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Cougars returning to form; Lathrop continues to build
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Guard Melvin Allen is Weston Ranch High’s only returning senior to have played a significant role in the 2009-10 campaign, but with three promising sophomores joining him the Cougars are looking to make a splash in the Valley Oak League this year. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Just a short time ago, the Weston Ranch boys basketball squad was the premier team in the Valley Oak League, and the Lathrop Spartans were opening the gym for the hoops program for the very first time. After failing to reach the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs, the Cougars are poised to get back to the top of the league, whereas as Lathrop will be working through the exodus of one of its better players.

Weston Ranch closed out the 2010 season with a one-point win over Sierra High, but the Cougars were still left off the Sac-Joaquin Section brackets with a respectable 11-5 league mark. The Cougars’ quest for the postseason will have some different faces this season, new youthful faces that will likely be guiding the program for seasons to come.

“I expect us to be competitive this year,” Weston Ranch head coach Ryan Bono said. “We will definitely be young, but I expect our kids to come out and play hard every game and, hopefully, be in every ball game.

“That’s our expectations.”

Bono will be using the talents of three sophomores, as well the sophomore team’s leading scorer from a season ago, Dylan Alexander, to carry out his mission. Senior Melvin Allen is the only Cougar returner who logged significant minutes last year. Daiveon Leverett will also log quality minutes for the Cougars’ front court.

Lathrop will be without the services of last season’s starting point guard Aivery Lewis, who transferred to another school, forcing some of the program’s underclassmen to step into prevalent roles.

The Spartans were winless last season, coming to within 12 points in its closest loss to Sonora. Lathrop will hopefully be able to rely on post presence Umar Muriset later in the season, but likse where it rests at heading into the season opener.

“I think that we are in a good spot,” Lathrop head coach J.J. Ramirez said. “We have a couple of new transfers who bring in some new blood, and we also have some sophomore guys that played really well last year.

“I can’t say where we will fall at, but I know we’ll be competitive.”

The Spartans will have a steep climb to become one of the playoff caliber teams in the VOL, while Weston Ranch will try and pull itself back to the hierarchy of the league. Sierra, Sonora and Manteca will all be in the quest for the top spot, making the 2011 run one worth paying close attention to.

“I think that the league will be pretty much wide open,” Bono said. “There isn’t a really a clear-cut top team; every team will have a legitimate chance to win in almost every game.”

Ramirez believes that team will be able to distance themselves from the rest once the VOL grind is in full throttle.

“All of the top teams from last year were pretty even,” Ramirez said. “But I think that the front-runner is Sierra. They usually put out a good product there, and I think Scott (Thomason) does a great job of coaching those guys.

“And I think he has the best big man in the league, but it will be open for Manteca or maybe Sonora to sneak in there.”