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FRESH FACES

Zuniga, youngest Rivera shoulder scoring load as EU routs Kimball

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FRESH  FACES

East Union’s Isabella Rivera changes directions to evade Kimball’s Eliana Mendoza.

JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin/


POSTED April 16, 2014 1:19 a.m.

If Tuesday’s match with Kimball was a barometer for how good East Union can be this season, consider this:

For the first time all season, Isela Rivera didn’t factor into the final score of a game that she played in – and the mighty Lancers still dispatched the only threat to their throne, 5-1.

Instead, the deciding blows were delivered by East Union’s next class of superstars.

Freshmen Jenna Zuniga and Ilena Rivera accounted for three goals and two assists, most of which came in the first half as the Lancers turned this showdown of the Valley Oak League’s top teams into a second-half snoozer.

Zuniga scored twice in the first 40 minutes and set up the game’s opening goal with a corner kick dropped onto the foot of Maddie Yslava. East Union has now won 13 consecutive games to open the season.

The No. 1-ranked team in the state can wrap up at least a share of its second Valley Oak League championship in three seasons as early as next week. The Lancers host the next three games, all of which come against opponents with sub-.500 records: Weston Ranch on Thursday, and Oakdale and Sonora next week.

Head coach Victor Polanco isn’t looking too far forward – or investing much stock in the regional, state or national rankings that have become part of nearly every conversation. The only number Polanco is focused on is 80, as in the next 80 minutes of soccer.

“Really, I don’t put my head into those numbers. They’re just numbers. I don’t care about those numbers. I play it game by game,” Polanco said. “I don’t care about the nation or state (rankings), I need to take care of this league first and then we’ll move forward.”

East Union wasn’t without its struggles Tuesday.

Leading scorer Isela Rivera was held without a point – goal or assist – for the first time this season, despite creating almost a scoring chance every minute for the opening 12 minutes.

She toyed with the Jaguars’ defense in the early moments, flipping passes to herself with her head and outracing taller, longer-legged defenders.

Isela just couldn’t beat freshman goalie Amanda Leal, who left her line in the 8th, 9th and 11th minutes to break up 1-on-1 chances with the former Valley Oak League offensive player of the year.

Leal (eight saves) also batted Isela’s bending 18-yard free kick off the bar in the first minute, and then lunged forward to smother the rebound.

“We started pretty strong, like we always start against these kinds of teams,” said Polanco, whose side owned a 16-4 shot advantage in the first half. “We try to take care of everything in the first half, but unfortunately sometimes the ball doesn’t want to go into the net. That’s what happened today.

“Sometimes the ball is that way, but I’m not going to pull her out for that. She’s my forward.”

In hindsight, Polanco left his leading scorer in a little too long.

Frustration seemed to get the best of the San Jose State-bound attacker in the 75th minute when she was sent off with a red card for activity away from the ball. She will have to sit out Thursday’s match against Weston Ranch, a team the Lancers whipped 10-0 in their first meeting.

Polanco isn’t too concerned.

The first-year girls coach sees it as another opportunity to showcase his bench; to reward players who have shined on the practice field.

It’s become a familiar routine for the vaunted Lancers, who dusted the Jaguars – ranked No. 2 in the Sac-Joaquin Section – without three regular starters.

“This team, it does not depend on just one player. They all know how to score. They all know how to play. They all contribute to the team,” Polanco said. “When somebody doesn’t put ball in the net, the other will do it.”

Zuniga capitalized, scoring back-to-back goals in the 28th and 33rd minutes to make it 3-0 at the intermission.

“Jenna is pretty good on the side. She’s not afraid to put the ball in the goal,” Polanco said. “It’s like I tell them, ‘When you have a shot take it, don’t be afraid.’”

Kimball avoided the shutout with a goal from defender Mia Drake, whose volley flicked off goalie Taylor Gray’s fingertips and into the net.

East Union would ice the game with two late strikes by Mandikay Roberts and Ilena Rivera, the youngest of the three Rivera sisters.

Roberts notched her second goal of the season on a 40-yard shot that squirted under the glove of reserve goalie Paige Ryback.

Ilena Rivera atoned for her older sister’s ejection with a rocket shot in the 76th minute. The freshman dribbled into space and let it fly with a right-footed shot through Ryback’s mitts.

East Union’s frosh-soph team won, 3-0.

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