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With Manteca’s star PG gone, EU, Sierra aim to unseat champs

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Sierra High guard Eddie Andrade and the rest of the Timberwolves won't have to worry about Manteca's Kiwi Gardner (transferred), left, and Ernie Pimentel (graduated) this year. Andrade is a part of...

Bulletin file photo/

POSTED November 25, 2010 2:54 a.m.
Earning back-to-back outright championships in the Valley Oak League didn’t come easily for Manteca High, and that was with dazzling point guard Kiwi Gardner setting gym floors ablaze.

To three-peat, the Buffaloes will have to do it without him.

The three-year varsity star and 2009-10 all-league MVP transferred to Westwind Prep International in Phoenix, Ariz. for his senior year with hopes of garnering more exposure to NCAA schools. He already has offers from Murray State, Old Dominion and San Francisco and is averaging 27.4 points and 9.4 assists for Westwind Prep (7-6), which competes against junior colleges in the southwest early in the season before squaring off with other prep schools across the country.

Regardless of Gardner’s whereabouts, there will be parity at the top of the VOL, and all three Manteca schools figure to be in the mix.

East Union is deep with talented guards and brings up a junior class coming off two VOL championships in the lower levels, while Sierra returns arguably the league’s best front line.

So what does Manteca have this year that coach Dave Asuncion believes can continue its reign atop the league standings?

In a word: Expectation.

“Every year we expect that that’s what we’re going to do,” Asuncion said of winning another title. “Everybody has that expectation, especially this year. It sounds like everybody is going to be pretty good.”

The Buffaloes — who were 23-6 last year (15-1 in league) and lost in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs — do have talent returning along with newcomers expected to contribute right away.

Big-bodied senior E.J. Godfrey (8.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg in 2009-10) will play a bigger role for the Buffaloes with his 6-foot-5 frame, as will guard Taylor Hasal (6.4 ppg, 2.1 apg), a starter on last year’s star-studded cast as a sophomore.

Asuncion said the onus won’t be entirely on Hasal to make up for the losses of Gardner and all-VOL first-team selection Ernie Pimentel.

Ben Odell, Manteca’s top player on the sophomore team last year, and first-year varsity senior Rigo Gutierrez joins Hasal in the backcourt. Ryan Culpepper, a reserve last year, will also factor into the equation.

Forwards Matt Burrows, CJ Rivas and 6-4 Matt Mueller, another first-year senior, add toughness in the post. Rivas (3.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) had an expanded role for Manteca down the stretch in 2009-10. He may be the Buffaloes’ top wing player after losing high-flying 6-4 forward Gerry Cooper.

East Union (8-8, 13-13) could be poised to make a nice run similar to the one it made in the mid 2000s when the Lancers claimed three VOL titles in succession. Second-year head coach Brett Lewis was a part of that run as a player.

East Union returns an exciting set of guards led by Jordan Kron, who led the team with 15.8 ppg as a freshman. Also rejoining the Lancers are TeeJay Gordon (12.3 ppg) and Robert Vaughn (10.7 ppg) — two wiry combo guards who can hit the deep shot and create for themselves and teammates.

The Lancers, however, will once again lack interior size, and Lewis said this year’s group is actually smaller than last. Returning senior forward Troy Hoffdahl, at 6-2, anchors the front court that includes 6-4 newcomers Alex Del Real and JoJo Daigle. The all-around play of graduated 6-2 forward Ricky Inderbitzin (10.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 3.2 apg) will be missed.

Juniors Wayne Cheung and Brock Swift give EU depth in the backcourt after leading the championship lower-level teams for two years.

“We are smaller than last year, so once again our strength will be team speed, pushing the ball and creating havoc on defense,” Lewis said. “We have been working hard to improve our team defense from last year when we averaged in the 70s, but we also gave up around the same.

“Not many high school teams can average that much, but if we are allowing other teams to score in the high 60s to 70s it is not doing us any good.”

While EU returns the city’s most experienced backcourt, Sierra brings back the town’s best big in 6-4 center Will Ward. Ward was named to the all-league first team in his sophomore campaign, averaging 13.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.

The Timberwolves (11-5, 18-10) also have Jerrod Patton (6-6) and Grant Widmer (6-3), giving them the tools to compete with Sonora’s size while posing problems for the rest of the league in the paint.

Sharpshooting Eddie Andrade is Sierra’s fourth returning starter, as he will fill in for graduated Trevor Nogueira (14.7 ppg) as the team’s lead guard.

Sierra is no stranger to success having placed second in the league three straight seasons after earning the league title in 2007.
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