Before the 2015 high school girls soccer season ended, Imari Barnes approached her coach.
Barnes knew there was a gaping hole in the heart of Golden Valley’s defense with the graduation of Danielle Vigil and wanted her coach’s thoughts on how they might fill it.
“Basically, as soon as last season was over, she approached me and said she wanted to be our center back,” Golden Valley coach Lance Eber said. “It’s not an easy position to play because or our formation. You’re going to see a lot of action back there and have to make good, quick decisions on whether to go or stay.
“It was nice entering the season knowing we had that position squared away.”
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Knowing she had a bigger role, Barnes upped her weight training and conditioning for her senior year. The work paid dividends, as she thrived running the Cougars’ back line. Barnes’ combination of good instincts and top-tier speed helped Golden Valley post 11 shutouts this season and earned her the honor of Central California Conference co-Defensive Player of the Year.
“It’s a big accomplishment for me,” Barnes said. “I’ve wanted it forever, so to be recognized like that means a lot.
“Coach told me before the season that the job was mine and I needed to step up. I put in a lot of extra work during the summer and then before the season started to get myself ready. I did a lot more lifting and worked on my conditioning and footwork. I feel like it paid off.”
League champion Pitman secured two major awards with Rayana Plancarte named Offensive Player of the Year and Serena Walls sharing Defensive POY with Barnes. Merced’s Emma Lopez earned Goalkeeper of the Year, and the Pride’s Cristobal Castro was Coach of the Year.
The Bears had three players join Lopez on the first team after just missing out on the league crown, including defenders Elizabeth Mendoza and Baylee Lawry and striker Anisa Saechao. Golden Valley added two first teamers in Justyne Sanchez (midfield) and Megan Pust (striker). Buhach Colony and Atwater each had one representative in strikers Elise Phonesavanh and Valerie Ruiz. Alexis Castro and Isabella Shallou-Enes of Pitman and Jazzmyn Garcia of Turlock rounded out the first team.
Jetta Saeteurn and Carris Burges (Merced), Brittany Cervantes and Elizabeth Davila (Golden Valley), Yesenia Valtierra and McKenzie Kirn (Buhach Colony), Marisol Camargo and Nitza Rodriguez (Atwater), Rebecca Linderman and Jill Leon (Pitman) and Veronica Hernandez (Turlock) comprise the second team.
Southern League soccer – Ripon Christian’s Abby Buitrago was named the league MVP after leading the league in goals, and Knights coach Kevin Tameling earned Coach of the Year.
Six local players earned first-team nods, led by the Mariposa trio of Anna Medema, Eliza Amstutz and Dawn Canapary. Delhi had two representatives in Diana Cervantes and Emily Salazar, and Liset Urquiza earned a spot for Le Grand.
Southern League softball – Mariposa earned three of the league’s four major awards en route to a perfect season and third consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI crown.
The Grizzlies’ Leah Lafata was named co-MVP with Waterford’s Kaytlin Donaldson, Violet Matlock was named Most Valuable Pitcher, and Tony Williams secured Coach of the Year. Gustine’s Savannah Vargas rounded out the list as Best Offensive Player.
Mariposa led the way with three additional first-team players, including Jessie Vegely, Kirsten Dubberke and Kiya Smith. Gustine and Delhi had the other two first-team players in Cassidy Kuden and Diamond Orozco.
Southern League baseball – Three schools won major awards, led by Ripon Christian’s Travis Vander Molen as league MVP. Mariposa’s Jake Williams was voted Best Offensive Player, and Gustine’s Oliver Perez was named Most Valuable Pitcher.
Six additional local players snagged first-team nods: Morgan Hughes and Joey Freitas (Mariposa), Brandon LaBry and Kevin Medeiros (Gustine) and Beto Marquez and Mauricio Reyes (Le Grand).