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Manteca goalie Burch has blossomed with Gause’s tutelage

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Manteca junior goalie Alyssa Burch (right) began the season in a platoon, but has emerged as a team MVP. She led the Valley Oak League in total saves with 111 and helped the Buffaloes shut out 10 o...

Photo by SEAN KAHLER/Illustration by CURT MURRAY/The Bulletin

POSTED May 8, 2014 12:04 a.m.

When the soccer season began, the lanky junior patrolling the net for Manteca High was a bona fide star … on the volleyball court.

Alyssa Burch was named to the all-Valley Oak League first team in the fall, cementing her stature as one of the top middle blockers in the area.

In cleats and gloves, however, she was a work in progress; a project player taking lessons from the one of the program’s all-timers.

“Coming into the season, to be honest I wasn’t sure about our goalie situation,” head coach Justin Coenenberg said.

Though Burch wasn’t a natural protecting the net, Coenenberg believes her rapid development is the only reason why Manteca’s hosting playoff game today.

The third-seeded Buffaloes (16-4-2) host No. 6 Vanden in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III first-round game.

“She’s come a long way,” Coenenberg said. “I’ve never seen a player improve as much in a season as Alyssa Burch has.

“She’s had a huge impact. If she didn’t step up and become the goalie that she’s become this season, we wouldn’t be a playoff team. I really believe that.”

Burch wasn’t brand new to the position when varsity auditions began, but she was inexperienced and unsure of herself.

She had platooned at goalie at the frosh-soph level and looked to have the same role this season. Early on, Burch split practice reps and playing time with Jasmine Basuil as the coaching staff searched for answers.

Neither Coenenberg nor assistant Kym Gause were convinced Burch – or Basuil, for that matter – could be their full-time keeper.

Gause said she saw potential in Burch, but wasn’t sure the 6-footer would be willing to invest the time and energy it took to grow her game.

“She was pretty raw,” Gause said. “She struggled with footwork, diving, her hands … her reaction time was really slow. Her decision-making was all over the place. It was really like starting from ground zero with her.”

In other words, she was no Kym Gause, who came to the Buffaloes ready-made for success out of elementary school.

Gause started for Manteca from 2003 to 2007, earning all-league honors and leading Manteca to a VOL title and back-to-back section finals appearances.

She was an All-American at Modesto Junior College and later completed her playing career at Cal State Bakersfield.

“We’re lucky to have coach Gause. What she’s been able to do is has been flat-out amazing,” Coenenberg said. “You know, I’ve heard stories about her, people saying she’s one of the best to come out of this entire area.”

Today, she shares that knowledge and experience with Burch. The two often train separately from the field players for about an hour every practice.

The gains were immediate. With a natural ability to patrol the air, Burch was suddenly getting to balls low to the ground and displaying the agility and quick decision-making required in net.

By the start of Valley Oak League play, she had emerged as the full-time goalkeeper.

“Every game it seemed like she’d make a big save or take another little step,” Coenenberg said.

The youth-laden Buffaloes would make steps of their own, finishing third in a league loaded with heavyweights.

Manteca had one of the VOL’s stingiest defenses. The Buffaloes surrendered 18 goals in 14 games, second fewest only to VOL champion East Union (8).

In 22 total matches, Manteca has recorded 10 shutouts.

“She’s so determined to master any task that I give her,” Gause said. “We had another keeper in mind and having that pressure helped her work ethic and determination to succeed in this.

“She’s gaining confidence and she’s come up big for us in a lot of games.”

Burch led the league in total saves with 111, many of which came in the season’s biggest matches.

She was superb at Oakdale, breaking up four 1-on-1s to preserve the 3-3 tie, and even better in a narrow loss at East Union.

Burch was under constant duress in the first half as East Union sent waves of attackers on goal. The Lancers owned an 11-to-1 shot advantage in the opening 40 minutes, most of which came off the boot of scoring champion Isela Rivera.

Burch was up to the task, using her length to frustrate East Union’s talented cast. She had seven saves, but none bigger than a point-blank stop on Rivera’s back-post header.

Beaten by the cross, Burch spun and got her hands up in time to keep the header out of the net.

It’s those kinds of instincts and quick hands that could be the difference in the postseason for the Buffaloes, who have never won a section championship.

“If you don’t have a keeper back there that can keep you in the game when you need them to, you’re probably looking at a loss,” Gause said. “You have to have someone back there that can come up big for you with 30 seconds left in the game. You need someone back there that can make that final stop and get you the win.

“It takes a special person to play that position.”

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