Shane Dill, Mariposa soccer:
During his first couple of years at Mariposa, Shane Dill spent most of his time on the front line, attacking the goal and leading the Grizzlies' offense. He's still playing near the goal this season, but his role has been reversed and now he's the one preventing opposing forwards from scoring.
"I've got a very balanced team and a number of players who are good with the ball on offense, but I needed someone at sweeper who had the right skills and knowledge," said coach Ray Gregory, whose Grizzlies are battling for the Southern League title. "Shane has personally allowed only three goals, so he's the right man for the job."
Dill played a key role in last week's wins, 2-0 over Delhi and 4-2 over third-place Le Grand -- a victory that sealed a playoff berth for the senior-laden Grizzlies.
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"You've got to have a player back there who has the quickness to react and protect the goal," Gregory said.
Kirsten Locke, Bret Harte golf
After two years of playing in her sister's shadow, Kirsten Locke had the opportunity to establish herself this season, and the junior didn't waste the opportunity. She was the most valuable player in the Valley Foothill League North Division, after averaging 3-over in nine-hole matches, and shot a 6-over 78 last week to win the individual league title at La Contenta in Valley Springs. She also led the Bullfrogs to their fifth consecutive league title.
"Caitlin (Locke) was our league MVP last year and now she's playing for St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas," coach Rich Cathcart said. "I know Kirsten has the same goal, to play in college."
A busy summer of junior golf not only helped Locke improve her club work, but provided the experience to deal with pressured-packed situations on the course.
"She's learned to relax more," Cathcart noted. "A year ago, she might have been tense, but not today."
Taylor Rocha, Golden Valley water polo
The Central California Conference has been anything but predictable this season, with different teams taking their turn atop the standings. One thing that Golden Valley coach Derek Price has always been able to count on, though, is that Taylor Rocha will be working hard at both ends of the pool.
"Taylor has a very natural instinct in the water," said Price, whose Cougars are battling for a playoff berth. "This helps him anticipate situations where he can make big plays offensively and defensively. Taylor is a young man who is always interested in improving his game."
Taylor scored four goals in each of the Cougars' CCC matches last week, a 12-7 upset of first-place Turlock and an 11-9 loss to third-place Atwater.
"We need to capitalize on our opportunities. In every game we've lost, we had chances to win," Price said. "(We) have to help each other play to their potential."
Emily Szabo, Turlock golf
There's always been something about elite competition that brings out the best in Emily Szabo, and it was no different during the Central California Conference Tournament at Pheasant Run in Chowchilla. The senior shot a 6-over 78 to win the individual crown and lead the Bulldogs to a team title and a berth in the Sac-Joaquin Section Tournament.
"I enjoy playing for myself, as well as for my team," said Szabo, whose competition included defending CCC champion Belen Hernandez of Golden Valley. "Belen is a good competitor and going against a player like her makes me play better."
Szabo, who shifted from a right-handed to a left-handed player at 9 years old, credited Henry Rios of Stanislaus Golf Course for improving her game.
"He's been great with his time," said Michelle Szabo, Emily's mother. "He was ill a while back, but he always had time for Emily. He's been a great supporter."
-- RICHARD T. ESTRADA