It didn’t take long for the 12 underclassmen on Oakdale High’s varsity girls soccer team to grasp how strong the upper tier of the Valley Oak League truly is.
Oakdale (7-4-1 overall) slipped to 1-2 in conference play after a 3-2 defeat at Manteca on March 12 and a stunning 4-1 home loss to reigning VOL champs, East Union, two days later.
Seven days into the regular season, the Oakdale girls are already desperate for conference wins to stay in the mix for only three seeds from the VOL into the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Losing to teams not dubbed ‘The Kimball Jaguars’ is going to make that exceedingly difficult.
Kimball is still undefeated at 10-0 and defeated both of the teams Oakdale lost to in league. The Jaguars are loaded with experience, club talent and they play Oakdale twice in April.
Since East Union (2-1), Manteca (2-1) and Sierra (1-1) figure to be in the mix a year removed from their own playoff runs, Oakdale needs to stack up league victories to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight season.
The last time that happened was in 2006 and 2007, when a 6-5-1 Oakdale team lost the third-place tiebreaker (head-to-head) with Manteca, then went 7-6-1 (fifth) the following year. Sonora would win the section title game both years, despite losing to Oakdale in 2006. The VOL has won six of the last 10 division III and IV section titles and sent 12 teams to the SJS finale since 2002.
The top five VOL teams will look to add to those numbers this year.
“I feel that in this conference we have five teams pretty much very close to each other,” Oakdale coach Alfredo Quiroga said. “Kimball beat Manteca 2-0; Manteca beat Sierra 1-0; East Union lost to Kimball 2-1 and we lost 3-2 to Manteca.”
Oakdale’s one-sided loss to East Union is the exception to that run of tight contests, but it certainly didn’t start that way. The Lady Mustangs peppered the Lancer goal early, nearly scoring in the first five minutes when a sharp boot from Jill Kahler connected with the top crossbar.
Oakdale would rally to nab the first score (by Kahler) on a Gabby Acosta assist, but suddenly found themselves on the ropes during a violent seven-minute stretch of mishaps. East Union sent home a spectacular long-range kick into the top left corner, then added two more scores before the half could end.
When the Lancers tacked on one more in the second half, it was apparent that a game where Oakdale was poised to take a first half lead had translated to an out-of-hand shellacking at home.
But East Union coaches knew their team was in a fight.
“This was the best team we’ve played this season,” East Union head coach Jim Todd told the The Leader’s sister paper, Manteca Bulletin, afterwards.
Oakdale was at Lathrop on Tuesday, though results were not available at press time. The team is at Sierra on Friday for a key matchup of longtime conference stalwarts.