COACH: Cade Tomasegovich, sixth season
LAST YEAR: 17-3-2 overall, 11-1-0 Western Athletic Conference (champion)
KEY LOSSES: Jessica Funston, Emily Martinez, Tessa Gonzales, Ali Pacis
KEY RETURNERS: Eliana Varela, Claudia Barron, Riquel Benitez, Karina Villafana, Shantel Perez
TOP NEWCOMERS: Karissa Cruz, Samantha Santana, Rebekah Ruiz
After winning two Western Athletic Conference titles in three seasons, the Patterson High girls soccer team no longer wonders if it has what it takes to earn a championship.
Patterson ran away with the WAC crown last year, posting an 11-1-0 league record and a 17-3-2 overall mark that included a 13-1-0 tear between March 10 and April 30.
This season, the Tigers are poised to challenge for another league title, according to coach Cade Tomasegovich, as long as injuries and bad grades don’t keep players off the pitch.
“I always try to be optimistic, but realistic,” Tomasegovich said. “Do I think this year’s team has the ability to equal last year’s performance? Yes. Do I think we can go further than we ever have before? Yes. … If this team can stay intact, we should surpass all previous accomplishments.”
The sixth-year coach is focused on improving the Tigers’ first-round exit from the 2012 Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.
Cosumnes Oaks High of Elk Grove edged Patterson 4-2 in a penalty kick shootout May 16 at Patterson Community Stadium. The teams had played to a 1-1 tie during 100 minutes of regulation and two overtime periods.
“Having goals of winning another WAC championship and a section championship are well within our grasp,” Tomasegovich said. “But it will take a tremendous amount of work to overcome the adversity that always finds its way into a season.”
Tomasegovich, who was named the WAC’s Coach of the Year in 2012 after leading the Tigers to four consecutive postseason appearances, thinks his players, particularly the veterans, are going to arrive game-ready.
“This season, there is more of a general excitement for what we can accomplish together,” he said. “I’m looking for dedication, attitude, effort and communication from my athletes. All of those intangibles are what really help to create a successful team. ”
Patterson lost a few players to graduation but returns a solid core of experienced varsity players. Tomasegovich expects all his returning players to be on the field and have an immediate impact.
Leading the charge will be two seniors, forward Claudia Barron and midfielder Eliana Varela.
In 2012, Barron came away with the league’s Most Valuable Player award. She displayed playmaking ability and finished the season with 27 goals and six assists.
Varela was also selected to the conference’s first team at the conclusion of the second 10-win league season in Patterson High girls soccer history.
Junior forward Riquel Benitez returns to the pitch after a sophomore season shortened by injury.
“Eliana, Claudia and Riquel have already stepped up as far as taking leadership positions on and off of the field,” Tomasegovich said. “Offensively, Claudia and Riquel are going to be a lethal combination. Eliana in the middle does a great job of getting that offense going.”
Also returning are sweeper Shantel Perez, midfielder Karina Villafana and forward Cristina Tinoco, all seniors.
“The seniors this year are all seasoned veterans, so their experience and leadership will help us a lot,” Tomasegovich said.
The coach said speed is among the 2013 Tigers’ advantages.
Junior halfback Karissa Cruz, junior forward Samantha Santana and senior Rebekah Ruiz are noteworthy newcomers to the team.
As the defending champion, Patterson is the league favorite, Tomasegovich said — at least until another team claims that honor.
“With this league you never really know what to expect,” Tomasegovich said. “I am expecting Livingston High to be strong this season. Then, there is always Central Catholic High (of Modesto). Even when they don’t have the strongest squad, they always bring it against us.
“As far as playoffs go — anything less than a shot at the section championship will be disappointing.”
Patterson opens the season at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at Patterson Community Stadium, Ward and Salado avenues, against non-league opponent Downey High of Modesto.
Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187, ext. 28, or email@example.com.