This fall, old rivalries will be renewed and athletic competition at Tracy and West high schools will be as intense as ever.
The realignment of the Tri-City Athletic League and San Joaquin Athletic Association puts Tracy and West back in the same league and puts them up against Lincoln and St. Mary’s of Stockton and Lodi and Tokay of Lodi. Now the traditional rivals in each of the three cities are together again, and the dominant teams from the former TCAL and SJAA are in one league.
West High athletic director Derek Sprecksel said that the significance of the realignment for West and Tracy teams would become clearer closer to playoffs in late October, but he expected that athletes and fans would like the change.
“You’ll have incredibly meaningful rivalry games in the league for each sport,” Sprecksel said. “That’s going to be exciting for everybody.”
The Sac-Joaquin Section’s league representatives overwhelmingly approved league realignments across the section in April 2013. The changes to the TCAL and SJAA are the first for those leagues since 2005, when the 10-team SJAA was split in half in anticipation of two new Stockton schools, Chavez High and McNair High.
Up until now, the SJAA included Tracy High, Lodi High and Stockton schools Bear Creek, Chavez, Franklin and Lincoln. The TCAL included West High, Tokay High of Lodi, and Stockton schools Edison, McNair, St. Mary’s and Stagg.
As Tracy, West, Lincoln, St. Mary’s, Lodi and Tokay become the new TCAL, the other six Stockton schools are grouped in the SJAA.
That puts the Tracy and West football teams in a much tougher league. Lincoln was SJAA champion in seven of the past nine years, with the exception of 2013 and 2009, when Tracy won the title. Lodi is also usually in the race for playoffs.
St. Mary’s has been TCAL champion in six of the past nine years, with West winning in 2005 and 2006 and Stagg the champion last year. Tokay has also been a regular playoff contender.
West football coach Steve Anastasio said he wouldn’t change the way he prepared players for games, except to let them know that all of the teams in the TCAL would be playoff contenders.
“It’s a challenge for us, and we’re going to have to learn to compete at that level,” he said, adding that individual wins would be more important than before.
“If you can win this league or come in second, it will prepare you better for playoffs,” he said. “It’s just going to be a battle every week, and we’re up to the challenge.”
Tracy football coach Matt Shrout also expects harder games this year.
“The programs are more established and better programs top to bottom,” he said, adding that each school in the new TCAL had freshman, sophomore and varsity teams, while many of the Stockton schools no longer had freshman programs.
Shrout said he looked forward to playing St. Mary’s on Oct. 24, the first meeting of the teams since the 2012 playoffs, when St. Mary’s beat Tracy 34-6.
He added that the Crosstown Classic against West — the last game of the regular season on Nov. 11 — took on new meaning with the realignment.
“I like playing West last. That will be a big game,” Shrout said. “There will be years where that game will decide, hopefully, who’s the league champ.”
Players said they, too, liked getting another shot at rival teams each year. Tracy senior wide receiver Josh Clarke was a sophomore on the varsity team when Tracy lost to St. Mary’s in the 2012 playoffs.
“Our defense was good during the playoffs, but our offense wasn’t scoring. This year it’s different,” Clarke said. “This year our offense is clicking. If we just stick to that, we’ll be alright.”
The change won’t be so profound with boys soccer. According to Tracy coach Phil Kalis, all of the schools across both leagues have had championship-caliber teams, and the realignment doesn’t change that.
“With boys soccer, there’s not one league that’s stronger than the others,” Kalis said. “It ebbs and flows. I don’t expect the league to be easier or harder than before.”
West coach Nate Perry expected a tougher competitive level but figured the biggest change would be the three-round format of the new TCAL season, which the league adopted for boys soccer this fall.
With three games against each team, coaches and players will get to know their opponents’ strategies, strengths and weaknesses, he said, and rivalries on the field will be more intense.
“By the third time, you really get to know each other,” Perry said.
“It will be ‘Who wants it most?’ by the third round. It will bring a lot more coaching and strategy by the third game.”
He added that the old rivalries promised to generate more interest among soccer fans.
“You bring out St. Mary’s and Lincoln, people will get excited. It will be fun to have that on a day-in, day-out basis.”
Tracy High water polo coach Keith Britt said that the new TCAL looked likely to be one of the most competitive leagues in the section. He said that the Bulldogs, who typically finish behind Lincoln and Lodi, are now adding St. Mary’s and Tokay — which traditionally dominate the TCAL — to their schedule.
“It’s going to be a tough league, and we’ll try to be competitive,” Britt said. “The kids will get better with competition with those four teams.”
St. Mary’s also has the strongest volleyball team in the new league, usually going deep into the SJS playoffs, with Lincoln and Tokay also regular contenders in the playoffs.
“It’s been years since we’ve played Tokay, and I don’t know if we ever played St. Mary’s,” Tracy volleyball coach Mahina Tankersley said. “It’s going to be an interesting year.”
Tracy High girls tennis coach Paul Demsher said he welcomed the more competitive league.
“In regard to tennis, the new league will be very balanced top to bottom,” Demsher said. “St. Mary’s will most likely be leading the pack.”
St. Mary’s was the TCAL tennis champion last year, with West in second place. Lincoln won the SJAA, with Lodi and Tracy in second and third.
St. Mary’s and Lodi also have the strongest girls golf teams and usually send their full teams to the SJS Master meet.
In cross-country, Lodi’s girls won the SJAA and Lincoln’s boys were league champs. Tokay won both the boys and the girls divisions in TCAL cross-country.
Contact Bob Brownne at email@example.com or 830-4227.