Three area soccer teams will converge at Liberty Ranch High in Galt on Saturday looking to come away as Sac-Joaquin Section champions.
Ripon’s girls squad kicks off the local tripleheader at noon and eyes a third straight section crown and fifth overall, but the top-seeded Indians (20-4-1) are stepping up in class as they take on No. 6 El Camino (9-5-5) in the Division IV final. All of Ripon’s previous six title-round appearances were in Division V, and its opponent comes from the largest school in the Division IV field.
At 2 p.m., East Union’s surprising sixth-seeded boys (13-3-8) take on a juggernaut in Galt (22-1-1), which has been elevated to Division III due to the “continued success” rule after claiming three of the last four pennants in Division IV. Galt has four section titles in seven final-round appearances, while the Lancers are chasing their first banner on their third try.
Then at 4, the No. 3 Manteca girls team (20-2-4) reunite with a familiar foe that just knocked out the team responsible for both of the Buffaloes’ losses. They’ll tangle with No. 4 Christian Brothers (13-6-5) for the third straight year and for the second time in a section final. Christian Brothers spoiled a potential championship matchup between intra-city rivals when it upset top-seeded Sierra 2-1 in the semifinals on Tuesday.
No matter the results, all participating finalists have at least one more game to play as qualifiers for the CIF Northern California Regional Championships. Brackets for NorCals will be released Sunday afternoon.
Here’s a closer look at each of the three section championship games:
Division IV girls
Ripon head coach Bryce Perkins is making sure his players aren’t looking past the Eagles from Sacramento, who dropped a 4-0 decision to Liberty Ranch in the Division IV final last year. El Camino is starved for a title, winning its only one at Division I back in 1984.
It would be easy to overlook El Camino because of its ho-hum record and fourth-place finish in the Capital Athletic League. Then again, it’s the Capital Athletic League, which has two teams vying for section titles Saturday while the top two — powerhouse Vista del Lago and much-accomplished Rio Americano — were placed in tougher Division II.
Christian Brothers, Manteca’s opponent, finished third in the CAL. Manteca defeated Ripon 5-1 in an early non-league match this season.
“It’s eye-popping,” Perkins said of El Camino’s résumé opponents. “A team from that conference has to survive a gauntlet just to get into the playoffs. We’re definitely going against a very tough team that comes from a tough conference with schools that have higher enrollments. I told our girls don’t take this for granted. It is absolutely a different team than we have faced all year long and I don’t know anything about them.”
The first goal scored on Saturday will be the first one yielded by either team in the postseason. Like Ripon, the Eagles shut out all three of their previous opponents and edged out No. 2 Casa Roble 1-0 in overtime.
El Camino is led by Katie Norle and Sophia Bartridge, who have scored 12 goals apiece.
Division III boys
East Union, the Valley Oak League runner-up, has its hands full against the seven-time Sierra Valley Conference champion.
Lancers coach Ronnie Green knows what his team is up against having previously coached against the Warriors while was part of the Sierra staff three years ago. That was when Sierra upset the No. 1-seeded team 1-0 in the opening round of the Division IV playoffs.
Galt’s current club has is anchored by three prolific senior goal scorers — Gonzalo Garcia (21 goals, 15 assists), Alexis Gonzalez (19 goals, 13 assists) and Juan Cruz (15 goals, nine assists).
“I think they’re the premier team in the south (part of the SJS),” Green said. “They’re a great team, no doubt about it. They’re 22-1-1 for a reason. Nobody would be surprised if they beat us, 3-0.”
Galt rolled to its fourth overall section championship last year but was then shocked in the first round of the NorCal playoffs. Bumped up to Division II under the new “competitive equity” format, the No. 1-seeded Warriors lost to No. 8 Prospect, 3-2.
They’re on the warpath to redemption at the state level and have squashed their first three playoff opponents — Nevada Union, Atwater and Wood — by a combined 13-0 score. East Union, meanwhile, has needed late-game heroics in every round, including one-goal wins over No. 3 Pacheco and No. 2 Patterson on the road.
The Lancers feel they’re battle-tested enough to put up a fight, and they’ve improved over the last half of the season with three latecomers arriving from ineligibility.
“We haven’t lost since we’ve been at full strength,” Green said. His team is 10-0-2 with its full complement of players. “We’re also undefeated on the road and we’ve beaten Liberty Ranch on that turf field. “We’re definitely feeling confident but not overconfident.”
Division III girls
It’s the rubber match between two perennial powers representing outstanding leagues.
Two years ago, Manteca upset Christian Brothers in the first round 2-1 to set up a second-round meeting with rival Sierra. The Falcons got even in the second round last season, winning 3-1.
Their history goes even deeper, however. Back in 2014, Christian Brothers squeaked out a 1-0 victory over the Buffaloes in the Division III championship game.
“To be honest, that’s one of the losses that still eats at me,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said.
Manteca lost to East Union in the title match the following year before finally capturing their first title in 2016, knocking off Rio Americano in penalty kicks.
Christian Brothers is undefeated in three SJS finals and has capable goal scorers from many spots. Leading the way are Lexi Rakela (14 goals), Sara Cruz (10 goals, 11 assists) and Grace Clote (10 goals).
“They took it to us pretty good last year, and all three goals came in the air,” Coenenberg said. “I heard that one of their goals against Sierra was also in the air, so that has been a focus for us — we’ll have to work hard to win balls in the air. They’re big but they’re also fast.”
Coenenberg added that is team would have liked another shot at reigning champion Sierra, which swept their two regular-season contests.
“The second time we played them, the score (3-1) wasn’t very indicative of how well we played,” Coenenberg said. “It would have been nice to get another chance at (Sierra), but we’ve been peaking since then and getting better every game.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: East Union boys, Ripon girls, Manteca girls soccer teams
WHAT: Sac-Joaquin Section Division III-IV finals
WHEN: Saturday, noon (Ripon), 2 p.m. (East Union), 4 p.m. (Manteca)
WHERE: Liberty HS, Galt
ADMISSION: $12 (adults), $10 (seniors 65-over, military), $5 (students K-12), Children 5-under are free