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East Union senior’s tenacity and physicality a model for younger players

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East Union striker Meghan Wallace (16) has experienced a dip in her production, but her value to the team’s quest for a Sac-Joaquin Section championship has never been greater. The fourth-year vars...

HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo

POSTED May 13, 2014 12:56 a.m.

There are dynamic strikers and then there are determined strikers.

The East Union girls soccer team has one of each in VOL scoring champion Isela Rivera and her cohort Meghan Wallace, a nimble, non-stop fourth-year player.

And while Rivera’s sensational goals often dominate the headlines, Wallace’s tenacity, physicality and leadership carry equal weight in the Lancers’ charge at a Sac-Joaquin Section championship.

Wallace scored her 43rd career goal with a right-footed rocket in the 19th minute of No. 1 East Union’s show-of-force victory over eighth-seeded Bear River on Thursday, setting up a semifinal showdown with Liberty Ranch on Wednesday.

Liberty Ranch snuck by Center 1-0 in its first-round game. Kickoff is 6 p.m.

“I don’t know much about them, only that they won last week,” East Union’s first-year coach Victor Polanco said on Monday. “We’ll have good practices the next two days and be ready to go against them.”

By virtue of its No. 1 seed, East Union, still looking for its first-ever section finals appearance, will host a semifinal game for the second consecutive year. 

Last season, the Lancers’ title hopes were stopped prematurely by Colfax, which escaped Dino Cunial Field with a 2-1 victory.

That night, Wallace, one of the area’s most productive strikers over a four-year varsity career, was held pointless and attempted just four shots.

On Wednesday, she’ll look to exorcise that playoff heartache with what many believe is the best of East Union’s teams in the last four years. And there have been some good ones.

Wallace is 73-11-10 with two Valley Oak League championships in four seasons at the varsity level, including 17-0-1 this season. In its last 42 matches, East Union has 37 wins.

That sterling record is juxtaposed with one of struggle in the postseason. With Thursday’s victory, East Union is only 3-3 in the playoffs with Wallace on the field.

Already, Wallace and the Lancers have given its faithful reason to believe this season could be different.

East Union won its opening-round game handily, scoring four times in the opening 40 minutes. With the game in hand, Polanco rested many of his starters in the second half, including Wallace.

Her role this season has changed. With the return of Isela and Isabella Rivera, and the emergence of their freshman sister Ilena Rivera, Wallace hasn’t had to shoulder the scoring load.

Her numbers are down considerably from the last two years. She is the team’s third-leading scorer with eight goals and four assists, but her activity level hasn’t waned.

“I don’t think it matters as long she’s helping the team win games,” Polanco said. “Winning is more important to her.”

When need be, though, the determined has proved she can also be dynamic.

In the 2012, a season without the Rivera sisters, Wallace took the offensive reigns, totaling a team-high 12 goals and 12 assists as East Union earned the top overall seed in the Divison IV tournament.

As a sophomore, playing alongside Isela and Isabella Rivera, Wallace was even more productive. She tallied 18 goals and nine assists.

This season, her scoring chances have been divvied up among a host of stars. 

San Jose State-bound senior Isela Rivera led the VOL in scoring with 26 goals and 10 assists, while junior sister Isabella has three goals and a team-high 11 assists.

Ilena Rivera and fellow freshman Jenna Zuniga represent the future of the Lancers program, and the attacking midfielders have acclimated to the varsity game smoothly.

Ilena is second only to her older sister Isela in goals (10) and assists (8), while Zuniga (nine goals, six assists) has been East Union’s best outside midfielder. Her speed, one-on-one ability and pin-point crosses are vital to East Union’s attack.

Maddie Yslava also has eight goals for the Lancers, who had just two players with eight or more goals last spring.

With so many options on every offensive surge, Wallace has seen fewer opportunities to score. She’s taking just 1.6 shots on goal per game and left a first-round rout of Bear River last week after taking and making her only shot. 

But more than her production, Polanco has counted on Wallace’s leadership and energy. She is a team captain and her presence on the field sets the tone for a roster that features six underclassmen.

“I have a pretty young team and her help on the field with the girls is very important for me and the group,” Polanco said. “She is the model for them. She’s one of the hardest-working players on the field. She does everything to win the ball back and to help Isela try to score.”

Wallace plays with a physicality and relentlessness that few in this area possess.

To say she’ll go to great lengths to keep a possession alive or win back a ball would be an understatement.

With a Gumby-like flexibility, Wallace has literally fallen into a split – legs stretched in opposite directions – to win a ball. 

In Polanco’s system, forwards are counted on to be the first wave of defenders. No one carries out those orders better than Wallace.

“She’s helping a lot in the midfield. She’s putting pressure on the defense (and) winning balls. She works hard,” Polanco said. 

“It’s like I tell them, my forwards have to the first defenders when we lose the ball. She’s doing a pretty good job in there.”

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