The Winter Sports season has already begun. Boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, and wrestling events are beginning throughout the valley.
Here are some storylines to watch:
Defending Sac-Joaquin Section champs play tough schedule
After winning the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title last year, the Modesto Christian boys basketball has a tough non-conference schedule this year in preparation for what’s likely to be a deep playoff run.
The Crusaders face nationally ranked Gonzaga Prep, Oak Hill Academy, and St. John Bosco in various tournaments. All three are ranked in the top 50 in the country by MaxPreps.
“We are going to show that we are better than our numbers because people have us ranked outside top 50 (Crusaders aren’t ranked in MaxPreps),” senior forward Aaron Murphy said. “We can go out there and play hard and show what MC does and nobody can beat us.”
Including Murphy (10.5 points per game), the Crusaders return three of their top scorers from last year and head coach Brice Fantazia said the strength of the team is going to be its depth.
“I think we have eight guys averaging over six points,” Fantazia said. “On a night-to-night basis, you are not going to need a guy to carry you. We have shooters, size, and guys who can attack. Just different ways to beat you.”
Modesto Christian also is in a new league.
After being in the now-defunct Modesto Metro Conference last year, the Crusaders are in the Tri-City Athletic League and will face Lincoln, Lodi, St. Mary’s, Tokay, Tracy, and West.
“There are going to be different challenges but good competition,” Fantazia said. “St. Mary’s is a top 10 team in NorCal. We are going to get everyone’s best every single night.”
As one of the five seniors on the team, Murphy knows the challenges the team will face.
“We gotta carry the weight of the seniors that got us here last year and we have to lock in as a team and play for each other,” Murphy said.
New league for Beyer boys basketball but same goal
After losing in the section championship the last two years, Beyer coach Kyle McKim said his team is “hungry” for a title this year.
“We have the same goals,” McKim said. “We got to the section championship in the last two years but couldn’t quite finish the goal. We want to finish the deal this year but we are focused on beating one team at a time.”
The Patriots are off to a 4-0 start and have five players averaging over 10 points.
Senior guard Dom Dancer is the leader of a very experienced (eight seniors) Patriots team.
“He impacts the game in a lot of ways,” McKim said. “He is averaging 10 points, five rebounds, and five assists. He is our best defender and does so many things to help the team.
The Patriots are entering their first year in the Western Athletic Conference after playing in the MMC last year. McKim said he has seen all the teams on film and saw Lathrop at the Modesto City Tournament last week and “top to bottom, there is a lot of athleticism in the league.”
Without a player over 6 feet, 4 inches on their team, the Patriots will rely on solid shooting and “play fast”.
“We share the ball really well,” he said. “Teams like that are the most fun to coach.”
Central California Athletic League Effect on Basketball
In Central California Athletic League football, Pitman and Turlock combined to go 9-1 this year and were undefeated against the Modesto schools (Downey, Enochs, Gregori, and Modesto).
Can there be that same dominance in basketball?
Turlock High’s boys and girls programs could be up for the task.
Senior Cameran Sherwood (15 points per game) leads the boys Bulldogs program while the girls team brings back two of their top three scorers from last year. The Bulldogs girls won the Central California Conference title last year while the boys finished in second place.
The Gregori boys and Enochs girls are the two Modesto teams which should be near the top of the CCAL.
Other Basketball Teams to Watch
Central Catholic: The Raiders have won three straight section titles (Div. IV in 2016 and 2017, Div. III in 2018). Four of the top five scorers from last year’s team return including sophomore Nic Sani (10.8 points per game, 8 rebounds).
Ripon: The Indians have a new head coach with Justin Graham taking over for Rod Wright. Senior forward Vincent Olmo has been a double-double machine this season and is averaging 17.8 points per game and 10.8 rebounds.
Ripon Christian: The Knights are the defending Div. VI champs and were the NorCal Div. VI runners-up. The Knights have started the season 3-2 but a couple of their key players (Cade Alger, Austin Ries) also are on the football team and haven’t played in any games yet.
Pitman: Sophomore Jessica Smith (10 points, 8 rebounds per game) leads the Pride.
Ripon Christian: Like their boys team, the Knights won the Div. VI title last year. Junior Morgan Van Elderan, who led the team in scoring last year, returns and already has two games with over 20 points.
State Wrestling Weekend could be a challenge
Oakdale coach Steve Strange said he wasn’t a “big fan” of the CIF’s decision to hold both the boys and girls State Meet championships on the same weekend and at the same venue. They’ll be in Bakersfield from Feb. 21-23, 2019.
“It makes for a really long weekend,” Strange said. “It’s more like a week. We have to leave on Wednesday and we don’t get home until Sunday.”
Sophomore Henry Porter and senior Gabe Martinez both finished second in the State meet last year for the Mustangs.
Strange also said if a wrestler were to make the finals in the state championships, they would have to weigh-in three times at one meet.
“That would be the first time ever in the biggest meet of the year,” he said.
Hotels are already “very expensive” Strange said, and a couple already were sold out when he started booking rooms last April.
Meanwhile, The CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Boys Masters Meet will be at Delta College on Feb. 15 and 16. CIF-SJS Assistant Commissioner Will DeBoard said the girls masters meet will most likely be at Lincoln High in Stockton.
Top Wrestlers to Watch
Besides Porter and Martinez, senior Ricky Torres is another Mustang to watch. Torres is ranked No. 5 in the 138-pound division by the California Wrestler and has earned medalist honors at the state meet twice.
Pitman junior Isriel Tubera is No. 6 in the 120-pound division while Turlock junior William Giron is No. 7.
Turlock senior Michael Jeffus is ranked second in the 285-pound division, the heaviest division. Jeffus, who finished fifth in the state meet last year, also plays football and was named the CCAL’s outstanding offensive lineman this year.
Top Soccer Teams to Watch
Enochs: The Eagles went undefeated in league last year but lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Eagles lost over half of their goal scorers (32 of 58) to graduation but bring back both goalies (seniors Gabe Hidalgo and Cody Caravalho).
Escalon: The Cougars only have lost three league games in the last three years and return senior Guillermo Alvarez, who had 60 goals last year and has over 100 in his career. Alvarez already has 10 in three games this year. Escalon lost in the Div. V title game last year.
Gregori: Gregori has won at least one playoff game in the last two years. Senior Axel Lomeli led the team in goals last year and is back and freshman Cesar Yepez had two goals in the Jaguars’ 4-2 win over Oakdale on Dec. 4.
Central Valley: The Hawks won the Western Athletic Conference for the second straight year last year and advanced to the Div. III championship, where they fell to Woodland. Senior and Stanislaus State-bound Jocelyn Lopez had 33 goals last year and is back as well as senior Jackie Sanchez, who had 15 goals last year. The Hawks are in the CCC for the first year.
Hilmar: The Yellowjackets haven’t lost a Trans Valley League game since 2016 but will look to avenge a 1-0 loss to Ripon in the Div. V championship last year. Sophomore Genavieve Fontes, who also played on the section champion volleyball team, has eight goals and five assists so far this year.
Ripon: The Indians are the defending Div. V champions and return their top three goal scorers as well as their starting goalie.
Turlock: Turlock won the CCC in the last two years but lost to Folsom in the playoffs in the first round in both years. The Bulldogs already beat Central Valley, 4-0, on Nov. 21.