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PRAYING FOR REIGN

Eldest Rivera nets two goals as EU clinches VOL title

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PRAYING  FOR REIGN

East Union’s Isela Rivera battles for control of the ball with Sonora’s Noa Thielman in front of the Wildcats’ goal during the Lancers’ 4-0 VOL win that clinched the league title on Friday.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/


POSTED April 25, 2014 11:45 p.m.

A heavy thunderstorm brought rain, wind and even some hail on Friday, washing out the local sports calendar.

Save for one game, which felt more like a coronation party.

Yes, the East Union girls soccer team owned the night, dazzling under the lights of Dino Cunial Field for pockets of shivering fans huddled under umbrellas and blankets.

Those that braved the elements were rewarded for their loyalty.

Isela Rivera had two goals, an assist and a rare save as a late substitution in net, and the Lancers rebounded from a stunning draw on Tuesday by pounding Sonora 4-0.

The win solidified what many thought was a foregone conclusion back in February – the Lancers, with all their depth and supreme talent, are the Valley Oak League champions once more.

East Union (12-0-1, 15-0-1) last won the VOL title in 2012.

“It feels great. When we got together in the beginning (of the season) that was our goal – to win the Valley Oak League and go for sections,” East Union first-year coach Victor Polanco said. “All the credit goes to the players; they played hard.”

This one was never in doubt.

Sonora (2-10-1) stumbled into the matchup having lost three straight games by a combined score of 20-2, including a 10-1 defeat at Manteca on Tuesday.

The Wildcats didn’t get any sympathy from a Lancer team motivated by their own shortcomings earlier this week. East Union labored through its worst performance of the season in a 1-1 draw with Oakdale on Tuesday, a match that cost them their season-long, 14-game winning streak and an opportunity at perfection.

Ironically, East Union’s problems have been on the offensive end. The Lancers own the VOL’s No. 1-ranked offense and its leading scorer in Isela Rivera, but have watched their shooting percentage drop in recent matches, beginning with a 5-1 victory over Kimball on March 15.

On Friday, with a chance to clinch the league championship and set the tone for its postseason run, the Lancers found their finishing stroke.

East Union scored all four of its goals in the first half.

Freshman Ilena Rivera started the coronation process in the 11th minute, redirecting a cross from her eldest sister inside the right post. Six minutes later, Isela Rivera tallied the first of two headers, punching a cross from Jenna Zuniga into the side net.

The San Jose State-bound forward would notch her 24th goal of the season in the 37th minute with a well-timed flick over the goalie’s reach.

“She can jump,” Polanco said of his 5-foot-1 star, “and she can anticipate where other players will be.”

Arianna Cardenas also found the back of the net for the Lancers, ranked No. 1 in the state by MaxPreps. The sophomore forward slid after a loose ball in front of the net in the 35th minute.

Polanco praised his team’s intensity in the first 40 minutes. East Union dominated possession of the ball and didn’t allow Sonora a single shot on frame.

“We were pretty focused today. Tuesday, we know we played a terrible game,” Polanco said. “We were 100 percent focused on this game tonight. I could see it in everybody’s eyes; right away they were pumped up. I told them, ‘Let’s take care of this game in the first half and then have some fun.’ ”

The celebration won’t last long.

East Union closes the regular season on Tuesday with a home match against Manteca, which clinched the VOL’s third and final playoff seed on Thursday with its victory over Oakdale.

Though there is nothing at stake, Polanco said the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs essentially begin with the Buffaloes. A strong performance, he added, will set the tone for the Lancers’ run at the program’s first-ever section championship.

“For Manteca, it will be a different game. It will be a good game,” Polanco said. “That’s a perfect game for us. Manteca is a good team. They play hard and they play with a lot of heart. It’s a good team to have before the playoffs.”

East Union is hoping to leave its mark on the postseason after heart-breaking finishes in each of the last two years.

In 2012, the Lancers were upset in the first round by Central Catholic. One year later, as the No. 1 seed, East Union was stopped in the semifinal by Colfax.

“That’s what we’re looking for. That’s our goal now,” Polanco said of the section’s blue banner. “We already got the league title. Now we’re focusing on sections. … To be champions.”

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