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Local soccer powers reunite at section soccer championships

Roseville, Granite Bay, Rocklin all in semifinal round
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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When Roseville and Rocklin do the traditional walk-on at Wednesday’s section soccer semifinals, a recent trend will be continued.

It has become a regular occurrence at this time of year for the best of the Sierra Foothill League to make their way to Folsom High’s Prairie City Stadium as part of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II soccer final four.

Three years ago, Granite Bay was the section champion, but Rocklin and Del Oro were also part of semifinal Wednesday night. Two years ago, the SFL was only allotted two teams in the tournament, but both (Granite Bay and Rocklin) reached the last four, with Rocklin the eventual champion. Last year, it was Oakmont who joined Granite Bay and Rocklin at this level, with Granite Bay taking the crown.

The constants over the years have been Granite Bay and Rocklin, but it always seems that the SFL provides someone else to crash the party. This year’s third team is surprising Roseville. The Tigers rose from the ashes of a 1-10-1 SFL year just one season ago to earn second place this year and after a 2-0 win over Grant Friday night, here they are.

“I am somewhat surprised that all three SFL teams advanced,” said Granite Bay coach
Steve Fischer. “I normally am not as our league is the best, most competitive soccer league in California. But this year, Grant and Vista del Lago seemed like the big new teams and I knew that Roseville and Rocklin would have a difficult time advancing. Great job by both Roseville and Rocklin for defeating tough opponents.”

The only non-SFL participant in this year’s Wednesday night event is Oak Ridge (10-6-3), a team that is not new to this stage. Two years ago, the Trojans knocked off Granite Bay in the semifinals before losing to Rocklin in the final.

Wednesday night, they will have the chance to do that again, as they face the Grizzlies in this year’s next to last contest.

“Oak Ridge looks good,” Fischer said. “They have several good players, especially their No. 5 midfielder (Matt Mendoza). They have long, accurate throw-ins, some big defenders, and an aggressive forward. I expect we'll have our hands full on Wednesday night. The last time we played Oak Ridge, they eliminated us in the section semifinals two years ago.”

Granite Bay (14-3-1) has plenty of weapons of its own. The Grizzlies won the section title a year ago behind the leadership of a sensational senior class, but this year’s younger squad has put up numbers of its own.

Connor Hallisey, Kendall Modiste and Jonathan Beach lead the way, but Fischer loves to use his deep and talented bench. Granite Bay is certainly the deepest team in this tournament. It has not been as easy as last year, but the Grizzlies are back and in good position to defend their title.

Roseville coach Pablo Gutierrez is also impressed with the Trojans.

“As far as all three SFL teams being in the final four, it is a testament to the strength of our teams,” Gutierrez said. “However, we cannot underestimate Oak Ridge. Their coach has been there. He finds a way to get his players to produce at high levels.”

Roseville has enough problems as it prepares for its semifinal date with Rocklin. The teams split their regular season meeting, with each winning by a fairly comfortable margin on the other school’s pitch.

After a midseason lull, the Thunder are back on their game. They were one of the two teams to knock off Granite Bay in a league game, having done it in the next to last game of the season.

“Rocklin is on a roll,” Fischer said. “I think they are playing the best soccer right now. I would say that they might be the favorites heading into this last week.”

Gutierrez is all too familiar with Rocklin (16-6-2) and he knows his team will have its hands full.

“I'm very proud of my team for working so hard to find themselves in the semifinals,” Gutierrez said. “Rocklin is loaded, but I think we can match up with them. We proved to them that we are a good team. I'm hoping for my team to play like they did the last time we played them.”

Despite his team’s outstanding talent, Rocklin coach Grant Depue knows how fragile the game is at this level. He had a loaded team last year that found itself forced to a shootout by Oakmont before being knocked out in the semifinals. Last Friday night, he faced those same demons before winning the shootout against Vista del Lago.

“I feel very fortunate that Rocklin is in the semifinals as Vista proved themselves to be a very, very strong team,” Depue said. “Their quick counterattack was difficult to deal with all night long.”

One of Roseville’s (13-8-1) key challenges the rest of the way is the familiarity of SFL teams with their style of play and particularly the strength of striker Tanner Roland. Roland scored two minutes in Friday night against Grant, but the Thunder will be all over him from the outset Wednesday night.

“The key to beating Roseville is shutting down senior striker Tanner Roland,” Depue said. “I believe we are stronger, faster, and more talented than Roseville at individual positions but Roseville always plays such a strong team game that they are difficult to beat. Their players know their roles and are coached with a defensive mindset.”

The first few minutes will be key to the first game of the night, as Roseville thrives on scoring early goals and then turning on the suffocating defense.

“We need to do a better job than we did Friday at communicating and controlling the possession and pace of the game,” Depue said. “Rocklin averages 8-12 shots on goal per half and we need to capitalize on these opportunities against such a strong defense. The team that scores first will probably win the game because both teams can pack the box and lock down defensively.”

Roseville and Rocklin face off at 6 p.m., with the Granite Bay vs. Oak Ridge battle to follow at approximately 8 p.m. The section final is set for 4 p.m. Saturday. All games will be played at Prairie City Stadium at Folsom High School.

FYI:

Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs

Where: Prairie City Stadium, Folsom High School

When: Semifinals Wednesday night, Finals Saturday

Admission: Adults $6 for semifinals, $9 for final; Students $4 for semifinals; $5 for final

Parking: Folsom High is charging a $5 parking fee.

Schedule: Wednesday semifinals – 6 p.m. – Rocklin vs. Roseville; 8 p.m. – Granite Bay vs. Oak Ridge

Saturday final – 4 p.m.