To overcome their size deficiencies, East Union and Manteca High’s girls basketball teams worked on picking up the pace over their non-league schedules.
Execution at a high tempo and intensity level from baseline to baseline is rarely seen in the Valley Oak League, but it is their ability to do just that that has them pegged as favorites heading into the conference season.
Manteca (9-2) appears to be the biggest threat to East Union’s stranglehold of the VOL crown. Last year, the Buffaloes beat EU in two out of three contests.
East Union (8-3) is shooting for its fifth straight league championship and sixth in seven years.
They have common opponents, but none as good as 15-1 El Camino of Sacramento — one of the top public-school programs in the Sac-Joaquin Section over the years.
El Camino faced both last week en route to winning the Tom Hawkins/Tracy Breakfast Lions Tournament, first edging East Union, 60-57, before downing Manteca in the finals, 72-58.
Briona Fontenot’s emergence as a third scorer is huge for EU, and freshman Tia Tuuga is a natural guard who has given Manteca a boost as a scorer in the post.
Weston Ranch (6-5) may not be too far away. The Cougars have the athletes to keep pace with EU and Manteca and are also battle-tested. No in the VOL played a tougher schedule, as they played, and lost to, the likes of Stockon rivals Lincoln (10-0) and McNair (12-3), Merced (10-3), Heritage (10-5) of Brentwood and Buchanan (8-4) of Clovis.
Sierra put itself in good position to make a run to the postseason with its 8-3 start, but the Timberwolves will find out right away where they stand in the VOL. They tip off with Sonora on the road Tuesday and then host East Union Thursday.
Oakdale and Sonora (4-7) are dangerous middle-of-the-pack types because they each have size and one of the VOL’s top veteran players back.
Prolific scoring guard Cassandra Clark returns for Oakdale and is the conference’s reigning MVP, and four-year varsity starter Kelli Keefe leads Sonora.
Lathrop (2-9) and Kimball (0-12), the VOL’s most recent additions, will continue to build for the future. Freshman point guard Diamond Gomez has proven herself worthy of a varsity spot at Lathrop. Kimball of Tracy, which doesn’t have a senior class yet, has seven sophomores on its 10-player roster.