• WHAT: SJS Division-IV finals
• WHO: Sierra vs. Oakdale
• WHEN: Today, noon
• WHERE: Lincoln High (Stockton)
• DIRECTIONS: Head north on Interstate 5, take Benjamin Holt Drive exit and head east, left on Alexandria Place. School is on 6844 Alexandria Place.
Sierra High girls soccer coach Manuel Pires never formally opened negotiations with Oakdale’s Alfredo Quiroga.
“I was thinking about calling him saying, ‘Let’s make a deal. You can take the league title and you let us have the section title and we’ll call it even,’” Pires joked.
Since the conversation never took place, they’ll have to let their players work out a deal at Lincoln High’s Alex G. Spanos Stadium in Stockton today starting at noon when the Valley Oak League rivals meet for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV championship.
The two battle-tested squads split their regular-season series, with each contest decided by 3-2 scores. But Oakdale (19-2-4) was able to sneak away from a heated five-team race with its first-ever conference title, and today the Mustangs will play in their first section title match.
“They can’t wait to play,” Quiroga said. “The girls are very pumped up for it and are looking forward to making more history.”
By contrast, Sierra (16-3-5) has been there, done that in its 16-plus years as a varsity program. Today marks its seventh finals appearance, and the 11-time VOL champion will compete for its fourth section title.
Several of Sierra’s current group of upperclassmen, such as senior standouts Stephanie Vanni and Sydnee Koscielecki, was a part of its last title-game appearance two years ago, and Pires hopes that experience gives them an edge.
That year, however, Sierra was upset 4-1 by Whitney of Rocklin. The Timberwolves were nationally ranked, led by an All-American striker, Nicole Vanni, who scored 53 goals, and unbeaten (26-0-2) going into the finals.
“When you win league it doesn’t guarantee that you will win a section title — it’s what the playoffs are for,” Pires said. “A couple of years ago we came in as a heavy favorite, but that meant nothing because we got smoked in the finals.
“We have some seniors and juniors who got to experience that moment, and this is their opportunity to come back and play for a section championship.”
Both teams are coming off dramatic finishes.
After easily dispatching Livingston 2-0 in the opening round, Sierra stunned tournament-favorite Vista del Lago on the road with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory in overtime.
Oakdale kicked off its postseason run with a 2-1 overtime win over Galt and followed that up with Thursday’s penalty-kick shootout victory, 2-1 (4-3 PKs), against Central Catholic.
Quiroga said that the long layoff between Oakdale’s final VOL game and its first playoff contest led to the rusty outings. Late-year distractions such as last week’s senior trip to Disneyland didn’t help.
One player took a trip to Mexico and rushed to play in the Mustangs’ postseason opener the day she returned from the vacation.
“We had practices where we had 10 players and it was reflected in our first two playoff games,” Quiroga said. “It threw us off our rhythm, we were cramping and we were out of sync.
“The girls are very resilient, so they were able to come out on top anyway.”
The Timberwolves are expecting Oakdale’s best effort nonetheless.
Oakdale is led by talented sophomore Jill Kahler, who has 20 goals and seven assists. Kerri Fuerstein, another sophomore, scored all three of Oakdale’s goals in its 3-2 win at Sierra on March 16, and she has 16 on the year.
“Oakdale has a pretty solid team with some depth on the bench,” Pires said. “That team has been together for a long time and you can tell.”
Talented junior Joanna Ortiz (24 goals, 11 assists) and four-year starter Stephanie Vanni (23 goals) lead Sierra.
“Sierra is well coached with very good players,” Quiroga said. “We have to fight really hard, because these two teams are very evenly matched.”