CCC almost too good for its own good in soccer

slynch@mercedsunstar.comOctober 29, 2012 

— Jimmy Brewer had a feeling it could come back to bite them.

The Central California Conference has been one of the most competitive soccer leagues in the Sac-Joaquin Section the last half decade.

It's showed with at least one team reaching the Division 1 semifinals in three of the last four years, beginning with Merced winning it all in 2008.

But with the section switching to a enrollment-based playoff system this year, the Atwater head coach was concerned the competitive nature of the league would count against them.

It did for some.

League champ Turlock was rewarded with the No. 2 seed in Division 2. Second-place Atwater and third-place Merced -- which tied with 23 points, just two behind the Bulldogs -- weren't treated as kindly.

The Bears earned the 12 seed in Division 1 and will open on the road today against Modesto at Downey High (5 p.m. start). The Falcons are the 13 seed in Division 2 and will travel to McNair (3 p.m. start).

"We feel like it prepares us for the playoffs, but when teams like Modesto go undefeated in league, you can make a case of us beating up on each other going against us," Brewer said. "I was thinking that being the second-placed team in a Division 1 league, we had a chance at hosting a first-round game.

"Obviously, that didn't work out."

The initial shock of the high seeds aside, Merced (11-7-8) and Atwater (11-7-7) appear to have favorable draws.

Assuming they can survive the first round, neither would have to face a traditional power until the semifinals.

Modesto (16-5-4) ran the table in the Modesto Metro Conference, but had mixed results against the CCC earlier in the season.

"It's hard to know what to make of early results," Merced coach Aaron Ruiz said. "The one thing we know is that they are big and physical.

"They score a lot of goals off of corner kicks and free kicks using that height, so we need to be prepared for that. We're not big and have struggled in physical games, so we need to come out and use our quickness to set the tone."

McNair (12-2-3) overcame a couple early losses to win the Tri-City Athletic League.

"We've heard from a couple schools that they're good athletes with speed and energy," Brewer said. "The one knock on them is they can be disorganized. So it's important we don't come out and allow them to settle in and get some confidence."

Atwater and Merced are two of five area teams with hopes of making a long playoff run.

Delhi, Hilmar and Gustine will all get underway on Thursday.

The Hawks (15-3-2) got the No. 3 seed in Division 5 and will host No. 6 Highlands.

Gustine (12-1-5) earned the two seed in Division 6 and will host No. 7 Summerville. The Redskins will look to make a run at the blue banner that has eluded them the last two years.

They may have to go through Division 6 No. 5 Hilmar to do it. The Yellowjackets didn't enjoy the kind of record they have in years past, but are playing in a smaller division because of the new enrollment set-up.

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsunstar.com.

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