UC Merced Sports

Coles leads a young, talented UC Merced women’s soccer team

The University of California, Merced women's soccer team practices on campus in Merced, Calif., Tuesday, (09-02-14).
The University of California, Merced women's soccer team practices on campus in Merced, Calif., Tuesday, (09-02-14). akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Injuries are an accepted part of sports.

There’s an inherent risk each athlete takes when they step out onto their respective playing surface. So, while no one hopes for injuries, players can cope with them when they come up.

Missing time for life’s unforeseen problems tends to be harder to bear.

Desiree Coles knows all about that.

The 2012 California Pacific Conference Freshman of the Year missed the entire 2013 season with a bout of mononucleosis. The UC Merced women’s soccer team could have used the center back’s services as it went 1-4 in one-goal games, including two overtime losses.

“Last year was really tough,” Coles said. “Just sitting there, knowing I could help my team. It wasn’t like I was injured. I was just sick.

“And we had so many one-goal games. It was agonizing not being able to get out there.”

The time off has given Coles added incentive as the Bobcats prepare to open the program’s third season against Bethesda College at home this afternoon. The ladies will christen their new field with a 4 p.m. start.

On the heels of back-to-back solid recruiting classes, coach Megan Atoigue’s optimism for 2014 is high. The Bobcats will take the pitch with 17 of their 26 players underclassmen, but should have a surplus to talent.

“We brought in eight girls with the goal of just getting deeper everywhere,” Atoigue said. “We have a lot of young girls that got a lot of experience last year. We’ve basically got our entire starting 11 back, and now when we go to the bench we’re going to be much more effective.”

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Coles is set to anchor the defense in front of returning sophomore goalkeeper Maggy Morales. The midfield should be the Bobcats’ strength with center mids Daisy Bonilla (five goals, seven assists) and Vanessa Villacorta (six goals, two assists) back to run the show and newcomers Noelle Weber and Alexus Ramirez to set the pace on the wings.

“Our new field is much bigger than The Bowl,” Atoigue said. “We plan to take advantage with wing play this year, where we have a lot of speed.”

Atoigue also made sure the Bobcats had more scoring options.

Program all-time leading scorer Claudia Diaz (12 goals, four assists) is back for her junior campaign. She’s complemented by Karen Lepe (two goals, seven assists) and Rachel Bachem (five goals).

“I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far,” Atoigue said. “We’re young, but very talented. I think we can compete for the league title and would be very disappointed if we’re not in the conference tournament.”

Men’s soccer

Head coach Albert Martins admitted the UC Merced men’s soccer team just didn’t have the horses to compete in the program’s inaugural 4-10 season.

It was reflected in the offeseason as Martins cleaned house and brought in 15 new players.

“My goal with this first recruiting class was to really scour the valley and just get us deeper everywhere,” Martins said. “Of course we ended up with kids from San Diego and San Jose, but for the most part it’s kids up and down the Central Valley.

“Last year we just didn’t have a bench that we could go to and get a lot of quality minutes. And it showed, as we faded in a lot of games. This year, that shouldn’t be an issue.”

The Bobcats will be paced by reigning Cal Pac Freshman of the Year and former Golden Valley star Cody Golbad. The striker led the team with nine goals and four assists as a freshman. Cal Pac second-team goalkeeper Heriberto Diaz, defensive midfielder Sean Ritchie and outside back Jesus Alvarez all return and provide a solid base.

Ten of Martin’s 15 recruits are midfielders, with the freshmen expected to make a big impact there. Brennen Canfield and Marco Torralva will start as center mids and striker Grant Tallent (Pitman High) should provide some added scoring power off of the bench.

“We’re young, but I feel much better about the talent level we’ll be putting on the pitch every week,” Martins said. “Right now, I just want to see us put that next foot forward, but if everything falls into place like I think it can, I’d like to see us challenge for the North title.”

Cross country

Head coach Ryan Nunez was late to the scene following Kevin Clancy’s departure after just one year with the UCM cross country programs.

But the first-time head coach did not inherit an empty cupboard. Clancy provided his recruiting list on the way out and Nunez was able to retain those already signed as well as bring in a handful more over the summer.

The end result is the biggest team the Bobcats have enjoyed in their four years of competing.

“We’ve got 10 runners for the guys team and nine runners for the girls,” Nunez said. “It’s a really nice situation to come into, because in years past basically everyone they had traveled.

“We’re only allowed to bring seven with us to meets, so the competition at practice has already been great.”

The women’s team will once again be paced by Sofia Rios. She qualified for the NAIA Championship meet as a sophomore and will be looking to make a run at her first Cal Pac title. Sophomore Sammantha Fajardo could have a breakout campaign.

The men’s team will be without NAIA Championship qualifier Daniel Pena due to grades, but Nunez still expects the men to compete for one of the top spots in the Cal Pac. The freshman combo of Taylor Arrieta and Daniel Flazin are expected to battle for the team’s top time all season.

“I think the potential to win is there on both teams,” Nunez said. “The depth is obviously going to help. We’re going to do our best to get one of both teams to go the NAIA Championship meet this year.”

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