Jim Todd stopped practice and called for two substitutions.
The East Union girls soccer coach could sense a rift between two of his players and dismissed them from practice.
They weren’t allowed to return until they had worked out their differences.
“They talked for about an hour and said, ‘Thanks, coach, for letting us work through that,’ ” Todd recalled. “Chemistry is something we value and the girls have shown that they honor that.”
That bond, forged through team-bonding sessions, shared adversity and a common goal, has positioned the Lancers for a run at the program’s first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section championship.
East Union is the top seed in the Division IV tournament and will host No. 8 Foothill tonight at Dino Cunial Field. Kickoff is at 6:30.
Todd doesn’t know much about his opponent beyond what can be gleaned from MaxPreps.
Foothill (6-8-2) finished third in the Pioneer Valley conference and closed the regular season with a sub-.500 record. They have given up more goals (33) than they’ve scored (24) and feature two players of note: Senior Vicky Millan and freshman Julia Herrera.
Millan leads the team in scoring with 14 goals, while Herrera has proven to be an adept playmaker. She has six goals and a team-high seven assists.
“They were a third-place team in their league, and I know from last year that this doesn’t mean anything to us,” Todd said referring to East Union’s surprising first-round defeat to Central Catholic in a penalty kick shootout.
“We have to rise up, play (the ball) to the feet, anticipate and execute. We’re playing them like they’re a No. 1 seed. We got to play the game we know.”
The loss has galvanized the Lancers, who finished the season 19-12 with a plus-71 goal differential.
“We all look back at last year and, yeah, it was very disappointing,” said Erica daSilva, a senior and third-year varsity player. “All we can do is build from that. I think our team chemistry is better this year too, so that should help with our motivation.”
East Union is playing as well as it has all season. The Lancers have lost just once this season – a 2-1 setback to Kimball, the Valley Oak League champion and No. 3 seed in the D-II tournament.
Since then, East Union is unbeaten in 12 consecutive games (10-0-2) and nearly avenged their loss to Kimball on April 23 in a 1-1 draw. The Lancers led with 30 seconds remaining.
“We’re on a high in terms of our focus and execution,” Todd said. “They’re at the top of their game. It’s been exciting to watch it all unfold.”
The Lancers draw their chemistry and cohesion from defenders Rachel Sianez and Kianna Lamont and midfielders Kayla Lamont, Meghan Wallace and daSilva, strategically placed down the middle of the field.
“That’s the vein that feeds everything else,” Todd said. “It’s exciting to watch them play.”
Each has their strength.
Sianez (two assists) controls the back line with her size and speed. The junior is often the team’s last defender, and therefore has little margin for error.
daSilva’s versatility is a luxury; the co-captain can play anywhere in the depending on the Lancers’ formation. She has six goals and eight assists.
Kianna Lamont (five goals, two assists) is one of the Valley Oak League’s top defenders. The co-captain began her senior season with a bang, signing with Cal State East Bay in February.
Her twin, Kayla, anchors the midfield. She is the last of East Union’s three captains, and her nine assists rank second on the team.
Wallace has been East Union’s most dynamic offensive player. The junior leads the team in goals (11) and assists (12) and will be featured all over the field.
One moment she might be used as a traditional striker, stretching the defense; the next an attacking center midfielder.
“We’re finding that she’s a playmaker and she’s able to distribute well. She can also move up top and attack as a forward,” Todd said. “If she can keep that balance – attack at times and then build back and collect the ball – I think she’ll help us there.”
East Union has positioned itself for a historic run. The Lancers have never reached a section final, much less raised a section banner.
They can take their first step tonight.
“We just want to play for each other,” daSilva said. “We have a chance to make history. Our coach has been telling us that. I never realized it, but with this new information, we’ll be playing 110 percent and giving everything we have.”