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Hawks confident heading into season
•Central Valley boys soccer to contend for CCC title, playoff berth
Heriberto Paz Benitez and Alex Bautista
Heriberto Paz Benitez, Alex Bautista and Central Valley’s boys soccer team plan to compete for the CCC crown and a berth to the section playoffs this year. - photo by Dale Butler

Central Valley High School’s boys soccer program compiled a 6-8-2 overall record during the 2020-21 COVID-shortened season.

The Hawks struggled thanks in large part to a lack of dedication as players were held out of games for failing to show up to practice.

Second-year head coach Horatio Garcia believes Central Valley will bounce back in a big way this winter.

“I’m very hopeful in what we can accomplish this year with this team,” Garcia said. “To be honest, the sky’s the limit. We have a lot of talent. They’re competitive. They don’t want to lose. They’re aware of the expectations.”

Central Valley will rely on a host of returners and a handful of newcomers in 2021-22.

The Hawks welcome back 14 players from a year ago, including Fernando Cano (Sr.), Carlos Loza (Sr.), Alex Bautista (Sr.), Abel Calvo (Sr.), Isaiah Castillo (Sr.), Heriberto Paz Benitez (Sr.), Carlos Gutierrez (Jr.), Everardo Huaracha (Jr.), Jose Mendoza (Jr.), Ivan Mercado (Jr.), Carlos Ochoa (Jr.), Karmjot Singh (Jr.), Diego Covarrubias (So.) and Miguel Serrano (So.).

Gael Navarro (Sr.), Isaiah Urrutia (Sr.) and Jose Cazares (Jr.) are new to the team.

Paz Benitez, a defender, and Navarro, a goalkeeper, have been named team captains.

Cano and Loza both earned all-conference honors as juniors.

Cano led Central Valley in scoring with 11 goals. The striker tied for second on the team in assists (4) with Loza.

Loza, a center back, tallied one goal and four assists.

The Hawks lost five players to graduation: Alejandro Gonazlez, Abraham Aguayo, Agustin Pizza, Francisco Ramos and Mariano Silva. Gonzalez collected a team-leading five assists.

Central Valley will compete in the Central California Conference this year, along with Patterson, Atwater, Buhach Colony, Merced, Golden Valley and El Capitan.

 The Hawks were previously members of the CCC from 2018-20.

Central Valley relocated to the WAC, which was split into South and North Divisions, last season for coronavirus-safety reasons.

The Hawks posted a 4-5-1 record en route to a third-place finish in the 2020-21 WAC South standings.

Crosstown-rival Ceres High (8-1-1) won the conference title.

Pacheco (7-2-1), Johansen (3-6-1) and Los Banos (2-6-1) took second, fourth and fifth, respectively.

Playoffs were canceled for all sports during the 2020-21 school year due to a late start to the season because of COVID-19.

“We’re going back to the CCC,” Garcia said. “I’m expecting it to be very competitive. There’s going to be no easy games. Based on the players we have, we should finish in the top three in league. We’re going to be competing for first place and a playoff spot. Hopefully, we can accomplish something really great this year.”

Central Valley failed to continue its run of success during Garcia’s first year as head coach.

Omar Leon, Garcia’ predecessor, led the Hawks to eight conference titles, seven appearances in the section finals and to the playoffs every season during his 12-year tenure.

Leon is the winningest coach in Central Valley’s sports history.

“My first year was a learning experience,” Garcia said. “I know what to expect this year. The expectations are really high for my players. Accountability is a big part. If they miss practice (for unexcused reasons), they don’t play. Hopefully, we can make playoffs and a run for the section title.”