Fans of any sport will say it’s all about numbers. In today’s digital world there are stats kept on every aspect of the game or match.
But the numbers that matter most in the small high schools like Woodlake are not wins and losses, but how many students commit to play sports.
There was no more critical factor this fall in the Woodlake sports program. The numbers were up in every sport. Some students like Hannah Sherwood, a Three Rivers sophomore, opted to play two sports — volleyball and cross country.
There were some scheduling conflicts but for students who are confident academically, participating in two sports works.
Although that hasn’t happened often in this era of specialization, first-year full-time athletic director Freddie Palomo said he is seeing more kids with a desire to give two sports a try. Palomo admitted he can’t take credit for the resurgence in the numbers but points to consistency in coaching and continuity in the program that is getting the attention of more students who now want to play sports.
“We’ve had our bumps this season but there have been plenty of positives too,” Freddie said. “Varsity Football won a league championship for the first time in 16 years.”
Freddie said 86 student athletes came out for football and that’s certainly a record since the Leo Robinson era of the 1970s and ‘80s. The trend of more participants is in Woodlake Valley Middle school too. And, he added, the district is moving ahead with improving facilities at Castle Rock Elementary School, and the long-awaited new tennis courts are under construction at the high school.
“The community will share in the use of these district facilities,” Freddie said. “It gives these kids a place to play and practice and develop the skills they need to succeed at the high school level.”
There has also been a resurgence in City of Woodlake-sponsored programs, Freddie said. The new recreation baseball-softball leagues are already translating to more interest in WHS baseball and softball.
Varsity Football— Even though Woodlake’s season came to an abrupt end at the Valley Division 5 semifinals on Friday, Nov. 27, vs. Immanuel at Sal Gonzalez Field in Reedley, Coach Del Rio’s Tigers won an East Sequoia League championship. The league title was the first league championship for varsity football in 16 years.
Woodlake finished 5-0 in league and 9-4 overall. There were lots of outstanding performers and performances — enough memories to last these league champs a lifetime.
Team awards: Marin Apodaca, MVP; Andrew Chavez, outstanding offensive player; Joe Vasquez, outstanding offensive lineman; Noe Garcia, outstanding running back; Eric Schwarz, Tiger Award; Jordan Arce, Ironman; Tell Blanke, outstanding defensive back; Nate Rodriguez, defensive player of the year; Robby Stevenson, rookie of the year.
Marin Apodaca also was named East Sequoia League MVP; other players receiving all-league first team honors were Joe Vasquez, Andrew Chavez, David Coa, and Robby Stevenson.
JV Football— The JV football team was 2-8 overall and 1-4 in East Sequoia League play. In talking with the JV coaching staff, they point to their biggest challenge is starting over each season and trying to unlearn much of what the Pop Warner coaches are running.
“We run our program to prepare these kids to play varsity football,” said Jeff Beck, the team’s defensive coordinator. “I think we do a good job considering where we are starting with these kids.”
Robby Stevenson, a frosh quarterback and grandson of the late Leo Robinson, started his season with the JV team but was pulled up to varsity when senior QB Eric Schwarz was sidelined with a broken collarbone. Most of the skilled JV sophomores also moved up and that really took a toll on the team’s chances for getting more wins.
Beck described Stevenson as heir apparent to the Robinson tradition. He is 6’1”, 180 pounds, and throws the football like it’s a baseball. He has the Robinson genes for size and talent.
“That was a young varsity team this season so there won’t be room for our young players next season,” Coach Beck concluded. “We expect to be a lot better next year.”
Varsity Volleyball— First-year head coach Yvette Garcia’s Lady Tigers did what they have done back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back: finish the East Sequoia League season with a perfect 10-0 record.
But all that winning has a downside. For the past few seasons, the Lady Tigers have been seeded in the Division 3 playoffs, and that means tougher competition against bigger schools and perennial powers.
This season, the Lady Tigers were seeded no. 7 in a field of 13. In the first-round match, Woodlake defeated Hanford (no. 10) at home 3-1. In the quarter finals on November 12, the Lady Tigers were shutout 3-0 on the road vs. Mission Oak (no. 2 seed).
Mission Oak eventually lost to Bakersfield Christian (no. 1 seed) in the Valley finals.
First-year coach Yvette Garcia was named East Sequoia League Coach of the Year.
Team MVP went to Karissa Castillo, libero and senior team captain; Callie Vincent, a sophomore from Three Rivers made all-league first team, holding the highest kill rate in the league; and all-league honorable mentions went to Hannah Sherwood, sophomore setter from Three Rivers, and Lauren Little, a frosh player also from Three Rivers.
The JVs were coached by Mariah Chavez and the frosh girls were coached by Ashley Kambourian.
Cross Country— Coach Omar Garza’s team consisted of four returning runners and 24 new runners, mostly seniors. Team captain Patrick Kerwin, senior, demonstrated excellent leadership skills while assisting the coaches with leading the large team.
Senior runner Sotero Silva was the team MVP and ran his best time in four years on the WHS cross country team, completing a 5K in 16:16.
All of the Tiger athletes made improvements over the course of the season. Two freshman boys, Jaime Navarro and Miguel Villegas, were moved up to varsity and joined Sotero Silva in the school records category Top 20 for 5K times as posted on Athletic.net. Three female runners also moved into the school records of Top 20 for 5K times on Athletic.net: Hannah Sherwood, Michelle Sanchez, a junior, and Isabel Garcia, freshman.
Coach Garza was assisted by 17-year veteran Woodlake teacher and first-year coach Blanca Lucatero.
Girls’ Tennis— Longtime tennis coach Mike Judson, a Woodlake Valley Middle School teacher, has witnessed some big improvements and growing interest in WHS tennis.
The resurgence in Woodlake sports has meant more players in tennis too. There were enough girls for two full teams — varsity (12) and junior varsity (16).
The centerpiece and Judson’s number-one player for the last two seasons has been Katie Pfaff, a Three Rivers sophomore.
Katie finished third in the East Sequoia League individual tournament, qualifying for the sectional tourney.
The Lady Tigers varsity tennis team finished 9-9 overall in dual matches and 5-8 in East Sequoia League play.