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Kakala enjoyed banner senior season with teammates

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Manteca center Loretta Kakala lays it in ahead of Central Catholic’s Danielle Friedrich at Mark Gallo Health and Fitness Center

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED April 16, 2017 11:35 p.m.

Loretta Kakala made no effort to hold back the tears after playing her last game for the Manteca High girls basketball team.

The 6-foot-3 McDonald’s All-American ignited a second-half charge that lifted the Buffaloes out of a 19-point hole, only to come up short 71-67 to Valley Oak League foe Kimball in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

While certainly stung by the defeat, it was the realization that her run with beloved group of girls and coaches had come to an end that hurt most.

“I had to be more of a leader on the team this year,” Kakala said. “We all worked hard but also made practice fun, and we had a great coach (Ryan Bono) to help us do so. I wish we could have gone further but it was a such a cool experience.”

She got to cross off many other achievements on the list. Kakala fulfilled her commitment to Louisville when she signed before the start of the season, led Manteca (13-1, 17-11 overall) to a VOL championship and was named all-league MVP. She’s also the Manteca Bulletin’s pick for All-Area Girls Basketball MVP.

Kakala averaged 14.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. She also shot an efficient 65 percent from the field.

The season did not start well for Kakala and the Buffaloes. In the final minutes of their Foundation Game contest at Ripon, Kakala went down with a high-ankle sprain and standout guard Syd’Nee Fryer wound up tearing all the cartilage and the meniscus in her left knee just moments later. They both missed the first six games of the season, and Manteca went 1-5 in that stretch.

“It was pretty hard, but it also helped me with the mental aspect of the game,” Kakala said. “I learned to stay positive even though I’m not part of what’s going on on the court.”

Fryer and Kakala did not have long to get reacquainted with their teammates before playing in the West Coast Jamboree’s ultra-competitive Gold Division. The Buffaloes opened with a humbling 77-27 loss to eventual CIF State Division III runner-up Campolindo.

Manteca carried a 3-8 record into league, but the West Coast Jamboree proved to be a turning point for the squad.

“I felt like it was really good for us,” Kakala said. “The coaches thought it would be good for us to play harder teams to help prepare for the season, but it also forced us to get adjusted to that style of play faster. It was tough, but the team was very supportive with each other. It wasn’t too bad.”

The Buffaloes took it out on the VOL, and Kakala had her best efforts against their greatest foe of the season. She torched Kimball for 25 points and 25 rebounds in their first of three showdowns, anchoring Manteca’s 65-52 win.

Manteca nearly came from behind to win the rematch in overtime but was repelled, 70-63. Kakala missed much of the first half because of foul trouble but still registered 20 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.

She then went out with a bang as Kimball won the rubber match in the postseason, pouring in a career-high 32 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.

“It’s always super fun having a competitive team to play against,” Kakala said. “My freshman year they were the VOL champs, so I’ve always known Kimball was one of the teams we had to beat.”

Kakala’s career with Manteca may have ended, but she had one more big game to play. She is just the second Mantecan — and first Manteca Unified student — to get selected for the McDonald’s All-American Games. Kakala not only proved she belonged with some of the nation’s best, but she also excelled. She led the West team with 11 points, six rebounds and two steals in 15 minutes.

The experience gave her just a taste of what’s to come, and she’s excited to start a new chapter in her life at Louisville.

“Coming from a big family, I wanted to go far and be independent,” Kakala said. “I was nervous about it at first but as the days go by I’m getting more excited. I talk to the (Louisville) coaches on a daily basis and I can’t wait to see what I can do for our school.”

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