Much has changed for Kimball and Weston Ranch, East Union’s first two opponents in what is expected to be a competitive Valley Oak League girls basketball season.
Kimball, the two-time defending champion, has replaced its entire starting five from the 2014-15 squad that won its first 30 games before dropping two in a row in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II final and NorCal opener. Among the personnel losses were ultra-talented underclassmen Donwanae Anthony (season-ending knee injury) and Raziya Potter (transferred to St. Mary’s).
Darrell Johnson replaces Chris Bauer as head coach for Weston Ranch, which is also minus 2015 MVP Elisabeth Alexander, now at CSU Stanislaus. Alexander and Bauer led the Cougars to three straight runner-up finishes in the VOL.
Kimball (5-7) and Weston Ranch (2-7) enter league play with the worst records among VOL teams. East Union, checking in at 11-1, hosts Kimball on Wednesday and travels to Weston Ranch on Friday. The Lancers haven’t won a league title since sharing it with rival Manteca in 2012.
“Just like any other coaching staff, we are hoping we have our team prepared enough for league,” East Union coach Jim Agostini said. “We’ve played 12 games, saw some good teams in the preseason and hopefully we’re battle tested.”
Manteca coach MaryAnn Tolbert saw enough of the Lancers during the Tracy Breakfast Lions/Tom Hawkins Tournament last week to believe they’re the ones everyone else in the VOL will be chasing. East Union and Manteca lost to Venture Academy on back-to-back nights in Tracy. The Lancers arguably have the best backcourt tandem in the league in Olivia Vezaldenos and Ruby Daube, two upperclassmen who have started since they were freshmen.
“East Union is one of those teams that set the bar high every single year,” Tolbert said. “That’s going to be one of the matches we’re looking towards.”
Manteca has yet to have had its projected starting five together on the court for a game. Even so, Agostini believes the Buffaloes (7-7) are “at the top of the list” of league contenders.
Highly-recruited Loretta Kakala, a 6-foot-2 forward, played her first game this past Saturday after sitting out the rest of the pre-league schedule with a back injury, but junior guard Sydnee Fryer went down with a knee injury during the championship game of the Tracy tournament. Fryer missed her entire sophomore year while recovering from ligament tears in a knee. Her status for this week is questionable.
“They still have a lot of returning players and they look good,” Agostini said. “They have to be the team to beat.”
Others have emerged as possible title contenders.
Sierra (8-5) has hit its stride in time for league, winning the West Coast Jamboree title in the Pearl bracket last week. The Timberwolves are led by fourth-year varsity guard Kayla Wilson and Devi Coglio. Central Catholic (9-3), meanwhile, has a stronger supporting cast around do-it-all threat Danielle Friedrich, who averaged 23 points and 10.3 rebounds for the Raiders as a sophomore last season.
“Sierra has been under the radar and that scares me a little bit,” Tolbert said. “Lathrop, I watched them in the (Tracy) tournament last week, pulled up some girls and I think they’re going to surprise some teams. Central Catholic looks like another team to be reckoned with.”
Lathrop (6-4) is already one win away from matching last season’s total under second-year coach Dwayne Davis, who has promising players in sophomore Myani Thornton and freshman Mary Cotton. Oakdale (7-5) also looks to be much improved after going 5-22 a year ago.
“I don’t think there are going to be games where we say, ‘This is going to be an easy one, we don’t need to worry,” Tolbert said.