Ripon High has had one of the area's quietly emerging girls' soccer programs during the past five years, amassing a 93-18-14 record under Jose Bobadilla.
But it took until this season for the Indians to produce a team and a player capable of claiming a section title.
The 2009 Ripon team, led by high-scoring junior forward Renae McFadden, grabbed the blue banner with a 1-0 victory over Central Catholic, putting both the school and McFadden firmly on the regional soccer radar.
McFadden, who finished the season No. 2 in the state with 45 goals, including the lone goal in the Division V title game, is the Modesto Bee's girls' soccer player of the year.
Her scoring certainly grabbed the headlines, but the Indians' team overall was extremely well-balanced, allowing only 18 goals. Ripon, which finished 24-1-1, blanked its final four opponents and ran through three playoff victories by an aggregate 7-0 count.
"I've never heard of a team that came back with as many back-to-back wins as we did," McFadden said. "Either way, whether we had won or lost that last game, we should have been proud of what we had accomplished. It's a young program and we've done so well for being so young."
McFadden's final goal of the season came on May 16, three minutes into overtime against Central Catholic on the sweltering artificial turf surface at Stockton's Lincoln High.
It came at the end of a long, knuckling cross from the left side delivered by Kallie Jacobs, and whether McFadden was able to get a piece of the ball before it went into the net remains a topic of discussion in Ripon.
"That talk is still going on," McFadden said. "I'm not going to take credit for something that I didn't do. I know I got the ball. It was hot, my feet were burning and the girl on my back gave me a push that helped me get to the ball.
"Kallie still had the great cross, and the ball never would have been there if it hadn't been for the cross."
And McFadden wouldn't have been anywhere near the play if she hadn't been trained to think as a scorer. In addition to soccer, McFadden also previously played basketball and ran track at Ripon. She now concentrates on soccer, and after the title win jumped right into training with the Ajax U-18 travel team coached by Steve Dean.
"I've always played forward, but I didn't get the coaching before now that I needed to learn how to be a scorer," McFadden said. "Steve Dean has taught me how to be more aggressive and goal-hungry."
With Ripon getting its first taste of a section soccer crown, McFadden hopes a different kind of hunger will carry the Indians through the 2010 season.
"We need to come back harder next year," McFadden said. "Next year I hope the girls all realize how hard it's going to be to get back to the championship game."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.