On a warm afternoon earlier this month, the Cordova High School varsity and frosh/soph football teams descended onto the turf at Lancers Stadium.
After spending more than an hour pumping iron inside the school’s weight room, the players on both teams worked on drills in T-shirts and shorts participated in offensive drills that ranged from 7-on-7 to running plays. Among the players were three girls on both teams.
For the first time since Darren Nill became the Cordova varsity football coach in 2015, the Lancers have two girls on the varsity team and another on the frosh/soph team. Kiran Pooni and AJ Williams are vying for playing time on the varsity team and Yancy Alfaro on the frosh/soph team.
Pooni is already a proven student-athlete at Cordova. Last winter, the incoming junior started at midfielder on the Cordova varsity girls soccer team. She also played on the school’s junior varsity girls basketball team.
“Kiran came up to me during the (last) school year and said, ‘Coach, I’m really interested in playing football,’” said Nill of his conversation with Pooni. “She said she wants to do it. I asked around campus, and have been told she’s one of the best female athletes on campus. I felt pretty sure she knew what she was doing. She can handle herself.”
Pooni added, “I’ve always had an interest in it. I wanted to show people that just because you’re a girl don’t mean you can’t do things that guys can do.”
Williams and Alfaro came out when the Lancers started their practices earlier this month.
“I saw AJ the first week of practice,” said Nill of Williams, who will be a senior when the 2017-18 school year starts in early August. “She showed up and said she wanted to play.”
Williams, who will be a senior when the 2017-18 school year starts in early August, added, “He’s helped me step-by-step… he’s been very helpful.”
Pooni and Williams, along with Alfaro, worked out at wide receiver and defensive back in practices. Those are the spots that the trio would be listed when the season starts toward the end of August.
The male football players on both teams have embraced all three players, Nill notes. The girls are treated the same way as the boys.
“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Nill said.
Williams added, “They’ve treated me like one of the team. They don’t even care that I’m a female.”
When practices first started earlier this month, Nill felt that the girls felt intimated. But they stood their grounds in practices and weight room.
“AJ, what I like about her, is her grit,” said Nill of Williams. “She came out and had some problems; running, health. I don’t think she was probably hydrated when she first came out. And I thought for sure after that first practice we’d never see her again. And she kept coming back out, and I applaud her for that.”
Williams added, “Football has been very good.”
Pooni admitted that she had limited confidence when practices first started. But as each days and time in the weight room and football field passes, she’s continued to build her self-esteem to a higher level.
In fact, the coaches Pooni has been working on punting and kicking for the Lancers. After all, she did a lot of kicking on the girls soccer team last winter.
“It’s much more intense,” said Pooni of football. “You have to have a lot more focus.”
Pooni and Williams, along with Alfaro, and Cordova open the season on Friday, Aug. 25th against Rio Americano at Del Campo’s field.
Nick Frietas is a coach, ambassador and all-round representative for area youth rugby. Freitas grew up near Auburn in Applegate. With a degree in fine arts, his wife, and fresh from the film industry, Freitas has returned to the area to spread his passion for rugby.
Artist and athlete, Freitas likes to stay creative and on the move. When it comes to unwinding, he still seems to stay in motion. “We love to go to the river, we like to hike, bike, swim, basically anything active. I also fancy myself and inventor and painter. Having a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) I like to experience as many art forms as I can. Athletes can be artists and artists can be athletes. Unfortunately, often our society forces kids to choose one or the other, which I feel is doing us all a disservice.”
Employed by Rugby NorCal, Freitas is Youth Development Officer for Sacramento Valley and his days are full. “I'm either chasing down leads for schools, sports clubs, churches, after school programs, etc. to help implement offering flag rugby in their program. I also help start leagues like the one about to start here in Rancho Cordova. My goal is to get as many kids as possible to play the game at least once. Sometimes I refer to myself as the Jonny Appleseed of Rugby.”
While Freitas wants to bring the sport to the whole area, Rancho Cordova is Ground Central for the group’s development of youth rugby. “Short term goals are to get flag leagues up and running through schools, parks and after school clubs such as Boys and Girls Club and YMCA,” said Freitas. “We are also offering for the first time in many years, youth rugby teams in Rancho Cordova. We are very excited about this. We will be offering a summer flag league and in the fall and winter we will have teams that will compete in the Rugby NorCal tackle league. We will have an under 10, under 12 and Middle School teams for both boys and girls.”
Keenly aware of Rancho Cordova’s sports legacy, he sees rugby as complementary to other established sports. “I want to build on that sports legacy. I have seen the caliber of athletes in this city and I believe we would become the next hot spot for professional rugby players. Fifteen of USA Rugby’s players are from Northern California. The national talent development already has their eyes out here, we just need to show them Rancho Cordova athletes. I also believe that Rancho Cordova can be a shining example of how rugby can help build positive community focused on working together.”
Freitas sees major possibilities (including college scholarships) for Rancho Cordova and the Sacramento area. “Ideally I want to see a school league and a competitive club. If we are talking 10-year plan I would like to see a professional rugby team in Rancho Cordova, which could be closer than you would think. Absolutely! The city of Glendale, CO [built] one of the nicest rugby stadiums in the country and because of this Glendale is called “Rugby Town USA.” I believe Rancho Cordova could show them what a “rugby town” really looks like.”
Acres of land at the former Mather Air Base have been leased from the county to build a world class rugby complex, spotlighting Rancho Cordova and Sacramento County as a sports destination. “Yes, the rugby complex will be an amazing addition to the City,” commented Freitas. “A huge benefit will be it bringing in the international rugby matches. USA Rugby is scouting for a new home and we could be a viable option for them, which would have a massive impact on the economy of the City. The complex will also offer a premier training facility for rugby players and teams from around the state.”
In the meantime, Freitas has more pressing concerns. While the reception from local cities, especially Rancho Cordova, has been warm, he appeals to teachers, students, parents and officials to get involved. A home field for kids is what he needs most. “Don’t worry we'll train you. But most of all right now we would love a little land. While the complex is being built, I’m trying to get a bit of land to set up an after-school rugby facility. This would be a place for kids of all ages to come after school, play, practice rugby, eat some healthy food and get assistance with homework. So. my call would go out to anyone who might have some land so we can build our little field of dreams for the kids.”
Fast paced, fun, and inclusive, rugby stresses safety, camaraderie, respect and teamwork, with studies showing far fewer injuries than “mainstream” sports, points out Freitas. For more information see www.rugbynorcal.org and www.lancerrugbyclub.org.
Willie Sloan first came to Rancho Cordova in the 1980s. Ever since then he has continued to be a presence in the sports circles of the City. After his mother read media accounts, the family purposefully moved to Rancho Cordova during the Cordova High football program’s powerhouse days, specifically so Sloan could play here. Although it’s been decades since Sloan played football at Cordova High School, he has remained an active and avid player, including making the switch from full contact to flag football. That dedication to the sport recently resulted in Sloan earning an inaugural place in the Central Valley Flag Football Hall of Fame. Sloan graciously gave the following in a recent interview.
Q: Please tell me about yourself. How did you come to Rancho Cordova, how are you still involved?
A: I came to the City of Rancho Cordova from New Jersey in 1982 via my father retiring from the Air Force. I also, still currently reside within the City of Rancho Cordova. I am involved in a few little things at the moment within the community of Cordova Villa, but I am always open and looking to be more involved within the community and/or City of Rancho Cordova. I am currently one of the organizers for what we call the “Villa Reunion.” The Villa Reunion is a group of us from my old neighborhood who decided last year, that it would be nice for our community to organize, and try to bring the community together once on year (1st weekend in June) for a community reunion and barbeque picnic. This year, after a successful year last year, will be our second year.
Q: How did you become involved in sports here and what was the experience like for you?
A: I became involved in the sports in the City of Rancho Cordova by way of attending Cordova High School in the Mid 80’s (1985). However, even before then I have always been involved in sports in general since I was a little kid. The experience of sports however, was nothing like I have ever experienced before my arrival to the City of Ranch Cordova. The City of Rancho Cordova, just carries so much weight, legacy, tradition, city and community love and support that even [to] this day, I have yet to see being matched.
Q: What lessons from sports did you take with you into your adult life and everyday world?
A: The biggest thing the I took from being involved in organized sports the is the ability to “want to work with others” if you want to be more successful, and the willingness to be accountable/responsible for your part. In my adult life, that has since translated into being more of people person, not being afraid to ask for help if I ran into a challenge I know I could not achieve on my own, and being accountable, taking personal responsibility and knowing thing will always work out in the end.
Q: What do you think about youth and adult sports available in the area?
A: Youth and Adult sports in the City of Rancho Cordova, as well as any other city if very important. It not only promotes the idea and development of how to work with each other on the youth level, but it also provides comradery on the adult level.
Q: Who should be involved and why?
A: I feel as many people should be involved if they love the sports scene. I just turned 50, and I’m still looking for sports activity to play since my retirement from flag football. I think sports are good connection barrier for people ranging from all ages. Youth to adults and even seniors. The personal and live interaction can do wonders for those who aren’t really into the whole social (media) scene.
Q: What additional things would you like our readers to know about you?
A: I love spending time with family and friends. Lifelong friendships are important to me, so I tend to hold them close, as well as my family. I love laughing and acting goofy when I’m with my fiancé, the times we spend together are special. I come from a family of 5 women, and I’m the youngest and only boy, so I’m very spoiled. I’ve been playing full contact flag football for over 20 years. Since being inducted into the CVFA Flag Football Hall of Fame June 2016, I have since announced my retirement. However, I am always looking for a way to get back out there…”
A good season came to an end for members of the Cordova High School track and field program.
Five Lancers competed at the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Masters Championships at Elk Grove High on May 25th. Competing in the trials, the Lancers were unable to advance to the finals, which were held the following day, also at Elk Grove High.
In the trials of the 400 meter race, the Lancers’ 4x400 boys relay team of Bryan Estrada, Philip Cadena, Andrew Roberts and Elijah Morgera took sixth place in the second heat at 3 minutes, 30.02 seconds. The top eight teams with the best times qualified to advance to the finals.
In the first of two flights in the girls’ shot put, Cordova’s Faauiga Toele, a freshman, was 11th with a toss of 35 feet, 3 inches. She was 12th overall. The winning mark was 39 feet, 11 inches.
The top three in the finals, plus the fourth place finisher, qualified for the 99th annual California Interscholastic Federation State Track and Field Championships, which start today, Friday, at Veterans Memorial Stadium at Buchanan High School in Clovis.
A new adventure begins for the Cordova High School football team.
Yesterday, Thursday, the Lancers started spending time on the field, running their offense and defense in 7-on-7 drills in preparing for the upcoming season. High school football teams in the Sac-Joaquin Section can compete from June 1st through July 10th. Practices that include pads later in the week begin on July 31st.
Since February, returning players and sophomores who will be juniors when the 2017-18 school year begins in early August, have been in the weight room lifting weights. According to Cordova head coach Darrin Nill, the players will continue to pump iron as well compete in 7-on-7 drills.
In addition to getting ready for the upcoming season, the program is taking part in the 2017 Cordova High School Football Challenge.
As part of the program’s fundraising efforts, the Lancers are conducting their yearly Lift-a-Thon to help each individual player raise $160 to cover the cost of their Lancer Player Pack, which include short-sleeve dri-fit T-shirt, long-sleeve Under Armour dri-fit T-shirt, and a pair of athletic shorts for use in the weight room and practices.
Each player is trying to raise $160 that would cover their costs for the items listed in the previous paragraph. Any type of donation for one or some of the players contributes toward expenses such as helping pay for passing tournament fees, trainer supplies, digital video equipment used as a teaching tool and to assist in college recruiting and the program’s end of year banquet and awards ceremony.
The program is also trying to raise funds to purchase new sideline communication equipment for both the varsity and frosh/soph football teams.
To contribute toward the Cordova football program, visit the Website at app.eteamsponsor.com/ETS/supportUs/42087158?fund_participant_id=42087170&program
Next stop is the Masters.
Members of the Cordova High School track and field program finished strong at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV-V meet at California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock on May 18th. The top four in each event advanced to the section’s Masters’ meet, which started yesterday, Thursday, and concludes today, Friday at Elk Grove High School.
Leading the way for the Lancers, in the girls’ shot put is Faauiga Toele, who took second place with a throw of 36 feet, 4 ½ inches. Foothill of Sacramento’s Sara Blair won with a toss of 38-6.50.
“Faauiga had the second best throw,” said Cordova head coach Shane Jackson, “with a real shot of making finals at Masters.”
Toele was sixth in the discus with a toss of 86 feet, 6 inches. The winning toss was 110-08.
For the Lancer boys, Andrew Roberts took fourth place in the 400-meter dash with a time of 53.19 seconds. He was also part of the Lancers’ boys 4x400 meter relay team took fourth place at 3 minutes, 32.92 seconds. Other members of the squad are Bryan Estrada, Elijah Morgera and Philip Cadena. Alternate runner is Kijon Allen.
Missing out on earning a Masters’ berth in the boys’ 100-meters is Cordova’s Elijah Morgera. He took fifth place in the finals at 11.23. Ceres’ Zyler Harrison was third at 11.20.
“Huge winds in the final, so they all ran faster in that heat,” Jackson said.
Roberts competed in the long jump, taking sixth place with a leap of 20 feet, 9 inches.
As a team, Cordova boys took 11th place with 12 points. Livingston won the D-IV title with 77 points, with Placer taking second place at 67 points.
For the girls, the Lancers finished in 14th place with eight points. Placer won with 132 points, followed by Cordova’s Sierra Valley Conference rival in El Dorado, which took second place at 79.5 points.
Members of the Cordova High School track and field program continued their race toward post-season success on Tuesday.
Competing at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV-V trials at California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock, the Lancers have many advancing to the finals that were held yesterday, Thursday. The top eight in each event who competed on Tuesday advanced to the finals.
Leading the way was senior Elijah Morgera, who took fourth place overall in the boys 100 meters at 11.22 seconds. There were two heats for the event. In the 200, Morgera was fifth at 23.23.
Another Lancer who competed at the finals is Andrew Roberts, who took fourth place overall in the boys 200 meters race at 52.83 on Tuesday. He took third place in his heat.
Adam Holman competed in the boys 110 hurdles for Cordova, where he took 10th place at 17.71. He took sixth in his heat in Tuesday’s event. At the SVC finals, he took fourth place in the same event. In the 300 hurdles, Holman was 10th at 44.41 seconds. He was fourth in his heat.
Cordova’s 4x400 boys meter relay team also moved on to Thursday’s finals. Morgera, along with teammates Roberts, Bryan Estrada and Philip Cadena, took fourth place overall at 3:30.89. The Lancers took second place in the first of two heats of the event.
Nathaneal Johnson also ran in the 300 hurdles, taking 12th place at 47.32. In his heat, he took sixth place. Johnson was fourth in the event at the SVC finals.
The boys’ long jump, which took place Thursday, had Roberts competing. At the SVC finals, he took first place at 21 feet, 4.25 inches.
For the Lady Lancers, Faauiga Toele took second place in the shot put at 36 feet, 4.5 inches. The trials and finals for the event were held on Tuesday. On Thursday, Toele competed in the trials and finals of the discus.
Ambiance Jackson just missed on advancing to the finals, as she took 10th place in the 300 hurdles at 55.61. In her heat, she was fifth.
The Lady Lancers’ 4x100 meter relay team, which took fourth place at the SVC finals, took 10th place at the trials at 54.39. Members of that squad were Lauren Johnson, Carla Donis, Kari Vanterpool and Bri Anna Samuel.
The top four in each final’s events on Thursday, and the finals that were in some events on Tuesday, advance to the section’s Masters meet at Elk Grove High School next Thursday and Friday.