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Going out on top

Versatile Vanni keyed Sierra’s run to section title

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Going out on top

Stephanie Vanni is the Bulletin’s All-Area Soccer MVP

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED June 24, 2011 12:29 a.m.

Stephanie Vanni had already been a part of two Valley Oak League championship teams.

So when her Sierra High girls soccer team failed to make it three straight this past spring season, she set her sights on an even larger prize, one that has eluded her before over her four-year varsity career.

“Being a captain, I wanted us to meet all of our goals this year,” said the Bulletin’s All-Area Girls Soccer MVP. “VOL was one of our goals and we didn’t reach it, but we had no problems bringing home that (Sac-Joaquin) section banner.”

Vanni was the heart and soul of Sierra’s 2011 team that edged VOL rival, and champion, Oakdale High 1-0 for the program’s fourth section title in its seventh final-round appearance.

Getting there wasn’t easy.

Sierra was hardly at full strength during the regular season with injuries to key players, making things tough for a squad lacking the depth enjoyed in years past.

The Timberwolves suffered their only two-match losing streak of the year when they ended the preseason with a promising, albeit losing, effort against Stockton powerhouse St. Mary’s at their own Vern Gebhardt Champions Cup before dropping a 3-2 decision to Oakdale in the VOL opener.

The loss to Oakdale came on March 16, and Sierra went on to mount a 16-match unbeaten streak en route to the section crown.

Vanni played a big part in Sierra’s strong finish. Alternating between the striker and center-mid positions with talented junior Joanna Ortiz throughout the run, Vanni played her best over the last half of conference play.

After Sierra got even with Oakdale by the same 3-2 score from their previous showdown, Vanni scored the lone goal in a pivotal 1-0 victory over in-town foe East Union.

She also scored in a 3-3 tie against Kimball, and in the final week of league Vanni exploded for eight total goals against Lathrop and Weston Ranch.

“We had some bumps in the road, and we just managed to bounce back as a team,” Vanni said. “We did it together.”

Vanni recorded her 23rd and final goal of the season in the first round of the SJS playoffs, scoring once in Sierra’s commanding 2-0 win over Livingston.

What followed was a shocking 2-1 overtime triumph in Folsom, where the T’Wolves came from behind to knock off postseason favorite Vista del Lago. Vista was in control for most of the contest and led 1-0 going into the final minute of regulation, but in stoppage time Ortiz tied it up to force two 10-minute overtime periods.

Early in the second overtime period, Dianna Alfaro found the net off a cross from Sydnee Canales, and Sierra held on to secure its spot in the finals.

“That’s up there on the list,” Vanni said, ranking it among some of the most exciting moments in her soccer career. “That was crazy. Everything was on the line, and we just never gave up and kept fighting until the very last second. We definitely didn’t want to go out losing.”

Vanni had experienced heartbreak before.

In 2009, Vanni’s older sister, Nicole, led the team to a 26-0-2 record and a national ranking, only to be upset by Whitney of Rocklin 4-1 in the section’s Division-IV title game.

And last year they were denied a return to the section finale by none other than Whitney, a 1-0 victor over the Timberwolves in a semifinal match.

“Most of the (seniors) were a part of the section title game in 09, so we didn’t want to have that happen again,” Vanni said. “It was an amazing feeling (to win). It was a great way to end the season and my career at Sierra.”

Vanni solidified her place alongside her big sister as one of Sierra’s all-time greats. Stephanie racked up 66 goals and 27 assists in her four varsity seasons, and Sierra went 81-19-10 over that stretch.

While Nicole left Sierra as its all-time leading scorer (107 goals, 44 assists), Stephanie’s value was in her versatility. She is a stalwart defender, a crafty playmaker from midfield and a capable finisher on the attacking third.

The Vannis will be reunited in the fall on San Francisco State’s women’s team.

“I like playing different positions, it doesn’t get so boring that way,” she said. “Wherever they needed me, I’d do it for (coach Manuel Pires) and the team.”

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