoyed by its captains: Seniors Bryan Ramos, Jesus Coronado and Rigo Gomez, and junior Juan Acosta. Pires said each play integral roles in practice, spearheading drills and leading select groups.

“I want them to be a part of the experience and be responsible enough so that it’s not just us, the coaches,” Pires said. “We want them to experience being leaders. These are the tools they’ll need in life.”

Ramos and Acosta will be the tone-setters in the offensive third. Ramos is the team’s top returning scorer; he finished 2012 with nine goals on 20 shots and five assists. Acosta is a third-year varsity player and will be the primary target player in Pires’ 4-5-1 formation.

Gomez will anchor the back line with his ability to defend and build the offense out of the back. Julian Semenza and Manny Garcia are fighting for minutes in goal.

Pires stops himself short of announcing a full starting roster. With three weeks until opening kickoff – vs. Tracy on Sept. 11 – Pires is content to let position battles play out.

He’ll wait and watch, giving the players a chance to shape their destiny.

“We talk about it at every practice and it started from the very beginning,” Pires said. “In less words, ‘Be accountable, be responsible and don’t lie and don’t make any excuses.’ We’re doing more than playing soccer. Grades are the main thing with scholarships and whether they get into college. Education is No. 1.

“The kids are listening. They know we come in demanding more than the previous coaching staff. They were all ears. They took it on. They’ve bought into it.”

To contact James Burns, e-mail