The Ripon High boys soccer team didn’t just lose the area’s top player from a year ago.
“We lost a chunk,” as head coach Jamie DeBruyn put it.
Manteca Bulletin All-Area MVP Roberto Alvarez spearheaded the Indians’ charge to their first-ever Trans-Valley League championship and postseason home victory. He is one of seven starters lost to graduation.
Ripon went 9-0-3 in seizing the outright TVL crown and 17-6-3 overall. It was eliminated in the semifinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs by Galt, 4-0, the eventual champion. It was the Indians’ first loss in more than two months.
Alvarez was a big reason for the team’s success. The 6-foot-2 standout scored 11 goals and 11 assists in his only season with the high school squad, but that is only a small measure of his value to the team. He was able to play every position on the field, even goalie, at a high level.
“He was our utility guy, but he was also the best player at whatever position we put him at,” DeBruyn said. “When we were stuck in some games in league I’d put him up in the front line and he’d create and come through for us. If we had a small lead he’d move to the midfield or defense and secure the win for us. Nice having him even for just a year, but now someone else has to step up and be that guy.”
Other notable losses include All-TVL selections Nate Machado and Matt Uecker. Alex Aguilar, Ross Woods and Flavio Valadao earned honorable mention as seniors. Valadao was second on the team with 13 goals scored.
DeBruyn still believes Ripon can compete with the likes of Riverbank in the TVL.
Emmanuel Sanchez returns for his fourth varsity campaign and solidifies Ripon’s strong midfield. DeBruyn said “It is his time to shine” after playing in the shadow of Alvarez, his cousin.
All-TVL selections Thomas Sidtikun and Jonathan Soto are also back. Sidtikun paced the Indians in scoring with 15 goals and six assists as a freshman, while Soto (5.3 saves, 1.5 goals allowed per game) mans the goal area as the team’s third-year varsity keeper. Honorable mention midfielder Victor de la O (3 goals, 3 assists) had ample playing time as a starting sophomore a year ago. Seniors Jared Lawlor (defender) and Brandon Loma (left winger) also played ample minutes despite not always starting.
“We have a good core up the middle,” DeBruyn said. “Thomas led our team in goals last year and he’s definitely able to carry the load again. I’ll take Victor and Manny in the midfield against anyone else’s midfield.
“The question is, ‘How are we going to secure our defensive line?’ One benefit is we have Soto back at goal. He’s impressed me a lot in the first couple weeks of practice. I definitely see a big improvement in him after he played club ball all offseason.”
The most significant addition from the frosh-soph squad is Robert Hutto, who is the projected stopper on defense. Versatile Noah Lehman and wing defender Jose Munoz are seniors returning to the program after taking a year off.
Ripon could also get a boost from overseas with exchange students Fredrico Entrada (Italy) and Niklas Lengert (Germany) making the team.
One thing remains the same amid the turnover in personnel: Ripon will play a busy and tough nonleague schedule.
Ripon opens this Saturday against Gregori to kick off Hughson’s Husky Cup. It is the first of two meetings with the Division II Jaguars (Sept. 16). On Sept. 3 the Indians visit Manteca and face a contender from the ultra-tough Valley Oak League. Also in their future are their rivalry match with Ripon Christian and annual litmus test against Linden.
“Our guys have basked in the glory for a good while. Now they’re coming into the preseason knowing they are going to see some good opponents, which will help us in league,” DeBruyn said. “It’s no fun to go undefeated in the preseason only get your butt kicked in league.”