The Ripon Christian boys soccer program has waited nearly 20 years for an opportunity to win another Sac-Joaquin Section championship.
Weston Ranch returns to the Division IV final for the second straight season, but the 11-year-old South Stockton campus remains a school – not a program – starving for its first Sac-Joaquin Section team title.
Both dubious streaks can come to an end today at Stagg High in Stockton – the site of three of the section’s seven soccer finals.
The Knights arrive with a head full of steam – literally. Junior striker Travis Vander Molen has scored five goals in two postseason games, including two headers in the second half of a 5-1 victory over Forest Lake Christian in the semifinal.
The top-seeded Knights will face No. 2 Sac Country Day in the Division VII final at 2 p.m. Sacramento Country Day (17-1-1) ousted Delta 4-2 in the other semifinal.
Sacramento Country Day is lead freshman B.J. Askew (24 goals, 17 assists) and senior Ethan Ham (24 goals, 16 assists).
The Knights have won nine straight games and 13 of their last 14, and outscored their previous playoff opponents 8-1.
About the only team hotter than the Knights have been the Valley Oak League champion Cougars, who are unbeaten in their last 21 games.
No. 2 Weston Ranch dispatched No. 3 Natomas 2-0 in their semifinal match, setting up a showdown with No. 5 Livingston, a surprise winner over top-seeded Galt.
Galt handed the Cougars their first loss of the season on Sept. 4, 2-0. Weston Ranch would stumble to Atwater – the eventual Central California Conference champion and D-II No. 1 seed – one day later before going on a two-month tear.
Weston Ranch coach Francisco Cisneros said his club has been driven by its 3-2 loss to Liberty Ranch in last year’s final.
The Cougars have a versatile attack led by striker Joseph Mayorca, the area’s top goal scorer with 32 strikes.
He was held scoreless by the Nighthawks on Wednesday, forcing Weston Ranch to look elsewhere for its offense. The Cougars found willing heroes in Angel Portillo and Omar Centeno, both of whom cashed in first-half headers.
Weston Ranch opened its doors in 2003 and never won a team section title. Standing on the brink of history for a second straight year, Cisneros relishes this opportunity to make school history.
To do so, though, they’ll have to slow down Cesar Balderas (18 goals, eight assists) and find a way to crack goalie David Solorio (.523 goals against average, eight shutouts).
“We still have that bad taste in our mouth from last year and it has been there all season long,” Cisneros told the Bulletin after Wednesday’s game. “We just wanted another shot at it and whatever happens happens. We will go there and play our game and see where that takes us.”
Ripon Christian will make its fourth appearance in a section final and first since 1996. The Knights’ only championship was in 1994 – seven years before Keith Terpsma took over the program.
This season has been memorable for many reasons. Ripon Christian captured the Southern League crown and its 21 victories are the most in the new millennium.