The girls soccer team that escapes Valley Oak League play with a conference championship this year is going to enter the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason like an apple that hit every branch on the way down.
Bruises are a certainty for VOL teams this year as they slug through a conference schedule that includes eight teams with a combined 30 wins against preseason opponents.
Reigning champ East Union (7-0) and Kimball (7-0) lead the pack, but Oakdale (6-2-2), Manteca (5-2) and Sierra (5-1-1) should be considered in the same breath.
“I think there are five teams that are very strong,” Oakdale coach Alfredo Quiroga said on Monday. “I think there could be a lot of surprises here. Preseason records can be misleading, but the VOL is really tough.”
Last year the VOL sent East Union, Manteca and Sierra into a Division IV playoff bracket where four games were decided in penalty kicks and all eight contests were decided by just one goal, or pushed into overtime.
The stanza was much like a league schedule that didn’t decide the final seeds until the last game of the season (Sierra tied Oakdale 1-1). There were an astounding seven ties in 2012 and fifth-place Kimball even tied first-place East Union.
It will be tough for teams to jockey for dominance again in 2013, but Kimball (37-2 scoring advantage against opponents) and East Union (27-2) seem the favorites to do so. Kimball didn’t give up a single goal during four wins to claim a Pitman Tournament championship while East Union did the same in a different bracket. East Union also blanked reigning Western Athletic Conference Champion, Patterson (17-3-3 overall), 6-0 on Feb. 28.
Oakdale’s ability to hang with the best of the VOL will depend on the skills of a small cast of seniors, coupled with a barrage of underclassmen filling vital roles on the team.
“Half of the team could play junior varsity, but we seem to play well together,” Quiroga said. “We have got a ton of speed and some talent.
“I think we are going to do well this year.”
Oakdale went 3-0-1 in the Pitman tourney, and then rallied to finish 1-1-1 in an incredibly competitive Buff Cup Tournament at Manteca. With several players departed for competitive soccer action, the team fell 6-2 to Liberty Ranch, but rallied to tie Colfax (16-1-3 Pioneer Valley League champs) 2-2 and beat reigning SJS Division VII champs, Millennium (14-2-1 Central California Athletic Association champs).
Oakdale’s 2013 success has so far ridden the efforts of standout senior Jill Kahler, who missed the end of 2012 with a severe ankle sprain. Kahler has nine goals in eight games with two assist recorded.
“Jill is playing very hard to get back into playing shape,” Quiroga said. “She hurt her ankle so bad last year, but she is scoring goals and she has trained real hard.
“Hopefully that ankle of hers stays healthy, as she is going to be a threat to other teams.”
Kahler, midfielder Gabby Acosta, defender Katie Odom and midfielder Jordyn Cooley are the only seniors on the team. The four captains are instrumental in the tutorship of a roster that includes six juniors, seven sophomores and four freshmen.
One of those freshmen is talented forward Madison Feuerstein, the sister of former OHS star, Kerri Feuerstein. The younger of the two has nine goals and five assists already amassed in 2013. She scored and assisted a goal against Liberty Ranch and also contributed to scores against Millennium and Colfax.
Feuerstein scored four goals against Pitman during a surprising 5-1 rout of the Pride on Monday. Kahler also scored in the win while Bailey Antonio, Taylor Rios, Izzy Arellano and Jazmin Velazquez had assists. Hannah Hanko and Mackenzie Weiglein combined for seven saves in the net.
“Madison is fast, and works real hard,” Quiroga said. “She doesn’t stop.”
With Feuerstein and Kahler working balls near the goal, Acosta adding tireless work at midfield and Odom anchoring a stout defensive unit, Quiroga feels Oakdale can keep any team within reach during league play.
Quiroga said he also expects big impacts from freshman midfielder Megan Burke, sophomore defender Alexis Halsey and host of other standouts.
“We have a good all-around team with a lot of players to choose from,” Quiroga said. “They will all have a big impact on the team.”
Quiroga said the team’s goal is to make the SJS playoffs and contend for a VOL title.
They make steps toward that aspiration on Thursday, March 7 during the conference opener against visiting Weston Ranch. Oakdale is at Manteca on March 12.