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Playoff-hungry Eagles take flight

Del Oro hasn’t made the postseason since 2000, but demanding coach Benjamin hopes to reverse its fortunes
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS — Ron Benjamin is no stranger to success on a prep soccer pitch. He moved to the foothills in 2007 to serve as director of girls coaching for the Placer United Soccer Club after 15 years of high school and club coaching in his native Marin County. Benjamin led Bay Area powers Marin Catholic and Redwood High to numerous section championships, a feat he hopes to help the Del Oro girls accomplish for the first time in school history this spring. “We haven’t put a lot of emphasis on it, because our main goal right now is to take it one game at a time,” Benjamin said. “The long-term goal we’re talking about is winning the section, but right now we’re talking about just making the playoffs.” The Golden Eagles are looking to end one of the longest postseason droughts at Del Oro. The last time the Eagles made the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs in 2000, half the section played girls soccer in the winter, half in the spring. “It hasn’t really seemed doable in the past few years, but this year we’re really aiming for that,” junior midfielder Becky Duncan said. “We’ve talked about it before, but this year we really feel like we can change that.” For Benjamin, the march to playoffs begins with grueling practices. “My style of coaching demands that the work rate is very high,” Benjamin said. “It’s not going to be lax. We try to make it as fun as possible, but we’re also competing. I’m just holding kids accountable for their training habits and what they’re bringing to the table in games. We’re trying to change the mindset that Del Oro’s just a team that’s always pretty good but never is good enough.” Players like Duncan, who has played under Benjamin on club teams for three years, don’t mind. “He has really high expectations,” she said. “He’s a perfectionist, but it really pushes you to be better.” Del Oro struggled to compete in the Sierra Foothill League all five years under Nathan Williams, another Placer United coach who brought Benjamin on as an assistant for the 2007 season, Williams’ last at the helm. “I thought I was kind of done with my high school coaching career,” Benjamin said. “With the spring, our girls club season is now ending. I like to be a part of the high school soccer team. It’s a lot different than club soccer. Players are competing for their schools. There’s a lot of school pride. I’m hoping to help out the program and get the wins rolling.” Del Oro finished 8-7-2 under Rory Somers in 2009, a successful season by recent standards. The Eagles are 2-1-2 overall and 1-1 in the SFL entering tonight’s home game against Nevada Union. Del Oro graduated six seniors, including star defender Shelby Cargile, who is playing Division II soccer for Cal State Stanislaus. “It’s hard to replace a Shelby,” Benjamin said. “Her work rate, her desire to compete were always very good, so that was a big loss. Our back line’s going to be a little bit younger and less experienced in general.” That defense includes junior Casey McCavitt at center-back and freshman Marissa Grattan at right-back. Benjamin is still platooning several players at outside back as the season gets rolling. Junior Casey Bell and sophomore Kelly Edwards have shared time in front of the goal. Bri Holt backed up graduated goalkeeper Katie Pulliam as a junior last season, but is not playing soccer her senior year. Four players are competing for three midfield spots. Duncan, one of five players from Del Oro’s basketball team who just joined the soccer squad after a deep postseason run, is “an unbelievable athlete,” according to Benjamin. “Her work rate and attitude are tremendous,” he said. “She can score goals and create opportunities.” The same can be said about sophomore Miranda Bailey, who “is almost out of the same mold and she’ll be contributing a ton.” Junior Rachel Sloss and senior Chani Tinucci are solid in the holding midfield. “We’re pretty deep, so it’s going to be hard for me to try to manipulate the positions to make sure we have our best players on the field,” Benjamin said. “Our strength is the personnel that we have. Talent-wise, I feel we’re going to be up with the top of the league. It all comes down to the girls coming out here, working hard and performing well.” Senior Bibi Carmouche and junior Emma Freeman are speedy forwards who led the Eagles in scoring last spring. Sophomore Lauren Golnic is a strong addition to the offense. “She’s very technical,” Benjamin said. “She’s great one-versus-one and she’s a very good finisher as well. We’ve got great personnel all over the field. Right now we’re just preaching one game at a time and looking to get one of the three playoff spots this year. I feel confident that we’ll be in the hunt for that.”