The Cinderella of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs is still dancing, but Chris Teevan insists there is nothing magical about his ninth-seeded Weston Ranch boys basketball team’s ride to the championship round.
He believes his team is worthy of its spot in the finals. It deserves it, he said. He thinks the same of No. 3-seeded Sierra (28-2), Weston Ranch’s longtime arch nemesis and heavily-favored foil in tonight’s all-Valley Oak League matchup for a section banner.
It will be the first time two VOL teams will duel for a section basketball title since Manteca defeated Livingston for the Division II crown back in 1987, but this time the finalists represent the same school district.
No matter who wins tonight, a section title will finally return to the league, ending a drought lasting 25 years. Sonora is the last VOL team to capture the blue flag, doing so in 1992. Since then the league is 0-10 in title games, with West of Tracy — now with the Tri-City Athletic League — losing four, Sierra dropping three, Sonora two and Weston Ranch one.
Three of the four teams in Tuesday’s semifinal games hail from the VOL, the third being No. 5 Manteca (22-7). Weston Ranch (20-10) upended the Buffaloes 61-41 after getting swept by them in the regular season.
It has been a big season for the VOL, a conference with a stronger reputation for football, baseball, softball and soccer. Turns out they can play some hoops, too.
“We play in a tough league,” Teevan said after leading the Cougars past Manteca at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento on Tuesday. “I think the section disrespected us with the 9 seed but I think it helped us at the same time. It’s kind of ironic.”
The Cougars, who placed third in the VOL, vanquished Western Athletic Conference champion Central Valley in the first round before stunning top-seeded Christian Brothers in the quarterfinals. Central Valley had a 15-game winning streak going into the postseason but was hardly pushed in the WAC. That may have led to the Hawks’ undoing as they struggled down the stretch against the more tested Cougars from Weston Ranch.
“The VOL is very solid, very tough teams through and through,” CV coach Darryl Dickson told the Manteca Bulletin after the 65-53 first-round defeat. “Weston Ranch was tested most nights and they got to play in really tough games.”
Manteca coach Brett Lewis said the big-game experience in league was important for his squad’s run in the playoffs. Like Weston Ranch, the Buffaloes are very young but well-tested. They were able to stave off elimination with wins over Lincoln and Rio Americano.
“Our league is tough, man — well coached, good players,” Lewis said after the Rio Americano win in the second round. “Every night was a battle and it showed with us tonight. We’ve played in eight games like this. The league is tough and it speaks volumes. Hopefully this gets us a little more respect in the future.”
The future certainly looks bright for the league with many young and talented players returning. Central Catholic, for example, placed fourth in its return to the VOL, but was still awarded an at-large berth to the Division IV playoffs with two sophomores starting in the backcourt. The Raiders’ season ended with a competitive 73-66 loss to Liberty Ranch, the No. 2 seed and finalist in the Division IV bracket.
The team occupying the throne, of course, deserves due credit for running the gauntlet without a blemish.
Sierra is making its fourth section final-round appearance under coach Scott Thomason and third in the last four years. The Timberwolves have also captured at least a piece of the VOL titles over the past four seasons, sharing the 2013 crown with Weston Ranch.
“It’s a very good league but what does that say about us going 14-0 and 53-3 the last three years?” Thomason said. “Maybe someday we’ll get our respect.”