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TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW

East Union’s boys look to make a name for themselves

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TOUGH ACT  TO FOLLOW

Gustavo Vasquez keeps his poise while holding possession under pressure in an intra-squad scrimmage at Northgate Park on Tuesday. The senior midfielder believes East Union can contend once again in...

JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin/


POSTED August 26, 2014 11:42 p.m.

Victor Polanco stood on the sidelines, a sun hat pulled low on his brow.

While the action buzzed around him on Tuesday afternoon, the East Union soccer coach casually flipped a golf ball.

Yes, these days Polanco is the epitome of cool.

The third-year coach has grown accustomed to a certain level of success in his short time as the East Union boys and girls soccer coach.

In the spring, Polanco guided the Lancers’ girls program to an unbeaten Valley Oak League campaign and the school’s first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section soccer championship.

Taking its cues from San Jose State freshman forward Isela Rivera, East Union topped Vista del Lago in the Division III final.

At one point, the Lancers were the top-ranked girls soccer team in the state, according to MaxPreps.

No pressure, boys.

 “I’m excited to start with the boys, but it’s a much different league. I think we have prepared ourselves for this season,” Polanco said. “It looks like the boys are excited, because they want to win too. So we’re working hard.

“They don’t want just the girls winning and not the boys, so everyone is working with intensity and doing the extra stuff. We can’t wait to start and see what happens.”

The Lancers have nowhere to go but up. The 2011 Valley Oak League champions have fallen on hard times.

East Union finished near the bottom of the Valley Oak League in Polanco’s second season as head coach, limping home at 3-9-2. The Lancers lost 13 matches in all in 2013.

In the previous two seasons, including its VOL championship and section final run of 2011, East Union lost a total of 12 matches.

“Last year was a rough patch,” said senior midfielder Gustavo Vasquez. “We know our faults; we’re using them as fuel this season.”

East Union has reason to believe the tide may turn in its favor once again. The roster has been strengthened by a decorated junior class and the return of senior midfielder James Rindon.

The Lancers earned a share of the 2013 VOL frosh-soph championship, splitting the hardware with crosstown rival Sierra.

Vasquez says that group brings a bond that was absent for most of last season. “It’s a whole different team. Just wait – you’re going to notice a change,” Vasquez warned.

“Individualized play was one of our problems,” he added. “We’ve been way more structured in everything that we do and our junior class is more disciplined than the previous.”

Good, because experience isn’t on their side. The Lancers’ first-year varsity players won’t have the luxury of a lengthy non-conference schedule to acclimate to the speed and physicality of the varsity game. East Union will play just two non-conference games, beginning with a trip to McNair.

The Lancers will also travel to Turlock on Sept. 10 before starting VOL play at home against newcomer Central Catholic on Sept. 15.

Polanco subscribes to the “less is more” theory when it comes to scheduling. While others teams have booked several tune-up matches or RSVP’d for tournaments, Polanco would rather save his team’s energy and tactics for league play.

In the meantime, the focus, he says, will remain on training. On Tuesday, East Union worked on spacing and the finished practice with a short-field scrimmage.

The action was fast.

The return of Rindon has helped speed up the play. The versatile playmaker broke his collarbone in the first meeting with Sierra and missed the rest of his junior year.

“It made a big gap,” Polanco said. “I couldn’t replace him because there was no one with talent like him.”

Rindon is healthy again – and making plays all over the field.

Polanco envisions Rindon working with Vasquez and returning starter Jaime Casteneda in the middle of the field, much in the way the Rivera sisters anchored the Lancer girls.

“They know how to read the game,” Polanco said. “With the ball, they’re really, really good.”

So is their sweeper, junior Antonio Zuniga. A tall, physical presence, Zuniga isn’t a kick-first defender. He has the ability to trigger a counter-attack.

He’ll be asked to shoulder the leadership load along the backline as East Union waits for a starting goalie to emerge. Polanco currently has three in training camp.

“We’re going to see what we can do. We’ve still got some teams ahead of us. Sierra, Manteca and Oakdale – they’ve been really dangerous in the boys,” Polanco said, spinning that golf ball in his hand. “But we’ve been working hard, so we’ll go out there and see what we can do.”

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