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Championship Season For OJHS Eighth Grade Hoop Boys
Eighth grade BB
Completing back-to-back league championships and undefeated seasons, the eighth grade Oakdale Junior High School boys basketball team and Coach Bobby Cole are all smiles after claiming the league championship trophy. The squad has not lost a league game in two years. Photo Contributed

Coming home with their second straight league championship, the Oakdale Junior High School eighth grade boys basketball team captured the title on Thursday, March 2. In the championship game hosted at Salida Middle School, the OJHS Rams played Savage Middle School and closed out an undefeated season with a victory.

Head coach for the team in their eighth-grade year was Bobby Cole, a physical education teacher at the junior high. The squad also won the title as seventh graders, putting together an undefeated campaign last year as well, under the direction of coach Jackson Barnes, an OJHS math teacher.

The two-year undefeated champions, with names spelled as provided on the roster, are: Lane Legan, Beau Kesterson, Luke Kirkpatrick, Luke Sousa, Freddy Herschbach, Gage Ryland, Christian Amerine, Julian Velazquez, Estuardo Duque, Anthony Navarro, Max Birchall, and Michaelangelo De Leon.

Joining the team for the eighth-grade season and part of this year’s championship run were Bryce Busam, Hayden Bearg and Kaden Felix. Part of the seventh-grade championship, but not returning this season, was Orland Barnes.

“It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the development,” Coach Cole stressed. “We did want them to be challenged, so we played five to six games that were not on the schedule, sought out five or six extra games, one was in a tournament format; to their credit they beat those teams as well, they won those games.”

The Mid Valley Athletic League, MVAL, that the Rams play in includes Cardozo Middle School in Riverbank El Portal Middle School in Escalon, Modesto City Schools, Sylvan School District and more.

This season, looking for some additional competition Cole said they faced off with some squads from the foothills, Turlock, entered the Prescott Tournament, and more.

“Collectively, we were 39-0 between the two years,” Cole said of the team staying unbeaten during junior high. “This definitely was a special group of kids and, from a coaching standpoint, they have everything you want, they have all the positions covered from the guard to the wing to the center and also a deep bench.”

It’s a team, the coach noted, that doesn’t have to lean on “one guy to carry you” but has many players that can rotate in and not have the squad skip a beat.

“They’re pretty clutch,” Cole said. “When they had to buckle down, they did that.”

The players also were coachable and Cole said most were exposed to the sport of basketball early, with many of them playing travel ball, which he said definitely helps as they hit the court.

Coaching the team last season, as the Rams went undefeated as seventh graders, was Jackson Barnes. He said their success last year provided a solid foundation for another championship run this season.

“First and foremost, they are naturally talented and I can say with utmost confidence that, at least in seventh grade, last year I was extremely blessed and I was honored with the title of coach,” Barnes said.

And though he was honored to be their coach, Barnes said the make-up of the team was such that he didn’t have to offer much guidance; they knew what they wanted to do and how to get there.

“In all honesty, a chair could have coached them and they would have won the championship,” Jackson said, chuckling. “I take zero credit.”