Weston Ranch isn’t going to surprise anybody this year.
Spearheaded by talented underclassmen, the Cougars made a historic run to the 2013 Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game where it lost to Galt’s Liberty Ranch, 3-2. Only two senior starters were on that Weston Ranch squad, so expectations are even higher for 2014.
Second-year head coach Francisco Cisneros would love nothing more than to bring Weston Ranch its first Valley Oak League and SJS titles but warns his players against living off past success.
“It’s something we talk about a lot,” Cisneros said. “It was great we had all that success last year but we can’t allow it to lose our focus on each game.
“Right now the message is one game at a time. Our league is pretty tough, and if you begin to think about the playoffs you’ll lose focus and pay for it later. We can’t get too overconfident.”
This much is certain: these Cougars will never be low on confidence. This fearless bunch overcame disadvantages it had in size and varsity experience to mount an incredible run to its first-ever postseason appearance. Weston Ranch (7-4-3 VOL, 17-6-4 overall) rolled through the second half of league without a loss, and a single defeat would have kept it from making the playoffs. Back-to-back ties against league champ Oakdale and an impressive Sierra squad at the end of the regular season was good enough for a berth.
“Hopefully we are not playing for a playoff spot in the last game again,” Cisneros said. “We don’t want to take anything for granted and these guys get that. If we make it (to the playoffs) again that means someone really good will be left out. That’s our league.”
Goalkeeper Jose Avila and defender Sal Molina are the lone graduation losses from the starting 11. Cisneros likes what he sees from Andy Martinez and Eddie Acosta as replacements for the dependable Avila. Esteban Paramo moves from the midfield to fill in at left fullback to join All-VOL first-team sweeper Victor Munoz.
Joseph Mayorca (22 goals, 7 assists) returns to the midfield after making the all-league first team as a sophomore. He is flanked by sophomore Francisco Garcia (9 goals, 7 assists) and junior Kevin Medina (8 goals, 9 assists) with Hector Maldonado (15 goals, 5 assist) at striker. Maldonado, a converted defensive midfielder, enjoyed a breakthrough late last year, scoring 12 times over the team’s final 10 matches.
Two seniors who last played on the varsity as sophomores return to the fold to bolster Weston Ranch’s depth, although Cisneros said Angel Portillo and Francisco Monroy will have to battle for their playing time.
“Our core players our back and we’ve added a couple others who are just as strong,” Cisneros said. “You can tell there is a much different feel to the team this year. The guys are extra motivated at practice knowing there is competition for spots. It’s creating a great environment for us to get ready for the season.”
Weston Ranch loaded its nonleague schedule to prepare for the rigors of the VOL. It begins this Friday and Saturday in the Stagg Tournament, where it will see Division I schools Modesto, Chavez and St. Mary’s. The Cougars are also running into teams like Atwater, Grace Davis and VOL rival Oakdale at the Gregori Tournament on Sept. 5-6. Perhaps their most noteworthy matchup is the Sept. 4 date at Galt, home of the reigning SJS Division V champion.
“Our guys are gonna get tested in the preseason,” Cisneros said. “There is not one game that you can say is an easy one. This is what you want to get ready for a tough league.”