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Manteca, Sierra among EU’s top challengers

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Sophomore Mikayla Hasal and the rest of the Manteca High Buffaloes will try to end a four-year Valley Oak League title run established by East Union, led by Lexy Posz.

Bulletin file photo/

POSTED November 26, 2010 2:31 a.m.

Manteca and Sierra believe they have what it takes to make a run at the Valley Oak League championship this year.

Jim Agostini, head coach of the conference’s four-time defending champion East Union Lancers, knows it, too.

He also thinks that always-tough Sonora, talented Weston Ranch and Oakdale, home of Cassandra Clark, the VOL’s reigning MVP, are capable of doing some damage.

Still, East Union remains the team to beat. It has established a dynasty of sorts having won five of the last six league titles, and a fifth straight would be a new program record.

“Our goals don’t change, but we always look forward to the challenge,” Agostini said. “Teams are trying to knock you down, and when they do they’re going to celebrate. That’s a complement to our program, but hopefully that doesn’t happen too often.”

The Lancers return their top two players from a team that won 14 of 16 league contests and finished 23-6 overall. Senior guard Lexy Posz (15.3 ppg, 8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 3 spg) and 5-foot-9 junior forward Shalane Jackson (12.5, 11 rpg), now in her third varsity season as a starter, form a dynamic 1-2 punch.

East Union, however, must overcome a lack of size while developing a third scoring option. Krystal Young (14.5 ppg) was that third option last year but has graduated, as has athletic 6-foot center Rachel O’Neal.

Agostini hopes that the dearth of front-line weapons can be made up by the team’s depth of quick and crafty guards. Either one of three seniors — Briona Fontenot, Salina Tiscareno and Morgan Hulsebosch — could end up filling the void left by Young. Juniors Klasey Kachalkin, Kristen Piasecki and Alison Telles are other backcourt options.

“Losing Krystal Young and O’Neal hurts, but we’re going to be a quicker, faster team — that’s something that we’re looking forward to,” Agostini said.

Manteca (10-6, 17-11) is in a similar situation with its top post players (Cynthia Perez, Davina Bennett) gone to graduation. But the Buffaloes, too, are deep with guards and wing players.

Chico State-bound guard Sharon Washington (16.4 ppg, 4.1 apg, 4.2 spg, 6.5 rpg) and sophomore Mikayla Hasal (8.2 ppg) lead the way.

“Cynthia and Davina are going to be very hard to replace,” Manteca coach Andrea Hiatt said. “They’re not the biggest post players, but they played like they’re 6 feet tall. What we will miss most is their leadership, but I think girls like Sharon and Mikayla can step in and take on that role.”

Third-year varsity junior Jaqi Gutierrez is a 3-point shooting threat, and Mariah Navarro provides a defensive spark to go with a reliable mid-range jumper. Dallas Mould, a 6-foot center, is Manteca’s only legitimate presence.

Promising newcomers in the form of scrappy junior guard Mia Ramirez and freshman forward Tia Tuuga may be the difference. Tuuga, at 5-8, is a natural off guard but will see ample time at power forward to fill a need.

“Tia plays like she belongs, that’s the bottom line,” Hiatt said. “She doesn’t play like a freshman.”

Manteca hasn’t captured a league title since 2000, while Sierra went back-to-back in 2003-04 but hasn’t won one since.

Sierra (7-9, 12-14) proved last season to be a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly with wins over playoff contenders Sonora and Oakdale and close losses to both crosstown rivals.

With four returning starters, the Timberwolves may be more than just darkhorses in what is expected to be a wide-open race for the title.

Sierra’s senior class won league championships at the freshman and sophomore levels, and it is joined by a set of juniors that claimed the conference title as freshmen.

The players have had another offseason to get accustomed to the coaching style of second-year coach Steve Unterholzner.

“Everybody was new to everything last year, and we had girls with very little varsity experience,” he said. “This year we’re more on top of things at the beginning of the year.”

Center Jaslynn Liotard (7.2 ppg) is Sierra’s biggest graduation loss, but the Timberwolves will still have what Manteca and Sierra do not — depth in the post.

Returning are 5-10 senior Alysia Atkins (6.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg), 5-11 junior Lia Underholzner (3.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and 5-9 senior Jordan Johnson, and all three played for Amateur Athletic Union clubs over the summer.

Leading scorer Jasmine Currimao (8.2 ppg) again spearheads the backcourt and is complemented by long-range specialist Michelle Arroyo (7.6 ppg) and the feisty Stephanie Vanni, who was named to the all-league defensive team a year ago.

“I don’t think anyone is going to just walk through the VOL; it’s going to be a dogfight the whole way,” Underholzner said. “I think we have a solid chance this year of being in the running, it’s just a matter of the girls believing in themselves.”

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