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Four freshmen have helped area squads reach playoffs

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Ruby Dauby seeks out an East Union teammate while driving the baseline against Lathrop in a Valley Oak League contest.


POSTED February 25, 2014 12:19 a.m.

Manteca High head coach Dave Asuncion had opportunities to keep 6-foot-6 freshman Tydus Verhoeven off the varsity roster.

He just couldn’t come up with a good reason to do so.

Verhoeven is one of four fantastic freshmen from the area to help varsity teams qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. East Union’s girls would have had a much tougher time making it without starters Ruby Dauby and Loretta Kakala. Same goes for the Ripon boys, whose future revolves around Cole Stevens — the son of the program’s all-time leading scorer, Kye Stevens. 

East Union tips off the Division III tournament tonight against ninth-seeded Placer, while the Manteca and Ripon boys teams hit the road Wednesday.

The freshman call-ups were no-brainers for East Union and Ripon, but Asuncion was on the horns of a dilemma late in the Buffaloes’ pre-league schedule. Manteca’s football team had just completed its run to the CIF Division II Regional Bowl Game, and several members of that team — including leading scorer and rebounder Michael Hatfield — were making the quick transition to basketball. By that point, Verhoeven had already logged valuable minutes as a varsity player.

But on a deep and senior-laden team that had hopes of winning a Valley Oak League championship, Verhoeven’s minutes were about to get cut significantly.

Or were they? Asuncion had until the start of league play to place Verhoeven on the sophomore squad, where he could continue to develop as the top dog with a heavy workload.

“Do you put him on the sophomore team and let him play a lot of minutes, or keep him at the varsity level against varsity competition?” Asuncion said. “We weighed both sides, talked with him and his parents and felt that he was going to give us quality minutes on the varsity team.”

Good decision.

While Verhoeven’s contributions offensively have varied from game to game, it is on defense where he is most impactful. In two games against Weston Ranch, he was asked to contain slippery 5-8 sophomore point guard Jaelen Ragsdale, who was held to 15 combined points.

“His length bothers ball handlers,” Asuncion said. “If for some reason they are able to get by him he has the length to recover. It’s his ability to play defense that has impressed us the most, but he’s hit some big shots for us, too.”

Yes, he can score, too — from inside and out. Part of what makes Verhoeven special is his guard skills at that length. In a nonleague contest against Liberty Ranch, he came off the bench and buried three straight 3-pointers in the opening quarter.

And during the Buffaloes 47-45 upset at Sierra, he deftly nailed a clutch runner that gave them a two-point lead with less than a minute to go. Hatfield eventually hit the game-winner at the buzzer to sink the VOL’s three-time champ. Verhoeven finished with 11 points and three blocks that night, putting his full range of skills on display.

Asuncion said he won’t think twice about unleashing Verhoeven on Wednesday when the 13th-seeded Buffaloes travel to No. 4 Christian Brothers of Sacramento.

“He’ll see about the same amount of minutes,” Asuncion said. “He has showed he can play at the varsity level. In practice we don’t even call him a freshman anymore.”

Cole Stevens’ varsity spot was earned over the summer, said Ripon coach Rod Wright. No dilemma here.

The Indians had graduated three-year point guard Cole Herrin, leaving a big void in the backcourt.

“It was decided right away. We needed a shooting guard and a backup point guard,” Wright said. “The only other 3-point shooter we had didn’t even play last year or in the summer.”

Stevens is Ripon’s leading scorer with 313 points and 12.0 per game. He has a ways to go to catch Dad — Kye’s record 1,738 points was accumulated over three years in the mid 1980s.

Wright said Stevens has a way to go as a player. The scrawny six-footer still has some filling out to do, and freshman mistakes are inevitable.

“That’s the learning curve,” Wright said. “We have seniors make the same mistakes, but he won’t make them as much as a senior. As the season progressed we have seen what he can do. His development is coming along. The start of the year was more trying for him because we were playing tougher teams, but he’s better for it.”

Stevens is the third freshman to start for Wright since 2002-03, following Justin Graham and Matt Ratto. Graham and Ratto are ranked fourth and second, respectively, on Ripon’s all-time scoring list.

Of the featured four freshmen this year, the East Union’s Kakala has made the biggest splash.  The 6-2 center has the rare blend of size, coordination and skill that would have her on the varsity level for any team. Kakala averaged around 17 points in VOL games, good for third most in league.

The combination of her, Dauby and returning sophomore point guard Olivia Vezaldenos gave coach Jim Agostini reason to believe that his team had a shot at the VOL title despite it going 7-17 while having a 13-year playoff run snapped. The Lancers came up short of the league crown but is 18-8 and back in the postseason.

“In my 15 years of being with the program, we’ve only had two other freshmen get brought up to the varsity,” Agostini said, referencing Jaime Kinlaw (2005) and Shalane Jackson (2012). “In both of those cases they were brought up to fit a role because we already had good players around them. With Loretta we’re asking a lot out of her, whether it is rebounding, scoring, handling the ball in the transition game. She brings a lot of different aspects of her game to the team.”

Dauby may not bring the “wow” factor that Kakala does at first glance, but she does have “it.”

“Whatever ‘it’ is, she’s got it,” as Agostini put it.

Dauby is one of those freshmen brought up to fill a specific role, but one that Agostini thinks has expanded since the start of the season. At 5-2, Dauby brings a little feistiness from the guard position. She has given East Union a secondary ball handler and a capable perimeter shooter, but it is her fearless play that makes her stand tall among her peers.

“Don’t judge her on her size,” Agostini warned. “She is not afraid to challenge a defense and take the ball to the rim, and despite her size she finds a way to get those 50-50 balls. She’s just a girl who likes basketball.”

That is one trait that all four freshmen share. They are each obsessed with the game, and all three coaches described their players as “gym rats.”

And it is thanks to them that their teams have at least one more game to play this season.

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