Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Patterson High boys soccer is the real deal

The end to the story the Patterson High boys soccer team scripted last year did not measure up to the rest of its storybook 2007 campaign.

The 2008 Tigers (10-2-1, 3-0-1) are once again loaded with talent. The question, however, is can they bounce back from last year’s end of the season heartbreak loss to Livingston?

For talent, Patterson starts with the core of Rodrigo Aldana, who should be one of the most feared offensive players in the Western Athletic Conference, having already scored 26 goals in the young season.

The Tigers’ Gerardo Cortez, Gustavo Molina and Michael Laines have also provided leadership and experience for Patterson against the always-tough conference schedule.

But, what has impressed me the most thus far, is that the success of the Tigers program comes from not being over-confident and playing as a unit. Patterson has scored 65 goals and 59 of those scores were assisted.

Patterson players apparently are encouraged by coach Greg Hartsell to use their creativity more this season. They seem to have moved away from the set plays that produced long passes. While those can lead to easy goals, they can produce more turnovers.

But, perhaps Hartsell’s best decision thus far, was his commitment to focusing on conditioning even before the season began. The team ran, ran and ran some more in the opening weeks of practice working on becoming physically fit.

And, it’s paying off.

Patterson has really learned to open up the field and use the whole field by passing the ball. With the talent they have, they should be able to control the ball much of the time and give it away as little as possible.

Hartsell’s attention to fitness seems to have caught on with the team. They are less-likely to run into problems with teams that play a more physical style.

Patterson’s soccer program has always had a solid pool of talent that forms the foundation of its success. While the Tigers are blessed with great soccer ability, success usually hinges on the team’s ability to center itself and respond to the teaching acumen of the coach.

That, to me, doesn’t seem to be much of a challenge. And, I don’t worry that they are peaking too soon.

The section playoff loss to Livingston was a bitter disappointment and — talking to several players — it hangs over the squad as its No. 1 motivating factor this season.

The competition — especially between Livingston and Hilmar — will not be any easier this season, but the Tigers should be looked at as a contender throughout the season.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tigers ready for upcoming season

The season is upon us when high school kids are hoisted onto a pedestal and created into local football heroes.

And Thursday, the Patterson High football team got their first chance at heavy hitting outside their own huddles.

It’s tough to tell exactly what the scrimmage between the Patterson and Ceres football teams means in the long run.

But the Tigers looked every bit the Western Athletic Conference title contender it’s hoping to be and Ceres looked every bit the inexperienced rebuilding team.

The good comes with the bad in any scrimmage situation, however, and that certainly was the case when Patterson coach Rob Cozart tested his Tigers squad in its final dress rehearsal before next weeks season opener against McClatchy.

Early on, the Tigers offense had their way in the proceedings. Senior Malik Okitukunda ripped off runs of 10 and 12 yards to show that quality running backs remain on campus despite the departure of key players from last season.

Patterson used four different backs on their first possession: Okitukunda, Siaosi Tupouata, Emmanuel Brooks and Larry Taylor.

Tigers quarterback Daniel Reza found plenty of time to spot receiver Ronyea Ellington, capping off the opening drive with a 4-yard score, thanks to the protection provided by the offensive line.

The Tigers offensive line appears to be a team strength, and honestly, that’s not a bad place to start. When the guys up front do their jobs well, everyone else on the unit becomes a better player.

The same can be said for the other side of the football. Patterson started slow on defense but improved as the scrimmage wore on. The stingy first unit allowed only a single touchdown against the much maligned — and overwhelmed — Ceres offense.

Each team had three 15-minute possessions — beginning at the 20-yard line — to execute as many plays as possible.

The Patterson offense was efficient, putting nine touchdown-scoring drives together, including six in the final 15-minutes of the scrimmage.

Reza looked calm in situations that forced him out of the pocket, often times surveying the field before tucking the ball away and breaking off big gain carries of his own.

As expected, Ellington looks to be his number one threat downfield, but junior Jake Saavedra proved to be a consistent option in check down situations.

But, it wasn’t just the first team offense that shined.

Back-up quarterback Wyatt Young showed his agility and break-away speed, scurrying for several big-yardage bursts, including a 56-yard scamper down the sidelines for a touchdown.

The offensive second unit also showed increased depth, including running backs Derrick Brown and Anthony Sanchez.

The Tigers open the season on Friday at home versus McClatchy High of Stockton. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sport imitates life

Why do sports matter?

For starters, sports mirrors life in so many ways. You get the minor ups and downs, the kinds of things that make you happy one day, sad the next. You get the tremendous joys with winning the biggest of the bigs, and the sorrow that comes from those last-minute, heart-breaking losses.

What makes sports so great is that every so often we fans are treated to an event that surpasses nearly everything else. A few short hours that make us forget about office productivity, the bills that need to be paid, the kids’ bad grades in his math class. We sit, entranced, watching stellar athletes compete at the highest levels, under the most pressure their sport can bring to bear.

We, as fans, also love stories. We more than love them, actually, we have a natural need to hear them and to tell them. Stories are driven by conflict, and sports, which is built on conflict in the abstract is a ready-made maker of stories.

Every game is a drama, and so is every season, every era, every career. Follow a sport for any length of time and a narrative begins to emerge. You begin to find heroes, villains, tragedies and happy endings, and you want to keep watching to see what happens next.

Sports also lets us simulate the experience of conflict — the anger, the triumph, the panic, the despair — while protecting us from consequences in real life.

That's why we love sports.