Last season, against all expectations, inexperience gave way to stability and to success. The Tigers, having been tapped by many to struggle after losing 10 players to graduation, claimed a share of the Western Athletic Conference championship with a 6-2 victory against Pacheco High of Los Banos on Oct. 24.
There was no spell, no secret and yet the effects felt magical, as Patterson set the WAC alight with some thrilling soccer and a scarcely believable first-place finish.
"We really had kind of a surprising season last year. It was really unexpected on my part," said coach Greg Hartsell, who begins his 10th season at the helm. "But this season, we are loaded with talent. It would be disappointing if we did not challenge for the top spot in the WAC this year."
Maintaining the momentum will not be easy. But the building blocks are all in place -- harmony in the locker room, hard work on the training field and a growing understanding of the game between those on the pitch.
On the field, Patterson rose up to find strength and purpose at key moments last season, scoring pivotal goals at crunch time: Rogelio Mendoza against Central Valley High of Ceres, Andres Herrera against Ceres High. The question now, is can they repeat the trick?
"We're looking for hard work on the field and communication," Hartsell said. "We want the players to be able to field their positions well and to know their positions when they're out on the field."
Having overachieved last season, Hartsell faces a far more daunting task this time around.
No one will underestimate his players in any of the matches they are competing in this year.
The Tigers have the talent and experience to defend their title, but this time they also have a renewed attitude in their favor as well, Hartsell said.
The Tigers kick off their season Aug. 30 and 31 at the Pitman High Tournament in Turlock.
"The (Pitman High tournament) is really to see what we've got, and how the players react to playing against other talented teams," Hartsell said. "We are still trying to determine who is going to end up at what position."
Patterson can look for guidance from a number of players.
Team captains Fernando Ramos (junior, defenseman), an all-WAC second team selection a season ago, and Marcos Melendez (junior, forward) return, along with Herrera (junior, midfielder) and Jose Rodriguez (junior, goalie), who each earned spots on the WAC’s All-League first team.
Also returning are seniors Osvaldo Barbosa (midfielder) and Israel Sotelo (midfielder), as well as, junior Oscar Toledo (defenseman).
Jordy Corral (sophomore, forward) and Anthony Arevalo (sophomore, midfielder) are the Tigers' top newcomers.
Last year’s 10-1-1 league mark helped the Tigers get comfortable playing together. This season, Hartsell hopes that experience -- coupled with the team’s wealth of leadership -- can get them back to the top of the WAC.
"I really look forward to seeing the players after the long layoff of the offseason," Hartsell said. "I am anxious to see just how much they have matured over the past year. They always seem to grow up just a little bit more every time I see them."
With league foes Central Valley, Livingston and Ceres also expected to vie for the WAC crown, Hartsell knows the team’s ultimate goal, a return to the section championship game, won’t be as easy.
"There are no other leagues out there that go four teams deep. Any of those four teams can compete for a WAC title," Hartsell said. "It's going to be tough to repeat, but that is definitely our main focus."
To carry on the winning tradition of the program, Hartsell has opted to carry just 18 players on his roster, keeping only the most talented, most skilled athletes.
The coach has made it clear he looks forward to piecing together another winning season.
"Right now, our main focus is getting that No. 1 seed in the WAC," Hartsell said. "If we do that, it gives us a really good chance in the playoffs.
"Our confidence is definitely high. If we keep our heads on straight and we work towards our goals together, I think we have a really good chance at going a long way this year."
The Tigers open their season on the road Aug. 30 and 31 at the Pitman High Tournament in Turlock. The home opener will be Sept. 3 against McNair High of Stockton, and league play begins on the road against Livingston on Sept. 17.
Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187, ext. 28, or firstname.lastname@example.org