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FRONT & CENTER: East Union’s Payne is unanimous MVP in VOL
Manteca’s Jacobs, Jackson selected to all-league 1st team
Bulletin girls basketball 2018-19
East Union standout Donja Payne (31) shoots the layup against Sierra’s Natalie Dias as teammate Ala Tu’uga looks on. - photo by File photo by SEAN KAHLER

Jim Agostini was prepared to make his case for Donja Payne, a prime candidate for girls basketball MVP in the Valley Oak League.
East Union (9-3 VOL, 18-10 overall) placed third in the VOL, but even its rivals could not argue against the dominance of the 6-foot-3 center. The unanimous MVP led the league with 18 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks per game. Payne was the only player nominated for the award, and she also made the all-defensive team.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that in all of the years I’ve been involved,” Lancers coach Jim Agostini said.  “There I was with all my paperwork ready to talk her up. I thought it would be close because there were definitely some players that had the opportunity to win the award also, but I didn’t have to speak on behalf of Donja.”
Her actions on the court were loud enough for the otherwise soft-spoken Payne, who led the Lancers to upset wins over co-champions Kimball (10-2, 23-6) and Manteca (10-2, 20-9) in the final two weeks of the season.
The regular-season finale against rival Manteca may be the highlight of her four-year varsity career. She wowed the senior night crowd at Dalben Center with a scintillating 26-point, 20-rebound and five-block effort. And she did it without frontcourt mate Ala Tu’uga, an All-VOL first-team selection who was sick that night.
“She saved her best for last,” Agostini said. “We didn’t have an all-league player against a potential outright league champion, and she closed out her illustrious career at East Union with that performance.”
It may have been what locked up the MVP award.
Overall for the season, Payne averaged 17 points, 16 rebounds and 4.5 blocks. Tu’uga contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds per night in league, 10 and nine overall.
Payne did not miss a game in her senior campaign after struggling with nagging injuries in years past. She came into 2018-19 in better condition and was unstoppable on most nights when opposing teams focused its efforts on trying to limit her.
“As coaches sometimes we overthink ourselves and try to do too many different things,” Agostini said. “We just kept giving her the ball. Teams knew what we tried to do and we said go ahead and stop it. She was such a presence for us and did so many different things that allowed us to be successful this year, whether it was scoring, rebounding or rim protection.”
Manteca brings back its starting five next year when it looks to defend its co-championship. This past season, the Buffaloes were led by All-VOL first-team guards Kyaira Jacobs (13.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.6 steals) and Jayda Jackson (13.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 assists). 
Junior guard Marissa Serrano represents Manteca on the all-league second team. Sophomore Jaslyn Woods earned honorable mention and made all-defense. Ryan Bono was named Coach of the Year.
Weston Ranch guards Kyshanti King and Jennalyn Laminero were also selected to the second team along with Sierra guard Jordan Hayter. Weston Ranch freshman Shania Watts is on the all-defensive team.
Earning honorable mention for Sierra (3-9, 13-13) were Dulce Cruz, Natalie Dias and Raiann Prieto. Darnaysha Huff made honorable mention for Weston Ranch (5-7, 12-14).