Now in his seventh season, Weston Ranch boys soccer coach Francisco Cisneros understands the makeup of a Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section title contender.
Each season is long, he says, and to be crowned a champion requires a team with talent, tough skin and a growth mindset.
Enter this season’s Cougars, a high-powered, senior-heavy roster that has shown remarkable resolve and an ability to learn quickly from its mistakes. Entering Thursday’s league opener against Kimball, Weston Ranch was unbeaten in five matches, despite its first-half struggles and injury concerns.
“It’s a tough league,” Cisneros said of the VOL, “but what we have shown is that we’ve made adjustments from game to game, and we’ve improved from game to game. That says a lot right there. It’s a long season, and you want to get better as the season goes on. It’s a strong league, and you can’t predict how strong the other teams will be, but for sure, the VOL is a strong league.”
Cisneros has a team that could find itself in the running for a title. Through its first five games, Weston Ranch scored 16 goals with victories over San Joaquin Athletic Association foes Franklin and Stagg. The Cougars have also drawn with Tokay, Chavez, and Edison.
In the latest win, a 6-2 triumph over the Delta Kings, Weston Ranch received a hat trick from Elvin Bolanos on just four shots, and one goal apiece from Kevin Urrutia Hernandez, Jesus Vega and Bryan Rodriguez.
Bolanos leads the team with four goals, while Vegas and Rodriguez have three each. Sophomore Aaron Silva and Urrutia Hernandez have two goals apiece for the Cougars, who also tangle with Lincoln of Stockton (Saturday, Dec. 14) and Central Catholic (Dec. 19) before the holiday break.
“They’re hard workers, and we’re connecting pretty good. Our middles are working well with forwards, and every line is working well together,” Cisneros said. “If you watch the video, you can see we can connect 10 to 12 passes, no problem, and that’s just people doing their jobs and trusting others to do theirs.”
Cisneros credits the team’s early success to its ability to adjust, game to game, and sometimes, half to half. The Cougars’ latest adjustment spurred them to a 6-2 win over Stagg. Senior Armando Garcia move to center back against Stagg solidified the Cougars’ injury-plagued back line. With Garcia captaining the defense, Weston Ranch raced out to a commanding 5-0 lead the intermission.
“I was really impressed with Armando’s leadership on defense,” said Cisneros, also highlighting the play of goalie Francisco Vega.
Last season, Weston Ranch finished second in the VOL behind Sierra. East Union finished on the Cougars’ heels. Just three points separated the first three teams in the table.
“We are a team with a lot of potential in a very tough VOL,” Cisneros added. “We’ve shown that we can improve from game to game, and that’s a sign of a great team in the making.”