MOMENTS OF TRUE BRILLIANCE SHINE IN TURBULENT START TO FALL SPORTS SEASON
HUGHSON, CA - The resurgent Waterford Wildcats sports program’s start to the 2017-2018 school year has not gone exactly as planned or expected. Last year was statistically the best year in terms of overall wins and across all sports in the school’s history according to max preps. Only two Waterford teams had losing records, with two JV teams going undefeated (Girls Soccer & Basketball) and the Girls Track & Field team winning a Southern League Championship. The Football program which was widely predicted to win only a couple of games last year, ended up 5-5 and finishing strong against Gustine and Denair. The underestimated Wildcats of last year are now on the radar this year and have been predicted to be a playoff threat across most of the board. Adversity however, has hit the fall Wildcat teams early and how they handle it will determine the final outcome this season.
CROSS COUNTRY CONTINUES PROGRAM GROWTH:
In the second year under Head Coach Barry Wixom the Wildcat Cross Country team has exploded from a baker’s dozen a couple years prior to 37 runners this season. Last season both the Boys and Girls teams were in the running for a Southern League Title during the Championship Race and the core of each team remains. On Thursday Waterford Cross Country ran a two-mile race in unforgiving heat and placed well. Adal Robles medaled for the Boys and Addison Keathley for the Girls. The course was described as “very difficult” in an e-mail by Coach Wixom. He feels that this race will set his teams up well for the first Southern League race next week. Both the Boys and Girls Cross Country teams are considered serious title contenders in the Southern League this season and many individual runners are expected to advance to the Section Masters race this fall.
VOLLEYBALL LOOKING TO FIND THEIR GROOVE:
I was able to attend the foundation game between Hughson and Waterford Monday night. Having the pleasure of reporting on Waterford sports for the last couple of years, I have gotten to see the Lady Cats Volleyball program in action many times. Hughson has always had a powerful program full of club players and I was not expecting the Lady Cats to threaten the Huskies all the much. However, in the first two sets the Lady Cats were leading about halfway in. While the Lady Cats would drop the foundation game against Hughson 3-0, there were real moments of brilliance from many players. It was also clear to me that Head Coach Lisa Haskins was playing many of her players to find the best rotations for later this season. The Lady Cats have graduated two key players in the last two years. Former shutdown middle Cali Miller and power hitter Emily Ward. Like all teams who lose big players, new younger players have to find a way to fill those gaps. This year’s Lady Cats have some serious new talent on display. Emily Ward’s younger cousin, Allison Ward, is a first year varsity player and she was both agile and consistent. Only a Junior, she could be a real threat for two years, Allison was a defensive star for the Lady Cats showing the Volleyball blood runs deep in the Ward clan. Trying to find strong kills, both Jacelyn Romero and Morgan Keeney were able to put down well placed kills on the stout Hughson Defense. Brianna Lemus was able to make some spectacular saves that were highlight reel worthy. While the Lady Cats have started off a disappointing 1-3 this season, there is plenty to like about this team as they prepare to head into Southern League play. If they can find consistency and a rotation that has real chemistry together, they will certainly be a playoff contender.
FOOTBALL STARTS STRONG AGAINST HUGHSON:
Friday night the Wildcats Football team roared in the 1st Quarter against their cross river rivals the Hughson Huskies. The Wildcats defense stopped the powerful huskies stone cold on the first drive of the game and the offense went down and scored on a beautiful passing touchdown thrown by Quarterback Michael Vivo. Head Coach Lonnie Statzer was his usual animated self, reacting to each Wildcat big play with likely the same youthful energy he had back in his own high school days. Despite the early success however, things slowly went against the Wild Cats. It was one of those games that seemed to have a flag thrown every other play. Making for a grueling three-hour long game, a game which already started late at 9:00 PM because of excessive heat I might add. The Wildcat offense stalled in the 2nd Quarter and penalties & mistakes began accumulate. A killer pick-six was thrown in the second quarter that the Wildcat’s were just not able to overcome despite playing hard-nose football with a bigger school all night. The Wildcat Defense played spectacular and kept Waterford in the game throughout. The offense threw two interceptions and when big plays were made they were often called back on one of the frequent penalties called against both teams. At one point in the game Waterford had an improbable 8 flags thrown on them in a row. That forced a 4th and near 50 yards to go. It had to make everyone scratch their head a bit and it certainly took the air out of what was a very competitive and fun game. I always find it disappointing when the officials in any sport seem to over shadow the contest. As they say, “Let the kids play.” Special Teams struggled as well, with a blown field goal and a blown fake PAT. The Wildcats were not able to flip the field punting either and just like with the offense, every time they made headway kicking the ball, one of those flags pulled them back. Despite all of that, it was a one score game with five and a half minutes to play in the 4th quarter. The smaller school Wildcats proved they could go head-to-head with Hughson and give as good as they got. But despite the inspired play from Waterford the defense just simply ran out of gas. Hughson put up a garbage time score late in the game after their running back broke through five exhausted would-be tacklers. I am sure this will be a game Waterford will undoubtedly believe they should have won, (and they should have won this game) but they will have a lot of positives to take away from this one. They will send a statement to the Southern League with this close game that says, we are not going to be a one hit wonder. This game said Waterford is here to stay and we are tough as nails. Superb defensive play from Kyle Brown, Tye Yates and the Wildcat Defensive line was on center stage all night long. While failing to find consistency, the offense had moments of pure brilliance, including a pitch option play that would have made a college team envious as the Wildcats rolled in the beginning. The kickoff team twice placed the Huskies at or inside the 20 with a touch back and great coverage tackling down field. And while he did not get to show it off tonight, Waterford place kicker David Sanchez knocked in 45 and 50-yard field goals during pre-game warm ups that caught a lot of people’s attention. If the Wildcat Football team can settle down and clean up some of the mental mistakes that most first game jitters bring, they will be a force to reckon with in the Southern League. If this team can come into form, they will make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. One thing is for certain: this team is going to be fun to watch this year. I sat in the middle of a very large and very vocal Waterford crowd Friday night. Sometimes one might have even called the Waterford crowd "too passionate & vocal" as there was often strong language and reactions to the game, officials and coaches. But in all that noise and emotion, whether positive or negative, you couldn't leave saying that the Waterford crowd isn’t passionate. That is how one could describe Waterford’s entire football community tonight: passionate, energetic and their kids are certainly talented. Now if the Wild Cats can just harness and focus all that emotion, energy and passion I saw on the field, sideline and yes in even in the stands tonight, if they can harness all of it for productivity and results, instead of negativity, well then you can bet on this Waterford team not just making the playoffs, but I would even go as far as to say make a real run in the playoffs.
WATERFORD CHEER IS THE REAL DEAL:
I watch a lot of high school sports in this job. I have seen lots and lots of halftime shows. I didn’t want to finish this article without highlighting how great the Wild Cat Cheerleading Team really is. I am not sure if they compete nationally, but they should. Every halftime I have ever seen from Waterford teams has been spectacular. They really are a Division 1 talent at the small school level. Waterford’s halftime shows always go that extra mile that leaves you awestruck at the precision, timing, coordination and talent those girls have. Next time you’re at a Waterford game, make sure you take the time to watch the halftime performance, because the Wild Cat cheerleaders are the real deal and you will get to see true art in their show.