At 5 feet, 4 inches, Ripon junior Kirsten Duren doesn't look very intimidating as she approaches the net. Once she gets off the ground, however, it's a different story.
"She can jump out of the gym, which surprises people after looking at her," coach Larry Keethe said. "If she was 6-2, she'd be the most dominant player around. She's pretty dominant as it is, because she's so athletic."
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Duren led the Indians to a trio of three-game sweeps last week, totaling 24 kills, four blocks, 10 aces -- out of her 20 service points -- 21 assists and 31 digs. She is one of the Indians' two setters, but spends much of the match in the front row.
"We lost eight girls from last year, so we've looked to Kirsten to provide leadership," said Keethe, whose club reached the Northern California quarterfinals a year ago. "She really increased her vertical jump last year, and every season she comes back, she's gotten better."
It's been six years since Escalon High made some real noise in the Trans-Valley League soccer race, a drought that appears to have come to an end. Not only are the Cougars playing a role this season, they are alone in first place with a 5-0 mark.
Jose Bueno is one reason for that, having scored a goal in last week's 2-1 upset of TVL favorite Riverbank and another in an 8-0 victory over Hughson.
"We were down 1-0 to Riverbank late in the first half, we gave up a goal 50 seconds into the match, and put a free kick into the box," said co-coach Chris Oliveira, who shares the role with Paul Silva. "Jose blasted it past the goalie with just one touch. Jose's not big, but he's got a heck of a foot. It was huge because it gave us momentum at the half."
The 120-pound Bueno has six goals. He's only fourth on his team in scoring, but half of those have come in league play, helping the Cougars hold the top spot.
Johansen water polo
If the Vikings were just looking for quality competition, they could have spent last weekend battling in the Bay Area or on the Peninsula. Instead, they went to Newburg, Ore., and finished second in the Pacific Northwest Tournament.
"The reason we go each year is team bonding," coach Brent Bohlender said. "It's a fantastic trip to get the girls in tune with one another."
Hanson scored 17 of Johansen's 48 goals, as the Vikings went 5-1 and fell 8-4 to Newburg in the final. She also had a career-high nine goals in a conference win over rival Davis, and has helped fill the void left by the graduation of all-Stanislaus District players Ryley Plunkett and Melanie McBroom.
"Jodi has stepped up ... both defensively and on the offensive end," said Bohlender, whose Vikings were 11-0 before losing in the Newburg final. "It has been great as a coach to see this development."
After Pitman High's trip to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs ended with a penalty-kick loss to Franklin in the first round, the graduation of key players made it appear as if the Pride would have to rebuild its program this season.
So much for that idea. Forward Ruben Calderon has stepped into a leadership role and has the Pride playing as good as a year ago. He scored two goals in last week's 4-2 victory over crosstown rival Turlock, and had three goals and two assists in a 6-1 win over Golden Valley. He has 19 goals and five assists for the Pride (14-4-1 overall, 3-2 in the Central California Conference), and has them in the running for a conference title and another playoff berth.
Pitman had won six consecutive matches, and nine of its previous 10, prior to Tuesday's 2-1 loss to defending CCC champ Atwater. Pitman's Oct. 9 match against Buhach Colony could be for a playoff spot.
-- RICHARD T. ESTRADA