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The future is now for young Weston Ranch
Weston Ranch point guard Jaelen Ragsdale keeps his eyes open for a teammate while guarded by Mykhail Redman in last Thursdays barnburner at Lathrop High. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

Chris Teevan has no qualms about putting the weight of Weston Ranch’s rebuilding boys basketball program on the back of 5-foot-8, 150-pound sophomore Jaelen Ragsdale.

That was proven in last Thursday’s dramatic 63-62 win at Lathrop, where Ragsdale’s running floater down the lane decided it in the closing seconds.

“It’s kind of indicative of where we’re going,” Teevan said. “He made that shot in August because of how hard he has worked. I’m proud that he’s the face of our program and he’s leading us into our new chapter.”

It’s the biggest win of the season for the Cougars, who backed it up with another biggie Saturday. They held on to avenge their Valley Oak League-opening loss to Sonora on the road, 57-56. The Cougars (3-2, 7-10 overall) are riding a three-game winning streak — preceded by a seven-game skid — and are suddenly players in a crowded race for the VOL’s three berths to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

That they are even in the conversation is a surprise considering that no player on the 12-man roster has had a full season’s worth of varsity experience. Erron Duncan and Ragsdale were both elevated to the varsity for Weston Ranch’s postseason run as freshmen last year, but it was a senior-heavy squad that led the way to a VOL title share and a second-round appearance in the NorCal tournament.

Teevan decided to throw his core of youngsters — which includes four sophomores — into the fire by putting together a challenging nonleague schedule. The Cougars went 1-7 combined in the McDonald’s Classic and Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Classic, the two toughest tournaments in the region. A spring chicken himself at age 25, Weston Ranch’s second-year head coach hopes to enter the Central Section’s largest event, the 56th Annual Holiday Invitational Tournament hosted by Hoover High in Fresno.

“The way I schedule, I make it so kids who come to Weston Ranch have an opportunity to play against high level teams and gain exposure,” Teevan said. “We just try to be different than other teams in the area by challenging ourselves and competing. The schedule gets even tougher next year, but with a team this young we’ve just tried to be who we are.”

Two key additions to the team and a change in substitution patterns have ignited Weston Ranch’s sudden turnaround. Last week the Cougars welcomed senior Derek Gordon and freshman Tre Simmons, who had been lighting it up at the lower levels.

Gordon, at 6-3, 180  pounds, fills a huge need by giving Weston Ranch another active low-block presence in the post who can bang with the rest of the VOL’s bigs. Simmons is Ragsdale’s understudy at point guard and already a proven shooter at the varsity level. At Lathrop, he sniped three first-half 3-pointers and finished with 12 points.

“He’s a big addition to our team,” Ragsdale said. “He can shoot the ball and backs me up when I’m tired. He’s a good basketball player.”

Ragsdale averages 17.3 points and 4.6 assists, but Teevan is most impressed by the kid’s leadership.

“For him to give way to a freshman shows the kind of person he is,” Teevan said. “He walks Tre through stuff and wants him to get better, too. It’s total unselfishness. I love where our mindset is as a program.”

Teevan also implemented hockey-style substitutions last week, where up to five reserves replace the five players on the court. So far he is 3-0 with the new look.

“It gives us energy and confidence,” Teevan said. “You know you’re going to go in regardless and you don’t have to worry about making a mistake. We have so much depth, that’s something that we do have over some teams in league. We have 10 players that can function, and we’re going to have that depth for a couple of years.”

In the more immediate future, the Cougars have a chance to further establish themselves as a real threat in the VOL. They host East Union (1-3, 8-7) tonight before heading to Kimball (2-2, 12-5) on Thursday. A rematch with Lathrop and showdown with first-place rival Sierra loom next week.

“They’re growing up mentally,” Teevan said of his players. “Their focus is at an all-time high. In practice they have so much focus and they want to learn. Earlier in the year it was more like rolling out the ball and getting through practice a little bit. Now they’re honing their craft.”

• • •

Big week for Sierra boys

Sierra’s two-year title defense resumes tonight across town at Manteca High’s Winter Gymnasium.

The Timberwolves (4-0, 11-5) have an opportunity to gain a two-game cushion over the rest of the VOL’s contenders, a long list that includes the 3-1, 11-6 Buffaloes. Sierra is on a six-game winning streak and beating teams by an average margin of 17.3 points in the process.

Manteca’s 6-6 post standout Michael Hatfield will be tested by Sierra’s deep frontline anchored by 6-7 junior Joshua Patton. After that is a visit from dangerous Lathrop (2-2, 9-7) on Thursday.

• • •

Lady Cougars’ hot start

Weston Ranch’s girls have quietly recorded statement win after statement win to begin the VOL season. With the addition of Brookside Christian transfer Rauline Martinez, the Cougars (4-0, 11-5) are on pace to capture the school’s first-ever girls hoops title.

A pivotal three-game stretch is ahead for the Ranch. On Wednesday it heads to East Union (1-3, 8-7), which has two of the league’s top underclassmen in Olivia Vezaldenos and Loretta Kakala. This Friday the Cougars host Sierra (2-2, 10-7), another dangerous squad that already has big wins over Kimball and East Union. Then they take on visiting Kimball next Tuesday, Jan. 28.

If Weston Ranch can survive this three-game gauntlet it could have at least a two-game lead by the midway point of league.

• • •

Hoops for the Cure Classic

The fourth-annual event hosted by the East Union and Ripon girls programs will be held this Saturday starting with the freshman game at 3:30 p.m. The “Play in Pink” game will take place at the Ripon High North Gym on 301 N. Acacia Street.

This friendly rivalry has raised more than $15,000 for local women and families affected by breast cancer. There will be a presentation before the varsity game (7 p.m.) honoring cancer survivors and a check from last year’s proceeds will be presented to Triple Step Toward The Cure.

The festivities will include over 40 basket raffle prizes, a 50-50 raffle, T-shirts, cotton candy, face painting and balloon art. Gate and snack bar sales will all go to Triple Step Toward the Cure.