This summer, the Liberty Ranch Hawks had a good chance to test their new roster without going very far from their own turf.
The Hawks played Lodi, Tokay, Valley and Stagg, and will have another chance to see local talent when they compete in a scrimmage against Bear Creek on Aug. 16.
“We went local and that was great, we didn’t have to travel far. Linden came here a couple of times. It was great because none of us had to travel. We got a lot of experience and health-wise we were good. We got better as we went along,” Liberty Ranch coach Anthony Linebaugh said.
The Hawks will be in a bit of a transition year as they lost a large chunk of last season’s roster due to graduation but in a continuously challenging Sierra Valley Conference, the chance to improve and see what their current roster of players can do will be an intriguing one.
“We have a lot of new faces in terms of the kids because we graduated I want to say 17 seniors. We have some returners but we have a lot of new faces at the varsity level, a lot of freshmen at the sophomore level,” Linebaugh said of the Hawks, who went 2-3 in league last year and 4-6 overall.
The Hawks will open the preseason with an Aug. 23 game against Johnson at home, then will face Center, Amador, Bear River and Laguna Creek, with just the Bear River game taking place on the road.
“It’s a tough schedule. Pre-season-wise, we have three teams on the schedule that made the playoffs last year and are very good teams. Johnson’s very athletic. So is Laguna Creek. We had a very close game with them last year and they have a new coach, a lot of good players there and league-wise, it’s wide-open.”
Center, Amador and Bear River all competed in the second round of the playoffs or further last season with Bear River reaching the third round.
The Hawks have an estimated 27-28 players on the varsity roster so while there isn’t much depth in terms of roster size, the Hawks are looking to take what they learned over the summer and see what they can do against the rest of the SVC.
“I think it’s a fun league in terms of, there’s no odds-on favorite. Union Mine won it last year and got off to a great start and never looked back,” Linebaugh said. “You just never know who’s going to emerge from the league. We have to get better every day, we have to prepare for our scrimmage and stay healthy.”
Helping to guide the Hawks will be new addition Sean Perez, who will be an assistant coach taking over for Sam Sears. The Hawks also have Andy Petersen moving over to offensive line coach.
The Hawks are stocked at the JV level this season in an improvement over past years’ numbers, but will have no freshman team.
“JV, we’re at 43 (players). We have a great freshman class coming in. We were just talking, I had to order more helmets, smaller sizes,” Linebaugh said of the new faces. “The last couple years we haven’t had numbers like that. We had good groups but this is like at least 10 more than we had before, so really excited about that. If we had numbers like this consistently, we could probably have a freshman team.”
Linebaugh also noted that between the end of the preseason and the end of the regular season, fans have a good chance of seeing a vastly improved team on the field this season.
“I think this team has a real chance to have a growth spurt and learning curve in a positive way because we’re very young. I want to see kids come and have a good experience. We’re doing everything we can to provide that for them.”