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Promise Fulfilled | Seniors Lead Whitney Soccer To NorCal Title Promise Fulfilled | Seniors Lead Whitney Soccer To NorCal Title
A Talented 2022 Class Delivered On Long-Awaited Expectations In Leading Whitney Soccer To A CIF Div. I Crown, Cementing The Program Among Region’s Elite... Promise Fulfilled | Seniors Lead Whitney Soccer To NorCal Title

A Talented 2022 Class Delivered On Long-Awaited Expectations In Leading Whitney Soccer To A CIF Div. I Crown, Cementing The Program Among Region’s Elite •

When Joel Williams took over as the Whitney soccer coach, his vision was to help elevate the varsity boys to become one of the top soccer programs — not just in the Sac-Joaquin Section, but throughout the region and state.

So it was fitting that when Williams and the Wildcats reached the CIF Northern Regional Div. I final, they lined up against a program and coach that represented that very goal. And has so for decades.

If the Wildcats were going to reach the apex of NorCal soccer in 2022, it was going to require beating Central Coast Section champion Watsonville and longtime coach Roland Hedgpeth. Hedgpeth has coached soccer for more than five decades and entered the contest with 695 wins and hopes of No. 696 as he nears his 80th birthday.

“Roland is a Hall-of-Famer,” Williams said. “I told him before the game that it was just an honor to be able to come out and compete with him. You look at him and some of the other coaches (in Northern California) like Paul (Rose) at Jesuit who have had great, lengthy careers … If you can have a program like that, and have that success, then it’s all worthwhile.”

Saturday’s championship match proved he’s off to a great start.

Williams and the Whitney boys soccer program got a huge boost in respect and recognition with a 3-1 victory over Watsonville in front of a full stadium of supporters of both schools. The Wildcats added the NorCal title to their Sierra Foothill League and Sac-Joaquin Section championships, and earned more than just hardware for their efforts.


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“For us, we wanted to gain respect for our league and for our area, and just to show that we do play some pretty good football up here,” Williams added.

With its first-ever team championship at the regional or state level since the school opened in 2005, Whitney also became the first Sacramento-area boys’ soccer team to claim the Div. I NorCal title. CIF began holding Northern regional championships in 2018.

Whitney soccer, CIF, NorCal Championships
Fit these guys for some CIF Championship rings.(David Gershon photos)

The victory capped an impressive season in which the Wildcats finished with a 21-2-2 record, and went unbeaten once the calendar changed over to 2022. Despite a couple of early road losses to Davis and Jesuit, every member of the Wildcats staff and team knew a CIF title was an attainable goal.

In fact, freshman coach Ryan Balbi called the shot four years ago. 

That’s when the Wildcats’ Class of 2022 first hit the pitch on the Rocklin campus. Balbi, who has been with Williams at Whitney since 2014, told the varsity coach that the program had officially “turned the corner” when the new class of players arrived in 2018.

“My freshman coach called it early and said that this class, when they were seniors, can win a state championship,” Williams said. “We knew they were pretty special to begin with.”

But the road to the historic win was not a smooth one. Whitney reached the section semifinals in 2019 and lost in the second round of the SJS playoffs the following year. The junior year for the group of 14 seniors on this year’s team was lost to COVID. There was a brief spring season but no playoffs. .

The bumps in the road did not deter the Wildcats’ senior class from remaining confident in their abilities and keeping their eyes on the final prize.

“At the very start, we said that our No. 1 goal was to win state,” senior midfielder Robbie Mora said. “We knew that we would have to go through all of the steps to get there, but we just worked our butts off and it all came together at the end.”

Mora had a solid regular season, scoring six goals and recording six assists in 18 games. But saved his best for last. Over seven postseason contests, Mora set up another four goals and scored five times. All five goals came  in the Wildcats’ final three games. The senior scored both goals in a 2-1 NorCal quarterfinal win against Redwood-Larkspur and added a pair of goals in a 4-2 comeback victory over Reedley in the semifinals. 

Mora would open the scoring in the championship game early. It was just the 10th minute when he forced a Watsonville turnover deep in its own end of the field and fought off one defender to slot the ball into the lower corner.

Robbie Mora, Jorge Maglalano, Watsonville
Robbie Mora (8) watches as his 10th minute shot on goal skids past Watsonville goalkeeper Jorge Maglalano for a 1-0 Whitney lead.

Senior Hector Serrano Martin notched the other two goals in the final, including a walk-in goal in the 50th minute when the Watsonville defense again gave up the ball near the 18-yard line. Serrano Martin took advantage of a miscommunication between the Wildcatz defender and goalkeeper, who seemingly gave the ball up to Serrano Martin at the top of the box to convert the turnover into a 3-0 lead.

Watsonville’s No. 1 goalkeeper, senior Edgar Angel, did not start and played only sparingly in the NorCal final after suffering bruised ribs in a collision with a De La Salle player during the semifinals three nights before. Hedgpeth and the Wildcatz were forced to shuffle their lineup and use multiple goalkeepers in the final, which resulted in communication issues with unfamiliar players and voices at the back of the defense.

“Coach mentioned to look to test the keepers to see if we could take advantage of the situation,” Serrano Martin said. “I was just fortunate to be able to capitalize off it.”

Serrano Martin was a key player in the postseason and especially in the final match, but the senior had his own catching up to do in the chemistry department throughout the season. As a member of the Sacramento Republic U.S. Soccer Development Academy program, the senior forward did not play for Whitney during the previous two seasons. Fortunately, Serrano Martin found his stride down the stretch, scoring five goals and assisting on three more in the Wildcats’ final nine matches.

Whitney Soccer, Hector Serrano Martin
Hector Serrano Martin drives the ball upfield during the first half of the NorCal final.

“The great thing about Hector is that he just loves the game,” Williams said of the Saint Mary’s College-bound star. “He just wants to play and enjoys playing for the entire time.”

Whitney’s leading goal-scorer, senior Brayden Goularte, was kept off the scoring sheet in the NorCal final, but the captain was a huge contributor throughout his Whitney career. Goularte, who is also garnering Division I attention, led the team with 22 goals and 49 points this season and finished his high school career with 40 goals and 90 points over 53 games. And when the lights shined brightest in the postseason, Goularte carried the offensive load. He scored eight times and collected a pair of assists in a five-game stretch leading up to the final.

Senior goalkeeper Andrew Vanden Akker anchored the defense throughout the playoffs. He logged 468 of 560 postseason minutes in the net and posted three consecutive shutouts. After sharing the net-minding duties with junior Kaden Johnson during the regular season, Vanden Akker was Whitney’s go-to guy in goal to cap off his high school career.

After leading 3-0 in the NorCal final, Whitney and Vander Akker lost the shutout in the 58th minute but thwarted several Watsonville attacks down the stretch that would have increased the intensity of the title game in the final minutes. His biggest save came in the 71st minute when a shot headed for the upper corner of the net was tipped over the crossbar to the relief of the home crowd.

Andrew Vanden Akker, Goalkeeper
Andrew Vanden Akker elevates to pull down a shot on goal during the first half of the NorCal final.

“We’re lucky to have two great goalkeepers,” Serrano Martin said of the Wildcats’ goalkeeping duo that also includes junior Kaden Johnson. “That last big save was huge, but it’s not surprising to see our guys make big plays.”

“That’s just Andrew for you.”

And the CIF Northern California Division I Boys’ Soccer champion Whitney Wildcats? That’s just the newest big-time program in the region.

Jim McCue is a senior contributor to SportStars. He lives in Folsom with his wife and three kids, focusing his reporting on the Sac-Joaquin Section.

Jim McCue

Jim McCue is a senior contributor to SportStars. He lives in Folsom with his wife and three kids, focusing his reporting on the Sac-Joaquin Section.

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