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For a small school like Woodlake High School, it’s always a challenge for any team, boys or girls, to have enough players to fill rosters for more than one team per sport. Couple that with a freshman class that’s having eligibility issues, and there’s a risk there won’t be much playing time for younger players who do make grades.
“It’s always year by year and season by season,” said Rick Rodriguez, principal at Woodlake High School. “This year, our frosh found it difficult to transition to the high school academic standards so we weren’t able to have junior varsity and freshmen teams in some sports.”
Jose Palomo, Woodlake Unified School District’s first full-time athletic director, said it is several factors that contributed to less kids coming out for spring sports.
“We’ve always been vigilant, especially with our incoming freshmen so they are aware from the start that you have to make grades to be able to play,” Palomo said. “For teams to attract a lot of kids to come out there must be consistency.”
As an example, Palomo cited swimming. Typically, there are more than enough swimmers to keep all the lanes busy and compete for a league championship.
“The swim coach was a late hire so I think that kept some kids from coming out,” Palomo said. “I expect those numbers to be back up next year.”
Another example of how consistency fuels numbers is the resurgence in football, Palomo said. For spring practice, there are 38 players already committed, all of whom want to be part of a program that appears on the verge of winning a valley championship.
12-3 in ESL, 19-8 overall
Co-Champions-East Sequoia League
When one of the top players is a freshman, there’s hardly a problem. In fact, if his grandfather is named Leo Robinson, then expectations are high right out of the gate.
Robby Stevenson, Leo’s grandson and the nephew of former MLB pitcher and Woodlake alumnus Ron Robinson, made an immediate impact in baseball as a right-handed pitcher, much like he did in football when he took over at quarterback when Eric Schwarz of Three Rivers, a three-year starter, was injured. Robby led Tigers football to a league title and was instrumental in doing the same in baseball.
If it wasn’t for an opening 2-0 loss vs. Shafter, the Tiger baseball team would still be playing in the CIF playoffs. Stevenson pitched well enough to win but the Shafter pitcher threw a shutout.
Eric Schwarz, the team’s leading hitter; Thomas Woods, among the leading base stealers; and Tyler Jones, also a top hitter; are all Three Rivers seniors who have fueled Woodlake’s resurgence to their fourth consecutive ESL title. There was no shortage of highlights this season like Stevenson’s perfect game with 11 strikeouts vs. Lindsay and a 14th inning win at Corcoran.
Alijah Thorn, a Three Rivers sophomore, was the team’s leading base stealer. He is waiting his chance to start next year behind Robby, as are frosh players Clayton Vincent and Jakob Bischoff, also of Three Rivers.
Stevenson is the ace of the pitching staff who finished the regular season with a 10-2 record. He will also be the starting quarterback in football and he plays basketball too.
Another milestone during this spring’s baseball season was in March when Coach Raul Quintero scored his 100th win as Tigers varsity baseball’s head coach, a position he has held for the past 12 seasons.
5-10 in ESL, 5-18 overall
There was no shortage of girls to field a varsity and junior varsity softball team. The Varsity finished fourth in ESL play but failed to win a single game outside of league play.
Sofia Nunez stepped in to coach the JV team after the WUSD board promoted band teacher Richard McCue to Varsity Head Coach. The consistency in the girls program is that for more than 10 years “Coach Sophie” has always stepped in wherever she was needed.
“I’ll coach wherever they want me,” Nunez said. “We’re young this year, so I expect to see a big improvement next season.”
The Tiger golf team, coached by Eddie Dominguez, is rebuilding after a streak of four consecutive league titles that ended in 2014. They finished fifth in ESL play but improved by 10 strokes overall in the league tournament.
Coach Dominguez said he’s still searching for one or two players who will lead the Tiger golfers back to prominence on the links. In the interim, he will make certain that his players have fun and learn to enjoy the game enough that they play for the rest of their lives.
The swim team started slow in part due to the uncertainty of who would take over as the new coach. Once Suzi Rivas was hired, the Tiger swimmers recovered fast and finished strong.
Four Lady Tiger swimmers qualified at the league meet for the Valley Sectionals. All qualifiers swam individual events. Hannah Sherwood, sophomore, and Christina Sherwood, freshman, both of Three Rivers, were qualifiers; Marie Garcia and Monte Vincent of Woodlake also qualified.
The Tiger harriers, coached by Jesse Ramirez, are growing by leaps and bounds. Two Tigers, Charles Tell Blanke, junior, and Henry Hagen, sophomore, placed first and second, respectively, in their main events at the ESL championships.
Blanke won the 100 meter dash and Hagen was runner-up in the high jump.
The girls turned in an outstanding time in the 4×100 meter relay; the Tigers finished third overall in the ESL.
The boys’ team endured growing pains under first-year coach Heather Sullenger, a WHS alum and former Tigers tennis player, who took over as the boys’ coach from her father Scott Wood.
“The new courts will really pay off for our program as these local players will able to play more tennis as they are growing up,” Coach Sullenger said.
Heather, who enjoyed plenty of success as the Tigers number-one player, said it won’t be long until the boys match the success of the girls’ team.
“We have plenty of raw talent,” Coach Sullenger said. “All these guys need is to play more tennis.”