Familiarity breeds success as far as Manteca High athletic director Bill Slikker is concerned.
Last Friday, he officially welcomed Jason Hitt and Mark Ruiz to the Buffaloes’ coaching fraternity.
Hitt has taken over as boys basketball coach in place of Brett Lewis, who was hired as the new Weston Ranch athletic director last month. Ruiz, a 2005 MHS alumnus, is back on campus as both special needs teacher and baseball coach. Ruiz joined Neil MacDannald’s varsity staff this past spring and was recommended by his predecessor to carry the torch.
Slikker also announced the return of Ryan Bono as girls basketball coach. Bono retired from coaching following the 2018-19 season but has agreed to guide the program for one more — his 20th overall as a high school coach.
“What’s nice is that none of these guys are going to be thrown to the wolves,” Slikker said.
Both Hitt and Ruiz are following in the footsteps of coaches who achieved historic success for their respective programs. Lewis led Manteca’s boys hoops team to a 109-48 record in the past five years. The Buffaloes’ crowning achievement under Lewis was winning the CIF State Division III in 2015-16.
“It’ll be a challenge to fill Brett’s shoes, but I value the opportunity to step into that role and continue that success,” Hitt said. “Manteca High is known for winning, and that goes for a lot of sports. That tradition is what propelled me toward taking the job.”
The Woodbridge resident teaches physical education at Bear Creek, but the transition has been smooth so far for the program. Hitt had already begun working with the team as an assistant when Lewis took on his new administrative role at Weston Ranch. The team continued with its summer workouts with Hitt, along with most of Lewis’ returning assistants, running the show.
“It was kind of like on-the-job-training over the summer,” Slikker said. “I watched him myself and talked with the kids and parents and got a lot of good, positive feedback.”
Hitt and Slikker’s relationship was already established. Over a decade ago, Hitt was a student teacher for Slikker at Weston Ranch.
Hitt got his first head coaching position in the early 2000s at Tokay of Lodi, where he graduated in 1995. He then coached the Linden girls basketball team, tallying 20 wins in each of his five seasons there and leading the Lions to a runner-up finish in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs in 2009.
Hitt left Linden to work at NBA youth camps for the Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets. He returned to the area and was hired as athletic director for Jim Elliot Christian of Lodi. Hitt was also boys basketball coach, and in three years the team went 73-21 and played in two SJS championship games, winning the Division V title in 2017. He stepped down as AD last summer to prevent any conflicts with his current teaching job at Bear Creek.
Hitt says he looks forward to the rigors of the Valley Oak League, which he deems to be “the most competitive in this half of the section.” Slikker believes he is up for the task.
“I like his style and the up-tempo offense he brings,” Slikker said. “With the kids he’s demanding and commands respect. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
MacDannald was promoted over the summer to vice principal at MHS, leaving behind a baseball team that he guided to two SJS titles and the 2014 Cal-Hi Sports Division II State Team of the Year distinction. The Buffaloes went 145-77-2 in two stints spanning eight years under MacDannald, who is also a five-time section champion as offensive coordinator for the school’s football team.
MacDannald had longed to bring in Ruiz as an assistant, Slikker said. Ruiz has been part of college coaching staffs and led local travel-ball teams.
“Neil wanted to leave (the baseball team) in good hands and he found Ruiz for us,” Slikker said. “He did a great job as an assistant coach and the guy is passionate about baseball. It’s like hiring Neil MacDannald 15 years ago. He’s fired up and has a lot of experience in his young age.”
As for Bono, this year is certainly his last. He initially resigned as girls basketball coach to spend more time with his family.
“We had (the position) opened up and didn’t find a candidate suitable to Manteca High School’s needs at the time,” Slikker said. “I reached out to Bono and I did have to do some convincing but didn’t have to twist his arm too hard. Bono and I go back 17 years. When it comes down to it, he’s a team player and Manteca High needed him.”
Manteca returns its entire starting five from the VOL’s reigning co-championship squad. Bono is 54-31 with two league titles in three years as Manteca’s girls coach. He was previously a top assistant for Lewis’ state championship boys team, boys head coach at Weston Ranch and assistant girls coach at East Union.