Other Sonora High School teams may have lured bigger crowds or garnered louder headlines, but in terms of overall excellence and sheer ability few if any athletic squads in the school's 100-year history can match the 2007 girls soccer team.
Coach Buzz Garvin's Wildcats capped a triumphant season Monday afternoon with a 3-0 section championship victory over West Campus of Sacramento before a crowd of nearly 1,000 at Dunlavy Field.
And the girls didn't mind at all that their home-field advantage was fortified by hundreds of bandwagon-hoppers who knew little or nothing about soccer. Instead they fed on the unschooled enthusiasm, playing with joy and brutal efficiency to dispatch their title-match foe. And the game was nowhere near as close as the shutout score indicated.
Scarcely believable numbers tell Sonora High's remarkable story: Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section championships, 26-1-1 record, 24-game unbeaten streak, 140 goals scored and only six allowed, 23 shutouts, seven of 16 players named to the All-Valley Oak League team, league MVP (Danielle Garvin), coach of the year (dad Buzz) and ranked third in the nation.
You read that correctly: The National Soccer Coaches Association of America/Adidas poll rates the Wildcat girls as the No. 3 team in the nation. Not just among schools Sonora's size, but among all schools nationwide.
This, however, isn't a lightning-strike, planets-align, once-in-a-sports-lifetime story. Instead it's a tale of hard work and year-around effort by a group of inseparable athletes and friends.
It started nearly 10 years ago, when Garvin volunteered to coach daughter Danielle's Tuolumne County Youth Soccer team on Saturday mornings at Standard Park. Also on that under-10 girls' team were Abby Barton and Leanne Wentworth, senior teammates with Danielle on this year's section championship team.
Those little girls weren't afraid of hard work and they loved soccer. So when the county league season ended, they joined a team of all-stars and played through the winter. As the years went by, traveling teams coached by Garvin attracted more and more members of what would be the core of Sonora High's future varsities.
"Having girls that have played together that long gives us a huge advantage," said Garvin. "They are best friends on and off the field and it shows in their play."
Their dedication, 12-month-a-year work ethic and level of fitness and excellence are not news to parents or friends of the 25 girls on the championship team. Neither have their abilities gone unnoticed by college coaches, as evidenced by nearly $300,000 worth of soccer scholarships senior members have been offered.
But now, as Monday's vocal crowd at Dunlavy showed, the rest of the community is catching on.
"I had to miss the first half because I just read it in the paper this afternoon," said another soccer neophyte in the joyous aftermath of the win. "What a great thing this is for our little town."
Pulled amid thunderous applause from yesterday's match with 90 seconds left, the Sonora team's seniors have played their last high school game together. But Abby Barton, Heather Perez, Alexa Janicki, Danielle Garvin, Shayla Collie, Courtney Opie, Leanne Wentworth and Catherine Krom with Coach Garvin deserve that applause and the community's appreciation for laying foundation for a girls' soccer program that should be highly successful for years to come.
"Our JV team only lost once and we have a great group of players returning next year," said Garvin, whose sophomore daughter, Rebekah, will return for another season as goalkeeper.
And you don't have to press the league's coach of the year hard before he admits what he's up to.
"Building a dynasty," he says. "That's what we want to do at Sonora High."
Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.