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Dominant SFL seeks fifth consecutive boys section soccer title

Granite Bay, Oakmont and Rocklin battle Wednesday night in semifinals
By: Kurt Johnson, Special to The Press-Tribune
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The last four high school boys soccer seasons have ended with a Sierra Foothill League team standing at the top of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, and that streak appears to be alive and well in 2008. SFL champion Granite Bay, second place Rocklin and third place Oakmont not only won, but also dominated their quarterfinal contests to set up a semifinal round at Folsom High School on Wednesday night that will carry a heavy SFL flavor. “The SFL has been a dominant league for many years,” Granite Bay coach Steve Fischer said. “It is one of the finest, most well-balanced leagues in the country. Everyone is good and dangerous. Because of that, any team making it to the playoffs could win the section title.” While Fischer is impressed with the teams from his own league, he knows he cannot overlook his semifinal opponent from the Sierra Valley Conference. The Grizzlies and Christian Brothers will meet in the second game of Wednesday night’s doubleheader in what should be a tightly contested battle. The two squads met earlier this year at the Del Campo tournament and the Falcons won that contest 1-0. That result comes with a rather large asterisk, as Granite Bay’s leading scorer, Chris Gaschen, was injured and did not play in the game. The Grizzlies have outscored the opposition by a combined 76-21 count this season, with Gaschen (21 goals, 16 assists) and Ryan Hollingshead (17 goals, 15 assists) leading the way. As opponents have discovered, however, the team goes much deeper than that with two additional double-digit scorers in sophomore Connor Hallisey and freshman Cody Giddings. With the defense of Nate Schorer, Travis Israel, Kyle Howarth and a pair of strong goalkeepers also in the mix, Christian Brothers is in for a fight. The game is scheduled to being at 8 p.m., but if recent history teaches us anything we might be in for a late start and a late night as the evening’s opening act might just have overtime written all over it. The night’s initial match features Rocklin and Oakmont, two teams who match up very well with each other. Even in Rocklin’s section championship season of 2007, the Vikings played the Thunder to a 0-0 stalemate not just once, but twice. This season brought more of the same with Rocklin winning the first duel 1-0 and the second ending in a scoreless draw. Oakmont coach Mark Broers is excited about the chance to get another crack at Rocklin, while worrying about their speed. “They play faster and more direct than any other team we have played this year and I admire that,” Broers said. “We are going to have to face our share of dangerous attacks and really make our offensive moves count to be successful. Allowing a single goal in this match could end it for either team.” The Vikings are led by a talented junior scoring duo up top in Cole Alexander and Robert Work, with Kody Duff conducting things from the midfield, but the key for Oakmont will almost certainly be the play of its defense. Goalkeeper Brandon Vargas, a first-year starter between the pipes, has been outstanding all year long and will rely on Tyler Kuresa, Brent Lewis and Chance Borders to keep the Thunder attack out of his face. “ Oakmont seems to be peaking at the right point in the season,” Rocklin coach Grant Depue said. “It is important for us to establish our physical presence as Oakmont likes to bang bodies. Possession, shots on goal, and communication are the fundamentals we are going to stress this week. We need to keep the ball away from Oakmont because they counter attack dangerously fast.” The game is likely to be a showcase of two teams who counterattack effectively, but the final result may well be measured by each squad’s ability to control the midfield and control the pace of play with its passing game. Konner Rasmussen is of particular concern for Oakmont, as the Rocklin junior is strong on the ball and has the ability to score at any time. It was his individual effort in the first meeting this season that made the difference on Rocklin’s lone tally. Tyler Garrison and Victor Lightle are also important cogs out front for the Thunder, but Depue’s defense will also carry a heavy burden in this contest. J.J. Barnette, Stephen Cowan, Michael Gutierrez and Conor Delaney must play well for Rocklin to advance to its fourth consecutive section title game (the Thunder have won two of the previous three), and goalkeeper Zach Kammerer may be called on to make a huge save somewhere along the line. The action kicks off at 6 p.m. Wednesday night at Folsom High School, with the winners moving on to the final on Saturday at 4 p.m.