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Spartans march on under new coach
Reynaga testing team early with challenging schedule
SOC--Lathrop Preview file pic
Lathrops Ulysses Almanza avoids the tackle from behind during a pivotal Valley Oak League match at Weston Ranch on Oct. 22. Almanza is one of two returning team captains for the Spartans, the other being sweeper Ramiro Ceja-Flores. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/Bulletin file photo

LATHROP – Alfredo Reynaga hasn’t wasted any time putting his stamp on the Lathrop High boys soccer program.

A former center halfback, the Peruvian-born Reynaga said he prides himself on being aggressive.

Lathrop’s schedule is just that.

Reynaga was elevated from varsity assistant when former coach Lenny Lial stepped down after one season. His first objective has been to build camaraderie and chemistry amongst his 18-man roster, and his non-conference lineup should accomplish that.

The Spartans will take part in the Hughson Husky Cup this weekend, host Tracy on Sept. 2 and then travel to Gregori in Modesto for its invitational. There are also games against Beyer, former Valley Oak League foe Sonora and Mother Lode kingpin Linden.

“We’re trying to get in as many games as possible in the preseason,” Reynaga said. “We got a lot guys that have moved or didn’t play last year. I want to see if we can get some chemistry going.

“Sometimes, it takes a while to get used to playing with somebody, so that’s why we have so many preseason games. We want to go into the (Valley Oak League) season ready.”

By then, Reynaga hopes the Spartans will have taken on the personality and playing style of their coach.

The pieces are there.

Returning seniors Ramiro Ceja-Flores, Jose Castellanos and Ulysses Almanza form the nucleus on the field for Lathrop, which finished 10-9-4 in 2013.

Transfer Hairo Silva will likely fill one of the two starting striker positions.

Freshman Christian Cardenas makes the jump to the varsity level, continuing a trend around the VOL. Cardenas gives Reynaga another weapon in the middle of the field. Reynaga said Cardenas, a natural center halfback with quintessential vision and ball control, will command more and more minutes as the season goes on.

“He has excellent ball control. He’s able to see the game a pretty high level. It’s his vision, I guess you could say,” Reynaga said. “I battled with the decision, but moving him up, I think it will help the varsity team.

“It gives us some variation. A lot of the guys on the varsity team are multi-positional players. Having him there, it gives us some flexibility.”

Reynaga stops short of bold predictions. Lathrop was 4-6-4 in VOL play last fall, but it was the only team to beat champion Oakdale. The Spartans also drew even with Manteca and Weston Ranch, the VOL’s other two playoff teams.

Instead, Reynaga’s focus is on the busy non-conference schedule ahead and building the kinds of bonds that will carry the Spartans through the shark-infested waters of the VOL.

Lathrop opens league at Sierra on Sept. 15.

“I think it’s early to start talking about playoffs and how we’ll finish. The one thing I can say is that our team will compete. The level of talent is far off last year, and last year I thought they did will in competing with the other teams,” Reynaga said. “It’s hard to predict where we’ll be. Of course, everyone plays to win the game, but we have to work on baby steps.

“They’re hungry. We’re looking forward to that hopefully translating (to wins) on the field.”