Quarterback Gunnar Selover (left) and running back Javyn Drobnick will look to lead Big Valley Christian to Central California Athletic Alliance and Sac-Joaquin Section titles. (James Burns)

Summer lovin': Hilmar, Denair climb in final preseason small-school rankings

James Burns

The jostling has begun in the ever-competitive Trans-Valley League and the season hasn't even begun.

Defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI champion Hilmar has leapfrogged league rivals Escalon, Ripon and Modesto Christian in the final preseason small-school poll. The Yellowjackets will begin the 2018 season No. 2, trailing only Sonora, a four-time defending Mother Lode League champion. Hilmar will have a say in the "Who is No. 1?" debate; the Yellowjackets host the top-ranked Wildcats on Sept. 7.

Hilmar wasn't the only team to make a serious run up the ladder in the final days of summer. Denair rocketed into the top-10, supplanting another Southern League team at No. 9. The Coyotes return eight starters on both sides of the ball, and coach Anthony Armas' senior class was undefeated at the frosh-soph level two years ago. No. 4 Orestimba is the resident king in the Southern League, but the Warriors will be pressed by Denair, No. 7 Ripon Christian, and rival Gustine and Mariposa.

Back to Hilmar ...

If the Yellowjackets climbed to No. 2, what happened to the rest, defending TVL tri-champions Escalon, Ripon and Modesto Christian? Escalon holds onto the No. 3 seed, while Ripon falls to No. 5 and Modesto Christian No. 6.

Here's a closer look at the Week 0 small-school rankings:

1. Sonora (0-0): The Wildcats are faster than they've been in years past, and coach Bryan Craig said second-year starting quarterback Jake Gookin has developed into a leader, just as Sammy Page did during Sonora's run to a 2015 Sac-Joaquin Section championship and CIF State regional bowl appearance.

2. Hilmar (0-0): With Isaac Sharp and Justin Rentfro back in the huddle, the Yellowjackets' stable of running backs rivals any other in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section, regardless of level. Delhi draws the short straw.

3. Escalon (0-0): Former Escalon quarterback Andrew Beam takes over the reins from Mark Loureiro, the section's all-time winningest coach. Beam didn't line up any softies in his rookie season, either, beginning with a road trip to Union Mine.

4. Orestimba (0-0): The Warriors' offense will be as potent as any in the region with quarterback Jacob Bettencourt targeting wide receiver Tyler Vargas down field. Bettencourt is staring down the school's single-season passing records, and will be locked in a battle with Bret Harte's Ryan Kraft on Friday.

5. Ripon (0-0): The Indians return dual-threat quarterback Ryan Daggett, who ranked among the top returning players at his position in the Front Row region, but Friday's opener against Weston Ranch may launch Justin Hansen's star as Ripon's primary running back.

6. Modesto Chr. (0-0): The Crusaders open the season with former CIF State champion Sierra in a game with old Trans-Valley League ties. Sierra is coached by former Ripon coach and athletic director Chris Johnson.

7. Ripon Chr. (0-0): Coach Trey Ozenbaugh loves his group of skill players, led by returning all-Southern League first-teamer Sean McGovern, but he love-love-loooves the big, experienced, sometimes mean-spirited bodies on the offensive and defensive lines. The Knights should lean on Millennium in their opener.

8. Calaveras (0-0): Bye.

9. Denair (0-0): The Coyotes are fast and experienced, and if they want to announce themselves as a legitimate title contender in the Southern League, Anthony Armas' boys could send a statement at home against Woodland Christian.

10. Big Valley Chr. (0-0): Javyn Drobnick has his sights set on becoming the area's all-time leading rusher. Former Oakdale star Will Semone, now in his sophomore season at Cal Poly, holds the single-season record of 2,851 yards. If Drobnick's campaign is serious, he will need a fast start against Harker.

On the bubble: Gustine (0-0), Mariposa (0-0).