Manuel Pires started coaching Sierra’s girls soccer team when the school opened in the mid-90s, thinking he’d retire soon after the youngest of his three daughters, Veronica (class of 2004), graduated.
He thought wrong.
Pires is in his 20th year as Sierra’s coach, and next Thursday he’ll have a chance to win his 400th game. Seeded No. 1 for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs, the Timberwolves will take on Foothill or West Campus next Thursday after a first-round bye.
“If somebody told me I’d come close to winning that many games I would have said they’re crazy,” Pires said. “I didn’t imagine I’d be around long enough, but I really enjoy and love what I’m doing and I’ve had some great help with my coaching staff.
“I’m proud of each team I’ve coached at Sierra. They each had their own journey and all of them worked very hard.”
He commends his current group of seniors who have had a bumpy ride up until this year. They’re preparing to compete in their first postseason contest following a 7-14-3 campaign — the worst under Pires. Now, Sierra is a favorite to win a section title and boasts a 22-0-5 record.
Pires’ all-time record stands at 399-103-64 and is 229-34-29 in league. His résumé includes 11 Valley Oak League championships and four section titles — one in Division I (1998), two in Division III (2003-04) and one in Division IV(2011) — in seven final-round appearances. His best team to not claim a section title was the 2009 Timberwolves, who were nationally ranked before finishing 26-1-2.
One of Pires’ favorite moments is the 2004 Division III title game, which pitted his Timberwolves against Johnny Avila’s Manteca Buffaloes.
“Johnny is my brother-in-law and (former East Union coach) Clarence Goes is a great friend of mine,” Pires said. “We played so many years together and had a great time competing against each other as coaches, too.”
Of course, nothing can replace getting to win with family. Pires’ older daughters, Monica (1998) and Jessica (2000) were teammates on the program’s Division I section title team, while Veronica played on the back-to-back championship squads.
While Sierra dominated the VOL early in Pires’ tenure, he’s proud to see the rise of opposing squads not just from the league, but within the city of Manteca itself. East Union won the last two Division III championships, while Manteca is coming off two runner-up finishes. Former VOL foe Sonora had a run of three straight section titles in 2006-08, and Oakdale and Kimball have since emerged as prominent programs. The inclusion of Central Catholic last year further strengthened the league.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Pires said. “The rivalries with Manteca and East Union have been exciting. It used to be that the top teams in the Valley Oak League would play in six tough games in a season, now there are 10 to 12 that can be anybody’s game. It’s very, very tough and very competitive.”
Pires made it clear that he isn’t celebrating anything yet. Win No. 400 is just the first goal for his team, and down the road it hopes to vie for the SJS Division IV banner on May 21.
No matter how it all finishes out, Pires is appreciative to still be leading the program he built.
“I want to thank all of Sierra’s (athletic directors) starting with Vern Gebhardt for giving me the opportunity,” Pires said. “Greg Leland and Anthony Chapman have continued to give us great support over the years, and I’m just really thankful for that.”