WESTON RANCH – Jaelen Ragsdale, the moment is yours.
In two-plus seasons at the varsity level, Ragsdale has developed into one of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top point guards.
He can dribble. He can shoot. He can defend. He can make his teammates better with a gentle push or pass. And as the Weston Ranch athletic community has learned, he thirsts for championships.
Any kind of championships.
In the fall, with the hoops season just around the bend, Ragsdale found time and energy to cheer on the Cougars’ boys soccer team, which hoisted the school’s first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section banner.
“He was raised well. He’s got some great parents,” head coach Chris Teevan said. “If one kid could represent an entire school, he’s that kid. He is Weston Ranch.”
There’s just one problem with all this talk of championships and banners: Ragsdale doesn’t have any to call his own. Has his time come?
After playing sparingly as a freshman in a loss to Modesto Christian in a Division III semifinal in 2013, Ragsdale has led the Cougars back to the scene of that heartbreak: Cosumnes River College in Elk Grove, the site of tonight’s Sac-Joaquin Section D-III semifinal games.
Ninth-seeded Weston Ranch will butt heads with No. 5 Manteca at 7:30 p.m. No. 3 Sierra takes on No. 2 Vanden at 5:30.
The stakes are simple: The winners will play for a Sac-Joaquin Section championship on Friday evening at Sleep Train Arena. The losers start preparing for the NorCal regional tournament, which begin in earnest following the section finals.
The Buffaloes swept the regular-season series with the Cougars, using an overwhelming height advantage to carve out two double-digit victories.
Though Manteca’s 6-foot, 8-inch center Anand Hundal (right calf) is listed as probable for tonight’s game, Teevan still doesn’t like the matchup.
The Buffaloes are long, even without Hundal, and relentlessly attack the glass with the likes of Tyler Graves-Kelso, 6-foot-8 sophomore Tydus Verhoeven and back-up center Adrian Contreras.
“You got to rebound better. You got to find ways to get high percentage shots on offense. And you can’t let a guy score (37) on you,” Teevan said. “Those three things are key. We don’t have to win the battles, but they have to be closer.”
To negate Manteca’s height, Weston Ranch will look to undersized posts Jordan Strane and Jordan Tauga, who helped set an emotional tone by taking three first-half charges against Christian Brothers on Friday.
Teevan said his guards – Ragsdale, Fred Lavender, Tre Simmons, Jazz Swanson and Josh Dilg – will have to help out, too.
“We can’t expect them to lock them down,” Teevan said of the Jordans. “We need to play help defense, and we’ve been doing that. If you play team defense, there’s no pressure on just one player.”
For months, Teevan has touted his 5-foot-10 captain as a Division I-caliber player. For that kind of exposure and hype, though, Ragsdale will need to perform when the lights are hottest.
“He’s prepared for it,” Teevan said.
Teevan and Ragsdale are the only pieces remaining from Weston Ranch’s last semifinal appearance in 2013. Ragsdale joined the varsity team as a postseason call-up and appeared in two of the five games. (Erron Duncan was also elevated for the playoffs as a freshman in 2013, but the speedster recently stepped away from the basketball team to focus on track.)
Back then, Teevan and Ragsdale were first-year members on a team that featured three college-bound players: Dylan Alexander (Casper College), Eric Duncan (Lassen Community College), and Daiveon Leverett (Cosumnes River College).
The Cougars pushed Modesto Christian in a 63-58 loss, and then rebounded to win one game in the NorCal regional tournament.
Today, the program clearly rests in the hands of Ragsdale, who is averaging 18 points, five assists and two steals in two playoff games.
“I don’t think you can become a great player unless there’s pressure; unless there’s a lot at stake,” Teevan said. “If he has to score 30 to 35 for us to win, we’re not going to win. In these types of games, he does a great job of using his teammates. That’s why we’ve been winning.
“You can be a great player without scoring and he’s starting to learn that.”