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Area teams can pose threat to favored Buffs

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Sierra sophomore forward Will Ward, right, gives the playoff-contending Timberwolves a solid threat in the post this season.


POSTED January 5, 2010 3:08 a.m.

Manteca High’s boys basketball team opens Valley Oak League play tonight against visiting Oakdale with a pedestrian 7-4 preseason mark, but do not be deceived into believing the Buffaloes are an average squad.

They are favorites to repeat as champions even with junior standout Kiwi Gardner’s availability for this week’s games and beyond in limbo.

After an ejection from Manteca’s 68-57 loss in the second round of the 10th Annual Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Classic, the Buffaloes’ star possibly could serve a lengthy suspension.

Manteca snapped a 20-year title-less streak last season.

“Winning a championship was nice last year,” Manteca head coach Dave Asuncion said. “We lost some key players, but we still have a lot of talent still her playing. I think the league will be very competitive and a lot will depend on if we have Kiwi or not.”

The Buffaloes grabbed a Modesto City Classic championship, took third at Turlock High’s competitive Godinez Tournament and earned a victory over powerhouse San Leandro in Modesto Christian’s four-day event before closing out the preseason with three straight losses.

Manteca still likes its chances with senior guard Ernie Pimentel, junior center E.J. Godfrey and senior forward Gerry Cooper all playing prominent roles during the preseason at one point or another.

East Union likely has the most balanced attack of any of the VOL programs, getting consistent contribution from each member of its starting five.

First-year Lancer head coach Brett Lewis is finding his way with a talented group of players led by freshman guard Jordan Kron. Kron has made a home in the Lancer lineup, leading the team in scoring and helping them get off to a comfortable .500 start heading into the league season.

“East Union is scary because they are a shooting team,” Asuncion said of the Lancers. “If a shooting team gets hot, they are always going to be hard to beat. They are able to hide their size disadvantage because of their press; pressuring the ball with their quick guards.

“I think they have an outstanding opportunity at being successful.”

Sierra will open league alongside Manteca with a league-best 7-4 record, but will obviously miss the talents of Bulletin 2009 All-Area MVP Christian Williams.

Senior Trevor Nogueria steps in as the Timberwolves’ top-scoring option, but will need big contributions from the likes of sophomore post Will Ward if they are to return to the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason.

Weston Ranch is developing along, after reigning supreme in the VOL a few years back. The Cougars will depend on Nate Moises, Ronnie Collins and point guard ChaRray Poole to guide head coach Ryan Bono’s group, which includes 12 seniors.

Oakdale will be better than last year’s 3-11 team, bringing up the VOL co-champions from the sophomore level. Sonora is currently 6-5 and coming off a preseason closing loss to Sierra. The two teams will open league action in Manteca Tuesday and Sonora will be led by Alex Kiriluk and his lofty 15 points-per-game average.

The Lathrop Spartans will be making their debut at the varsity level with head coach J.J. Ramirez at the helms. The Spartans will struggle to find success alongside the struggling 2-9 Central Valley Hawks.

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