If the Valley Oak League is a prizefighter, then Oakdale High’s varsity boys soccer team should be ready for punches from every angle when the Mustangs kick off conference play on Sept. 11.
A tumultuous preseason schedule has awarded Oakdale with one-score losses in five matches and a rough and tumble 1-6-1 start to the year. Oakdale’s only contest not decided by two or fewer goals was a 7-1 knockout of Hughson on Aug. 28 — Oakdale’s only home contest this season.
And the losses mean little.
The Sac-Joaquin Section doesn’t use preseason contests to seed the soccer playoffs (like football, water polo, volleyball), and quality opponents should only better prepare Oakdale for a conference that has sent 12 teams to the Division III and IV section finals (five champions) since 2002. Oakdale is looking to improve upon last year’s 5-7-2 VOL finish.
“We are developing, making progress and focusing on our defense right now,” Oakdale coach Alfredo Quiroga said. “The idea is to turn things around little by little in a progressive way to prepare for league.”
The Mustangs were dealt a staggering blow this preseason when learning that top goal scorer from 2011, Javier Aguiniga, will miss most of the season with a knee injury.
Aguiniga’s nine scores were tops on an offense that saw goals from 11 different players (eight with three or more scores) in 2011. Since Oakdale was relatively young in 2011 (only six seniors), the team returns eight of the 11 to net scores.
Atop that list are junior forward Davis Harper (four goals, five assists in 2011), junior midfielder Oskar Nilsson (four goals, three assists) and senior forward Sergio Gutierrez (five goals).
The three have combined for 12 goals and four assists (all assists from Harper) thus far in 2012. Oakdale has 16 goals and 13 assists overall, having allowed only 17 goals despite the poor record.
“We are working on being more aggressive, knowing what to do with the ball after we get it,” coach Quiroga said. “It’s a possession game and we need to string more passes together.”
Quiroga said his squad has worked hard in the offseason to follow instructions and Oakdale’s game plan. He said the team will be ready for league.
Sean Harrity, Oakdale’s top returning protector of the goal box, echoes the sentiment from the center of the Mustang defense. Harrity was named to the All VOL second team at last year’s coaches meeting. Harper (second team), Aguiniga (second team) and Nilsson (honorable mention) were also recognized.
“I think we have a pretty good team and will go pretty far,” Harrity said on Sunday. “The kids coming from JV are getting their feet wet towards the varsity flow of the game.
“I could see us making the top three (in the VOL) and qualifying for playoffs.”
Harrity said he has plenty of confidence in junior keeper Zeke Spani (35 saves this year) and expects his teammates to help support a stiff defensive line. Spani was Oakdale’s junior varsity defensive MVP last year. Christian Acosta (junior) and Bryce Hobbs (freshman) are also key contributors on defense while freshman David Serrano should add depth to Oakdale’s offensive attack. Serrano already has a score this year, as do seniors Miguel Barajas and Daniel Martinez (two goals).
As young as Oakdale was last year, the team is again sporting youth in 2012. Only four seniors are on the varsity roster, with Aguiniga not listed. The team has four sophomores (Raymond Glow, Tony Ott, Gabriel Ramirez and Jose Becerra) and 11 juniors.
Oakdale was at Beyer on Tuesday, but results were not available at press time. The Mustangs can close the preseason on a high note by beating visiting Enochs during the first night game of the year at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.
“Sometimes it’s a little frustrating, but it is interesting to see how the team reacts to stuff that doesn’t go our way,” Harrity said. “It’s been a lot of fun and I love playing every minute.”
Harrity is also Oakdale’s kicker on the varsity football team. He missed Oakdale’s soccer action in the Gregori tournament on Thursday and Friday to play Oceanside in Westlake Village (near L.A.). Harrity was a perfect 2 for 2 on extra points as Oakdale slipped to a 34-14 defeat.