Rena Dragony emerged from a scrum beneath the basket with a smile and her pinkies pointed to the sky.
At this crucial juncture of the season – and at long last – things are looking up for the East Union senior.
Dragony enjoyed her best performance since returning from injury on Tuesday evening, highlighting the Lancers’ 51-34 victory over Sierra. The 6-foot-1 center had 10 points and 12 rebounds more than a month after suffering a high ankle sprain against Lathrop on Jan. 16.
She played 25 minutes against the Timberwolves and provided the kind of physical low-post presence the Lancers have sorely missed during league play. She had four offensive rebounds, including two on one possession that culminated with a three-point play by Olivia Vezaldenos.
Vezaldenos finished with a game-high 23 points – her third 20-point game in the last five – but the most imposing player was Dragony.
She had four quick points rolling to the bucket to ignite a 14-4 run in the third quarter and wrestled key rebounds away from the Timberwolves’ post.
“We took advantage of some situations down inside and pounded it down in, which was good,” East Union coach Jim Agostini said. “It was good to have our big girl back. People don’t realize that, you know, Dragony missed half of league. Nobody knows about it, but that’s alright. That’s OK. We’re alright with that.”
East Union is 5-1 in league games with Dragony on the floor, and just 2-3 without her. She’s averaging five points and seven rebounds in those six games.
Dragony’s return to the lineup couldn’t have come at a better time for the Lancers, who find themselves in a dogfight with crosstown rival Manteca for the Valley Oak League’s third and final playoff berth.
East Union (16-7) has won five of its last six games to set the mood for tonight’s crosstown clash at Winter Gym. The Lancers and Buffaloes are knotted at 7-4. Manteca (15-9) has lost two straight.
The rivalry tilt offers a host of interesting matchups: Vezaldenos versus Lizzie Tolbert in a battle of veteran guards; the speed and fearlessness of East Union’s Ruby Dauby and Manteca’s Rubel Dehal, a pair of budding sophomores; and versatile posts Anna Wood and Leah Manuleleua chasing each other all over the floor.
The most intriguing, however, is the one that seemed to be the most unlikely weeks ago: Dragony and Loretta Kakala, a former teammate and the area’s premier post player.
In their first matchup, East Union had no answer for Kakala, a 6-foot-2 forward generating traction on Division I recruiting boards.
Without Dragony to clog the lane and contest shots, Kakala had 31 points, 23 rebounds and six blocks in the Buffaloes’ 52-49 victory on Jan. 23. It was her first trip back to the Dalben Center since transferring from East Union.
“It’s a matchup situation for us, we feel. It allows us to play one player on one player, another player on another one, and she gets one player herself. I don’t want to say who it is, but her size and rebounding is big,” Agostini said cryptically.
“When you lose a game by three and shoot 4 for 14, you miss her rebounding. We’re hoping there’s a difference. We’re not looking for her to be the savior. We’re just looking for her to be a part of our five on the floor and make us a better team.”