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Larranga Couriers top coach
First-year head coach Miguel Larranaga led Central Valleys varsity girls soccer program to new heights this winter. - photo by DALE BUTLER/Courier file photo

Central Valley's varsity girls soccer program accomplished numerous firsts under new leader Miguel Larranaga's guidance.

Larranaga has been named the Courier's "Coach of Year" for leading the Hawks to record heights during the winter sports season.

"I want to thank (Central Valley athletic director) Greg Magni for giving me the opportunity to coach and always supporting the team," Miguel said. "It's a lot of work. He never let us down."

The 2017-18 Hawks made their first-ever appearance in a Sac-Joaquin Section championship game, amassed a program-best 21-2-2 overall record, claimed their third consecutive Western Athletic Conference crown and won the title at the ultra-competitive Buchanan Tournament in Clovis.

"The more talent you have, the easier it is to coach," said Larranaga, who was quick to give credit to his players.

Central Valley climbed to No. 1 in the state and No. 12 in the nation in the MaxPreps rankings on Dec. 15 thanks to a 9-0-2 showing during the preseason.

The Hawks collected nine wins, one loss and no ties during the WAC season.

Central Valley split with Ceres High, and beat Livingston, Patterson, Pacheco and Los Banos twice.

The Hawks had their program-record, tying 17-game unbeaten streak snapped by the crosstown-rival Bulldogs.

Central Valley fell agonizingly short of bringing home the blue Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III championship banner.

Third-seeded Central Valley lost 1-0 to No. 4 Woodland in the finals.
The Hawks bested No. 2 Sierra 5-4 in penalty kicks on the road in the semifinals.

Central Valley topped No. 6 Vista del Lago 4-2 in PKs in the quarterfinals.

The Hawks escaped with a 1-0 victory over No. 14 Pioneer in the first round.

Vista del Lago and Sierra finished first and second, respectively, in the Division-III postseason tourney a year ago.

"I wasn't expecting to go all the way to the finals," Larranaga said. "It was a dream come true. It's still hard to believe. We did fantastic."

Added Hawks' senior goalkeeper Emely Lopez: "He made us belief in ourselves. He pushed us to get there."

Central Valley' near-perfect playoff run was exhausting.

"We knew the games were going to be hard," Larranaga said. "It was very stressful. It felt like I worked 24 hours straight without sleeping. I was tired."

A successful coach in the youth club soccer world, Larranaga sought another challenge when agreeing to become Central Valley's new leader.

"I wanted to do something different," Larranaga said. "But my daughters play at Ceres High. I talked with my family and made a decision. I'm glad I took the job. I love it here."

Larranaga did more than continue Central Valley's winning tradition.

He raised the bar for a program that had a combined record of 39-4-2, won back-to-back WAC titles and advanced to the quarterfinals of the playoffs the previous two seasons.

"There was a lot of pressure knowing what the team did the past couple years," Larranaga said. "The pressure started going away little by little. We got used to winning. I wanted to do everything I could to make the program very successful."

Larranaga's roster will be loaded with talent in 2018-19.

Central Valley will lose just four players to graduation, including Lopez and fellow starter Mariana Garibay.

The Hawks will compete in the Central California Conference.

"We're changing leagues," Larranaga said. "We're playing stronger teams. That's going to make us better and prepare us for playoffs. We want the blue banner. Hopefully, we can make it happen."