Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: Manteca boys basketball

Imagine a starting lineup of a returning section semifinalist high school boys basketball team with three players at 6-foot-7 or taller. A little bit intimidating, isn’t it?

Now imagine all three of them are All-Area, if not All-Section caliber players, two of whom are related and have played AAU basketball together?

For any opponents in the Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section, that should be downright terrifying.

And thus, Manteca boys basketball hopes to strike fear in the hearts of its opponents this coming season, and then strike down those same opponents with authority.

The Buffaloes feature returning senior forward Anand Hundal (6-9), a second-team All-Area pick and the No. 2 shot blocker in the state a year ago. Then there’s Kenny Wooten, a 6-8 senior and transfer from Stagg, who had to sit out his junior season. He’s a double-double waiting to happen and led the Delta Kings to the section playoffs as a sophomore.

Finally, there’s 6-7 junior Tydus Verhoeven, a guard-forward-wing hybrid who should be more polished and nearly unstoppable offensively as an upperclassman. The three of them combine with Lincoln transfer Dwight Young and returners Frankie Lopez and Tyler Graves-Kelso to make an instant section championship contender.

For the record, it would be Manteca’s first since 1987. And second year coach Brett Lewis, an East Union grad, hopes to be playing at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento this March.

Manteca boys basketball is without a doubt one of my Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16.

Last season, the Buffaloes earned the No. 5 seed in the Division III playoffs, and advanced to the semifinals before being smacked by VOL and intradistrict foe No. 9 Weston Ranch by 20 points.

In that game, Manteca’s energy was lacking at time, and its size advantage morphed into a speed advantage for Weston Ranch. But this will be a much better team, and hopefully for Lewis, an angrier team after that loss. Plus, Manteca lost two close league games to four-time defending VOL champion, last year’s Div. III section champion and NorCal semifinalist Sierra, the arch rival.

MORE TEAMS TO WATCHStagg footballWeston Ranch boys basketballEast Union girls soccerSierra footballWeston Ranch boys soccerTracy baseball, St. Mary’s girls basketball

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Phone: 209-546-8272

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Who’s Replacing Ed?: Top Choices from the Area

In case you haven’t heard, Pacific announced Tuesday that baseball coach Ed Sprague has resigned after 12 seasons guiding the Tigers.

And, director of athletics Ted Leland said a nationwide search will be conducted. Still, we know from two of the more recent mainstream sports changes — Ron Verlin (men’s basketball) and Bradley Davis (women’s basketball) — that Pacific doesn’t mind choosing a new head coach from its own pantry.

With that in mind, here’s a look at a few of the most qualified, or potentially fitting coaches from the area.

NOTE: This blog is merely speculative. I have not been given a list of interview candidates or anything of that nature. I have also not heard anything about official interest from these coaches, or vice versa from the university for that matter. This is just for fun. Please keep that in mind.

REED PETERS (Delta College)

All Peters has done with the Mustangs is win. In his first year, in 2008, Delta qualified for its first playoff appearance in 20 years. After that, it was a state runner-up (2009), a state champion (2011), a California Elite 8 finalist (2013) and a state runner-up again in 2014 and last spring.

He’s also got NCAA Division I experience as a head coach, after guiding Air Force Academy from 1999-2003. In fact, he was the Mountain West Conference’s Coach of the Year in 2002. His son Cade Peters, a recent St. Mary’s graduate, will be play for Air Force, too.

So Peters has won in Stockton, and he’s won at the Division I level. He obviously knows how to recruit (though recruiting to a low-priced institution like a community college hardly compares to the annual fees at a West Coast Conference private school).

He’s worth a look from the Tigers if nothing else.

MIKE McCORMICK (Pacific)

McCormick, who was last a head coach with Gavilan College in Gilroy in 2002 and 2003, also served as a Chico State assistant and recruiting coordinator before coming to Pacific in 2009.

If the Tigers should go in-house for their new hire, as they did with Davis last school year, McCormick would make the most sense. As Sprague told me Tuesday he feels McCormick deserves his shot in Division I. (Sprague also pointed out assistant Joey Centanni as a great young coach).

He took over the recruiting responsibilities this year, and that experience and his eye for pitching could help Pacific in the long run.

QUINCEY NOBLE (McNair)

This would be an odd choice given how long the two have been apart, but you never know.

Noble coached Pacific from 1989-2002 — Sprague took over in 2004 — and has been McNair’s varsity coach the past decade.

He seems to take a lot of pride in establishing the Eagles, as they won their first league championship this year, but if the Tigers were interested it would make sense to at least take the call.

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

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Phone: 209-546-8272

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: St. Mary’s girls basketball

St. Mary's girls basketball celebrates its CIF State Open Division championship March 28 in Berkeley. CRAIG SANDERS/FOR THE RECORD

The scary part for the rest of California about watching the St. Mary’s girls basketball team win the CIF State Open Division championship? Only two of them would be lost to graduation.

Carlissa Shipp (Cal State Stanislaus women’s basketball) and Kendle Norgaard have moved on, but the vast majority of St. Mary’s, which went 34-1 and ended the season on a 29-game winning streak, returns.

That includes incoming sophomore forward Aquira DeCosta, the No. 2-rated prospect in her class and a recent member of the USA Basketball U16 team; senior guard Kat Tudor, who’s got around 30 NCAA Division I offers hanging around, and is one of the best 3-point shooters in the state; senior guard Mi’Cole Cayton, a Nebraska verbal commit who scored a team-high 21 points in the state title game against Mater Dei; junior point guard Sierra Smith, only 14 years of age, who went to the USA U16 tryouts and will play for a power conference team in college if she wishes.

St. Mary's Mi'Cole Cayton drives during her team's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I finals win over Sacramento-McClatchy. (RECORD FILE PHOTO)

Plus, senior forwards Angel Johnson (D-I offers) and Sydney Fadal (Pacific verbal commit), junior guard Naje Murray (D-I offers, one of the best offensive players in the area if not the section), sophomore forwards Neenah Young and Ariel Johnson and more are in-tow. And who knows what freshmen they’ll include.

That’s why, as obvious as any other in the group, St. Mary’s girls basketball is one of my Ten Teams to Watch for 2015-16.

St.  Mary’s state championship was the eighth in school history, and a record seventh for coach Tom Gonsalves alone. Only Brea Olinda (nine) is ahead of the Rams for state championships. I imagine, unless Brea Olinda wins another, that’ll be a tie next spring in Berkeley.

MORE TEAMS TO WATCH: Stagg football, Weston Ranch boys basketball, East Union girls soccer, Sierra football, Weston Ranch boys soccer, Tracy baseball

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Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: Tracy baseball

The Tracy baseball team made program history by advancing to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South finals. Yet, the season finished painfully for the Bulldogs.

In a decisive winner-take-all game, Tracy fell 3-2 to Tri-City Athletic League rival St. Mary’s. Thing is, seven of the Rams’ usual position players and their top two starting pitchers have graduated. Tracy brings back all four of its potential starting pitchers, including incoming junior and first-team All-Area selection Cody Bolton.

Plus, seven of Tracy’s usual starting nine in the batting order are coming back, including second-team All-Area picks Lee Brewer and Cameron Hoff, and honorable mention selection Garrett Cichella.

That’s why Tracy is one of my Ten Teams to Watch for 2015-16. They split a TCAL title with St. Mary’s and Lincoln, but those teams were super- , mega-senior heavy. Not Tracy.

Throw in Nate George (designated hitter, No. 2 spot), Kevin Saenz (catcher), Bolton, Noah Denoyer (starting pitcher), Brett Mansell (infielder, starting pitcher), Lee Brewer (third baseman, home run hitter), Cameron Hoff (right fielder, cleanup hitter), Garrett Cichella (third baseman, No. 3 hitter), Christian Rosette (left fielder) and Chandlyr Metal (first baseman) and they are frighteningly experienced in the starting lineup.

Plus, coach Vic Alkire, 71, has been coaching this team since the early ’90s. Tracy’s never won a section championship, and although it’ll be difficult to come out of the South bracket, much less win the whole thing, it may its best shot.’

MORE TEAMS TO WATCH: Stagg football, Weston Ranch boys basketball, East Union girls soccer, Sierra football, Weston Ranch boys soccer

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

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BREAKING: Pacific baseball coach Sprague resigns

STOCKTON — Pacific director of athletics Ted Leland announced today that Ed Sprague has resigned as head baseball coach after 12 seasons.

Sprague, a St. Mary’s High graduate, went 250-406 — a .381 winning percentage — in his time guiding the Tigers. This spring brought high expectations for a veteran team, but Pacific finished with 14 wins and in second-to-last place in the West Coast Conference.

“We are thankful for everything coach Sprague has done for the program and the institution,” Leland said, according to a statement. “He has done a great job building the infrastructure of the program and we wish him well.”

Twenty-one players were selected in the Major League Baseball draft in Sprague’s tenure, including outfielders Gio Brusa and Tyler Sullivan and infielder Brett Sullivan from this year’s club.

Sprague is the only baseball player in history to have won a World Series, an NCAA title and an Olympic gold medal. His son, Jed Sprague, was a true freshman on the 2015 Tigers.

“I’d like to thank the entire community, alumni, current players and coaches for all of their support and commitment to Pacific baseball these last 12 years,” said Sprague, the 16th coach in program history, according to the statement. “Although I’m looking forward to exciting new opportunities in my life, I am confident in the future success of this program and I’m proud to leave Pacific a better place.”

Check back with recordnet.com later today and Wednesday’s Record for the full story.

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: Weston Ranch boys soccer

Even for great teams, a championship campaign can be a glimmer; a shooting star in an otherwise smoggy sky full of mediocre seasons. Yet, that’s not the case for the Weston Ranch boys soccer team.

The confident, electric, undersized but overwhelmingly talented Cougars made school history last fall, winning a Sac-Joaquin Section championship. It wasn’t just their first section banner as a program, but the first for Weston Ranch in any sport.

And, some of its best players are coming back.

That includes incoming senior Joseph Mayorca, who overpowered the Valley Oak League and the rest of the Cougars’ opponents with a team-high 32 goals a year ago, to go with seven assists. Kevin Medina, another incoming senior, posted 10 goals and nine assists.

Weston Ranch is a great choice to repeat as a section champion, behind coach Francisco Cisneros, and that’s why the Cougars are the next installment of my Ten Teams to Watch for 2015-16.

The Cougars went 24-2-3 a year ago,  losing only to Galt and Atwater, and drawing with Oakdale, Grace Davis and Modesto. Opposing attackers went oh-for-the-playoffs against Weston Ranch, as the Cougars outscored their opponents 9-0 in the Div. IV bracket.

MORE TEAMS TO WATCH: Stagg football, Weston Ranch boys basketball, East Union girls soccer, Sierra football

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: Sierra football

Sierra tailback Mark Paule Jr., right, is ready to have another phenomenal season. (CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD)

Sierra High football's Mark Paule Jr. (right) and his Timberwolves are going to be a force once again. (CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD)

The Sac-Joaquin Section should not sleep on Sierra football again.

Certainly, they weren’t supposed to be a top seed a year ago, and ran through the regular season 9-1, splitting a Valley Oak League championship with eventual Division III champion Oakdale, and earning the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

It could be easy to underestimate this Sierra team, too, because it loses prominent players to graduation: quarterback Devin Nunez, wide receiver Hunter Johnson, defensive lineman Labron “LJ” Alofaituli, linebacker Trevon McCray and offensive linemen Connor Melton and L.J. Valencia to name a few.

Yet, some vital pieces remain, and the Timberwolves should compete in the VOL, if not Div. III.

Sierra brings back incoming senior tailback Mark Paule Jr., who took to varsity football incredibly, posting 2,024 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns, with a receiving touchdown and a passing TD. On the other side of the ball, senior defensive lineman Joshua Fala reportedly has an offer from Colorado State. Seuseu Alofaituli (Jr.) and Daniel Wyatt (Sr.) are vital defensive backs, and Wyatt should be a prolific wide receiver for the offense as well. Senior defensive lineman Andrew Guevara is a constant threat for a sack.

Marcos Castillo, an incoming junior, can punt, pass, run and play defensive back for the Timberwolves.

And that’s why Sierra, likely to be underrated again, is one of my Ten Teams to Watch for 2015-16.

  • Revenge for Harbison’s crew: Despite Sierra’s success a year ago, being upset by No. 10 Rio Linda in the quarterfinals didn’t sit well. So expect Paule Jr. to run angry, and for the defense to remember that in vital games against Oakdale, Manteca and Central Catholic.
  • Quarterback question: Will Castillo, a dual threat guy, get the nod at quarterback or will somebody new emerge? I’m looking forward to finding out.
  • Notable matchups: Sierra travels to Central Catholic and Oakdale this year, two home upset wins in 2014, but brings Manteca to its house.

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: East Union girls soccer

When a high school soccer team wins consecutive section championships, and its two most prolific players just finished their sophomore years, you know it’s probably dynasty time.

Such is the case with East Union girls soccer, which blanked rival Manteca 2-0 for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III crown this May at Lincoln High. Lancer sophomores in striker Ilena Rivera and midfielder Jenna Zuniga connected throughout the season. In fact, Rivera scored both goals in the section finals.

The Cal State Stanislaus verbal commit is 4-foot-8, but attacks 50-50 balls in the air for headers like Abby Wambach.

Zuniga sends in succinct corner kicks, and feeds her teammates consistently as an unselfish force behind the offense. Not to mention, incoming sophomore Clarissa Lecce scored 11 goals, and incoming seniors Arianna and Bella Cardenas had five each. Senior goalkeeper Anna Wood will be missed.

Yet, the Lancers are undeniably one of my Ten Teams to Watch list for 2015-16, which so far has included Stagg football and Weston Ranch boys basketball. Remember, these teams are not ranked, or in any order. Here are a couple thoughts on East Union:

  • Polanco’s potency: Victor Polanco, an El Salvador native, moved to the United States in 1985. He’s fluent in English, and has been for a long, long time, and is refreshingly honest about his team, its goals and its prowess. The Lancers are 39-0-1 with two section championships in his two-year tenure as head coach. At some point he’ll lose a match, but it might not be until Rivera and Zuniga graduate.
  • School swagger: Four days after the girls soccer team won a section title, the East Union softball team slammed Woodland-Pioneer in a finals doubleheader for a Div. III title. Both teams have a chance to repeat, football should be improved, girls basketball should be strong again and, there’s plenty of reason for optimism at that school.

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Phone: 209-546-8272

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By the Numbers: Stockton Ports

It’s an exciting time to be  a Ports fan. Stockton has two of the top three rated Oakland Athletics prospects, has won nine consecutive games to end the first half of the season, and has no reason but optimism for challenging for another second-half Cal League North Division championship.

So, here’s a quick look at the Ports by the numbers:

38: Considering Stockton limped through most of this season playing sub-.500 baseball, it’s pretty incredible that it’s currently 38-32 on the year. After a five-game winning streak to start June, the most recent stretch, and taking 16 of 20 games so far this month, it’s a reality.

11: Matt Chapman, the Ports’ third baseman and the A’s No. 3 rated prospect, leads the club with 11 home runs. He’s got some big shoes to fill as far as power hitters go. In 2014, first baseman Matt Olson — currently with the double-A Midland RockHounds in Texas — blasted 37 home runs. Renato Nunez, with Olson in Midland, hit 29 of them.

6: Dylan Covey, the Ports’ lone Cal League all-star representative, leads the club with six wins pitching. Ironically, Covey went to San Diego: a West Coast Conference foe of Pacific.

12: Stockton closer Brendan McCurry is tied for second in the Cal League with 12 saves, to go with a sub-3.00 ERA.

67: Manager Rick Magnante, one of the better interviews I’ve encountered, is 67 years old and loves the game of baseball dearly. “Very few people get an opportunity in the short visit we have here on earth to do what they love to do, and to make a living at it,” Magnante told The Record’s Scott Linesburgh. “So, I feel blessed every day that I can put on the (uniform) and be a part of young men’s lives and hopefully help them realize their dream of playing in the big leagues. I’m grateful for that chance.”

19: The Ports’ top-rated prospect, A’s No. 2 man and shortstop Franklin Barreto, is a Venezuela native who’s just 19 years old. Eventually, his baseball talents will be his claim to fame. Now, it’s a tougher one — as he was a key piece of the trade that sent All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to Toronto.

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Phone: 209-546-8272

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: Weston Ranch boys basketball

Weston Ranch guard Fred Lavender, an incoming senior, is a key part of the Cougars' quest for a section championship. RECORD FILE PHOTO

Chris Teevan was downright gleeful.

The Weston Ranch boys basketabll coach, in his third year, had just watched his team, a No. 9 seed, rock Valley Oak League foe Manteca by 20 points in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento.

And as I waited in the hallway for postgame interviews, an elated Teevan grabbed myself and James Burns, now of The Modesto Bee, to come listen to his speech to his team. It was one which finished with the saying, “For the Ranch, already!” — a phrase created by James Nunnally, a Weston Ranch and UC Santa Barbara grad who’s played professionally in Greece, Puerto Rico, Spain, Italy, in the NBA D-League, and briefly, with the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers.

While Teevan and company weren’t able to complete what they really wanted, the program’s first section championship run, they were a win away, and return several vital players to try and do it again in 2015-16.

And that’s why Weston Ranch boys basketball is the second entry on my list of the Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16. We began Tuesday with Stagg football. These are not ranked, nor are they meant to exclude some other worthwhile teams, but to give a nod to those who will feature talented returners and more.

Here are some thoughts on Weston Ranch:

  • Jaelen’s World: This team should have some balance. But really, the spotlight is on incoming senior guard Jaelen Ragsdale, and how he can cap an already impressive high school career. Ragsdale, a first-team All-Area guard, averaged around 20 points per game, and was an exceptional deep shooter, slasher to the basket and offensive and defensive playmaker. He’s one of the top All-Area Player of the Year candidates for 2015-16, and he’ll have to be a vocal leader and the heart and soul of this now more-experienced crew.
  • Veteran lineup returns: Forward Jordan Tauga was the only senior in the starting lineup, and key 6th man Jazz Swanson, a deadly 3-point shooter, came off the bench down the stretch. So, Ragsdale and incoming seniors Fred Lavender, Charles Udeze or Jordan Strane and Josh Dilg, and junior Tre Simmons will likely constitute an experienced starting five. Strane provided one of the funnest moments of Weston Ranch’s playoff run, throwing down a fastbreak dunk as Weston Ranch pulled away from Manteca in that semifinal, as Teevan and his bench hopped up and down with glee.
  • Brutal VOL: Sierra, the defending Div. III champion, does lose All-Area Player of the Year Joshua Patton (Sacramento State men’s basketball), first-team All-Area forward Hunter Johnson (Cal Maritime men’s basketball) and guard Devin Nunez to graduation. But incoming senior Daniel Wyatt is one of the top guards in the area, and 6-foot-4 forward Jess Spivey, another senior, is a double-double waiting to happen. And don’t even start on Manteca, as Stagg transfer Kenny Wooten (6-8, senior), second-team All-Area forward Anand Hundal (6-8, senior) and wing Tydus Verhoeven (6-7, junior) form an unreal triumvirate. Weston Ranch will be exhilarating, but has some work to do, too. It’s only appropriate, given three of four Div. III semifinalists last year were from the league, not including Fairfield-Vanden.
STAY TUNED: The rest of the Ten Teams to Watch list will roll on, continuing this week on Thursday and Friday, and next week from Monday through Friday as well.

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

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