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Banner season for three?
Area programs gunning for 1st section titles
SOCCER - MHSvsCO PIC1 for 5-15
Manteca senior Harleen Pabla puts a head on the ball during Wednesdays 4-1 victory over Cosumnes Oaks in the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III tournament. - photo by JOHN-JOEL GRIFFITHS/ The Bulletin

A banner season for local girls soccer culminates today with three Sac-Joaquin Section championship games at two sites.

East Union, Manteca and Ripon Christian look to close historic campaigns clutching a coveted blue banner, the take-home gift awarded to the section’s champions.

All three programs are gunning for their first championship.

Only the Buffaloes and Knights have appeared in a section final.

Manteca made back-to-back appearances in 2004 and 2005 when assistant coach Kym Gause was a goalie. The No. 3 Buffaloes will face No. 4 Christian Brothers at Cosumnes Oaks High School in Elk Grove today in the Division III final.

No. 2 Ripon Christian must contend with a program that has been there, done that in the Division VII final. Top-seeded Millennium of Tracy has won two of the last three D-VII crowns. The Knights reached this game last spring, but were denied by Bradshaw Christian with a 3-0 loss.

For the Lancers, this is new ground.

No. 1 East Union charges into the Division IV championship following a thrilling 3-2 victory over Liberty Ranch, which put the Lancers’ retooled defense and goalie Taylor Gray to the test. The challenge will be even greater today against No. 2 Vista del Lago, a former section champion with a host of college-bound players.

Here’s a closer look at each matchup:

Division III

Manteca (18-4-2) vs.
Christian Brothers (11-6-7)

All season long, Manteca has scraped and clawed and fought for respect.

It hasn’t helped that crosstown rival and Valley Oak League champion East Union has commanded the spotlight, reaching No. 1 in the state. Or that the VOL’s runner-up, Kimball, fielded one of the nation’s top young talents in Samantha Tran.

Manteca was young, inexperienced and, in their eyes at least, often overlooked.

That chip on its shoulder, they wear it well.

The Buffaloes are arguably the area’s hottest team right now, winning eight of their last nine. Manteca put East Union on the ropes in a 1-0 loss and then started its playoff push with a victory over Kimball, a Division II semifinalist.

In the postseason, Justin Coenenberg’s club hasn’t slowed down, topping No. 6 Vanden and No. 2 Cosumnes Oaks by a combined score of 7-1.

Katie Lock and Lejla Pepic each had a goal and an assist against Cosumnes Oaks as the Buffaloes rallied from an early 1-0 deficit with four straight goals. Their reward is a return trip to Elk Grove to face an opponent with similar credentials.

Manteca plays No. 4 Christian Brothers at noon.

The Falcons – the third-place finisher in the Capital Valley Conference – upset No. 1 Benicia, 2-1, in Thursday’s other semifinal.

The Falcons lean heavily on junior Andrea Martinez, who boasts a team-high 18 goals and six assists. No other player has more than six goals or five assist.

Division IV

East Union (18-0-1) vs.
Vista del Lago (13-1-3)

East Union coach Victor Polanco has negotiated the first two rounds of the postseason without scouting his opponent.

His contention was always this: If we show, if we play our game, the result will take care of itself.

East Union did and the wins have followed.

The Lancers rolled over Bear River in their opener, 5-0, and then knocked off a defending section champion in Liberty Ranch with a late free kick from Isela Rivera. That thrilling finish clinched East Union’s first-ever appearance in a section championship game.

East Union will play second-seeded Vista del Lago of Folsom today at 2 p.m. at Lincoln High in Stockton.

This is one opponent Polanco has prepared for. The first-year coach spent the initial moments after Thursday’s win picking the brain of Liberty Ranch coach Robert Huarte, whose team went 0-1-1 against Vista del Lago this season.

Vista del Lago captured the Sierra Valley Conference, and up until Thursday, the Eagles had been the only team to defeat Liberty Ranch. They are no stranger to this stage, either. Vista del Lago is playing in its second final in the last three years. The Eagles won the 2012 section championship.

Vista is anchored by Dali Alarian  (11 goals, eight assists), Mary Meyer (five goals, eight assists) and Allison Pepper (eight goals, two assists). Meyer had two goals in a 5-0 win over Woodland in the semifinal round.

At least five Eagles players have signed national letters of intent to play at the next level, including Alarian, Pepper, Holly Isaacs, Cayla Velander and Lindsay Piwinski.

Division VII

Ripon Christian (20-2-1) vs.
Millennium (15-1-2)

The second-seeded Knights sought revenge in their semifinal victory over Holt Academy.

Today, they seek atonement.

Ripon Christian reached the Division VII final a year ago, but fell flat in their bid for a first-ever section title with a 3-0 loss to Bradshaw Christian.

This time around, the Knights have left little to chance. Ripon Christian has scorched through a demanding 23-game schedule, winning 11 straight en route to a share of the Southern League championship.

The Knights, buoyed by freshman Abby Buitrago and senior Teagan Manus, have been remarkably efficient at both ends of the field, producing a goal differential of 104-16. 

Top-seeded Millennium has been every bit as good as Ripon Christian.

The two-time section champion is 15-1-2 with a goal differential of 96-8. The Falcons attack with a three-headed monster: senior Ivy Torres, junior Reina Perales and freshman Cassie Scudder. The three have combined for 50 goals and 24 assists.

Torres tops the team with 23 goals and 10 assists.

The Division VII final is scheduled for noon at Lincoln High in Stockton.