Jennifer Smiley has stayed close to her Carmichael roots.
She grew up playing youth soccer for the River City, San Juan and Elk Grove competitive teams.
She was an All-Capital Athletic League player for four seasons at Rio Americano High School before moving on to Pacific.
When she graduated, Smiley returned to teach at Barrett Middle School in Carmichael and coach at her alma mater.
"I still live five minutes from Rio Americano in the house where I grew up," Smiley said. "I took my parents' old house after they built a new one. So I'm raising my daughter where I grew up, which is pretty neat."
Katelyn was born on the eve of the playoffs last year, and she was at the game 14 days later when mom and the Raiders beat league rival Antelope 3-0 to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship at Cosumnes Oaks High School.
While Rio Americano has always been formidable in girls soccer, it's now arguably the section's premier program and will be a strong favorite to three-peat as D-III section champion when the playoffs start this week.
On Thursday, the top-seeded Raiders will host the winner of Tuesday's Rosemont at Vanden match in their opener.
In Smiley's five seasons, Rio Americano is 72-4-13 with five league titles, three section titles and one section runner-up finish. The Raiders have lost one match in three years.
This year, Rio Americano is 15-0-2 and ranked No. 5 nationally by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and No. 7 by MaxPreps.com.
The Raiders have wins over area powers Franklin (2-0) and Davis (3-0) and draws with St. Francis (0-0) and Bella Vista (2-2).
Rio Americano is led by its captain trio of senior midfielder Mel Hoskins, junior midfielder Elizabeth Hutchison and junior sweeper Emily Hansen.
"They are such positive leaders," Smiley said. "Mel and Hutch work so well together they have this great vibe. Emily is our rock in the back. She holds the team together."
Warriors face challenge West Campus (11-2-2) has won three consecutive section titles, including the last two in Division V. But the Warriors can expect to be challenged by Liberty Ranch (15-2-1) and playmakers Morgan Gregorio and Jessica Hartwell.
The Galt school, in just its third varsity season, is the top seed after winning the Sierra Valley Conference ahead of defending D-IV section champion Vista del Lago and runner-up Cosumnes Oaks (now in D-II).
Gregorio, a junior, has 32 goals and 18 assists, and Hartwell, a sophomore, has 22 goals and 24 assists.
Taking Pride in competition Bradshaw Christian is the top seed in Division VI with a misleading 14-5-4 record.
Winner of four consecutive section titles, the Pride lost to D-I powers St. Francis (twice), Davis and Enochs of Modesto and tied St. Mary's of Stockton and Christian Brothers.
In going 11-0-1 in winning the Sierra Delta League, the Pride outscored opponents 99-4.
McClatchy's virtuoso Bonnie Ford has had quite a freshman debut in helping McClatchy (16-2-1) win the Metro Conference.
Ford has 42 goals and 11 assists in 19 games and she could get more. The No. 7 Lions open the D-I playoffs Tuesday by hosting No. 10 Golden Valley (13-7-3) of Merced.
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.