The Hanford boys and girls soccer teams will both be looking to build on their 2016-2017 seasons. The boys will want to get back in the playoffs, while the girls will try and take the next big step toward winning a league and Central Section title.
After winning 12 games during the 2015-2016 season and losing a quarterfinal match in a shootout, Hanford went 7-12 last season and 2-10 in the West Yosemite League.
But none of that matters to coach James Holocker. Entering his first season with the Bullpups, Holocker has coached at Division I schools in Clovis and Clovis North and was most recently at Kingsburg.
“I’m not basing anything off of last year except for the change of coaching staff,” Holocker said. “My biggest thing this year is I’m bringing a new system to them.”
Holocker has been focused on getting his team acquainted to the new system and said the boys, “have taken to it pretty well.” He wants to instill discipline and have the boys follow his lead when it comes to responsibility.
At first, they weren’t sure what to expect, but Holocker said they quickly realized he wasn’t going to budge with his style and the boys have followed suit.
“I’ve actually been very proud of even those kids that were a little hardheaded at first,” Holocker said. “They’ve really changed their mindset and have gotten on board and we’re pretty focused right now.”
Focused is a good thing since they opened the season on Tuesday against Sierra Pacific on the road and had a scrimmage against Corcoran on Monday.
Holocker was pleasantly surprised during that scrimmage saying the boys were more powerful than he anticipated. The big test for him, where he’ll really learn where his team stands, will be next week’s away match against Clovis North. Right now, he’s focused on making sure the boys learn how to play together and understand his fast-paced system.
One thing he has seen out of a couple of students are their leadership skills. He picked his captains based on their work ethic, their performance, what kind of people they are and the leadership they bring to the table.
Miguel Andrade, a cross country runner, is one of those captains. Holocker called him the most vocal person on the team during practice and always energetic. Francisco Ruiz is another captain on the team and was actually the first player Holocker handpicked to make the varsity squad.
“I based it totally out of his commitment to do everything I ever asked him to do,” Holocker said. “He works 110 percent. Not the most skilled player by any means, but definitely wanted to be part of this team and I use him as an example of how players should be.”
Before today’s matchup, Holocker said he wants to see his team apply the training they’ve done to the game and believe in the new system. With eight seniors and seven juniors there is experience on the team.
“Once they see the success in what I’m trying to have them do and what we’ve been training on doing, I think that their eyes will open up,” Holocker said.
He doesn’t want them falling back into their old habits.
After the first few games, I’ll have a really good idea of what kids I have, what kind of attitudes I have, their abilities compared to other teams,” Holocker said. “I’m eager to get two, three games into the season and see where I stand.”
There might be some early hiccups for the Bullpups, but look for Hanford to steadily progress as the season continues.
The girls team made a huge leap in the 2016-2017 season by finishing 12-4-2 and 9-2 in the WYL behind Redwood. They narrowly lost 2-1 in overtime at home in the quarterfinals, but their big improvement came after only having six wins during the 2015-2016 season.
The good news for the 2017-2018 season is most of the core will remain intact as they only lost four seniors from last year’s team. And they’ve already set some goals for themselves. The first goal was to avoid any major injuries, but after that they’re pretty ambitious.
“We have the mentality this year of one team, one goal and that one team is all as one,” coach DelRay Dias said. “That one goal is to win WYL and also win a Valley championship this year. That’s the goal of this squad.”
This team is built for it. The Bullpups have eight juniors on the team followed by four sophomores, four freshman and two seniors. The one invaluable thing they all have is experience.
In addition to last year’s painful home playoff loss, Hanford also lost in the opening round of the playoffs two years ago to Mission Oak, 2-0. As Dias put it, “they know what the taste of defeat is like, they don’t like it.”
Dias, who graduated from Hanford in 1996, started at Hanford in 2015 and told the girls that their goal was to win a Valley championship in the next four years. Entering his third year with the Bullpups, that goal is very much within reach.
Last season, the girls averaged 2.4 goals per match and allowed only 15 goals on the entire season — 0.94 goals per match — and had 10 shut out wins. Goalkeeper Hanna Murrieta, who enters her junior season, was a big part of that success with 105 saves on the season and allowed only five goals in WYL play. Expect her to only continue to get better.
“It’s going to be hard to top her phenomenal sophomore season, but she’s up to the task to do that,” Dias said.
Galilea Jimenez led Hanford with 10 goals last year as a freshman. They did lose third-leading scorer Michelle Silva, but Danae Hill, who had the nine goals last year, is back as a junior.
“A lot of these girls can play at the next level,” Dias said. “Whether it’s a community college or a [Division II] college … they could play and starting probably their freshman or sophomore years for those schools.”
Overall, this squad looks stronger than ever and their goal of a Central Section title is a reachable one. They’ll play their first game of the season on the road against Washington Union next Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.