Sierra’s all-time leading scorer may have graduated, but the Timberwolves are still the team to beat in the Valley Oak League.
They proved as much Wednesday in a duel between two of the top teams in the Sac-Joaquin Section, as the three-time defending league champ took care of the leading contender to its crown at rival Manteca, 3-1.
Tiana Cello scored twice in the first 15 minutes and now has 17 goals for the season. The junior midfielder/forward has taken over a lead role on the club in place of four-year star Jadyn Shinn, now a Cal midfielder who was in attendance to watch her former squad at Guss Schmiedt Field.
Freshman Jocelin Roa provided the insurance goal in the second half, her team-high 18th. Cello’s strikes came during a thoroughly one-sided opening 30 minutes for Sierra (2-0 VOL, 12-1 overall), ranked as the No. 4 team the SJS, according to MaxPreps computer ratings.
Manteca (2-1, 11-1-2), which suffered its first loss Wednesday, checked in at No. 7.
“We’ve been preparing the whole preseason for this game,” Cello said. “Today, we all showed up and came together as a team. We were focused right away and we wanted to keep our energy level. That’s a problem we’ve had for a while, so we just kept communicating and trying to motivate each other.”
Her first goal was a beauty of a free kick after Roa drew the foul on a one-man breakaway up the middle. From nearly 35 yards out, Cello’s right-footed corkscrew shot floated over the wall and curled to the left of diving Manteca goalkeeper Aimee Meier.
“At first I was looking for my teammates to see if I can play it short, but I didn’t see anything so I just decided to take it,” Cello said. “I bent it to the left a little bit but then it curved to the right.”
She got to show off her footspeed in the run of play for her second tally, Julianne Munoz launched a through ball from the defensive half, and Cello sprinted behind the defense before chipping the ball past Meier on the first touch.
Sierra’s spirited salvo did eventually dissipate late in the first half, and the Buffaloes were finally able to get their speedy forwards involved.
Cameron Silva crushed a shot from the left wing and had it batted away by Sierra keeper Michaela Bitle, but Buffaloes teammate Kaylee Gines was at the right spot for the put-away in the 33rd minute. Manteca had a chance to tie it in the final minute, but Kaley Miller could not take advantage of the perfect through ball as she hit the left post.
“We felt at halftime like we had the momentum, we just couldn’t sustain it,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “We’re quick up front, but overall they have more speed. Their speed in the middle of the field was the real issue for us. They did a real good job of eliminating our opportunities.”
Sierra set the pace again in the second half and never relinquished control. The Timberwolves outshot Manteca 11-1 in the second half and 18-6 overall.
Jenna Villanueva had two great scoring opportunities early in the second half after she was robbed of a highlight goal of her own in the first half when her volley from the 18 was re-directed by a one-handed deflection from Meier (four saves). Annalise Paule, Jenna Castro and Villanueva each had a shot hit the frame.
“We should have had another one or two (goals) there, but I give it up to Manteca for stepping up,” Sierra coach Manuel Pires said. “They gave us a good challenge here, definitely.
“I thought we did a better job in the second half and the back line was really strong — they didn’t let them get behind us. The girls really covered well for each other and not just in the back. You have to defend as a team and attack as a team.”
Manteca 3, Sierra 1
Emilee Craighead scored the first two goals for Manteca, and Madison Noriega came up with the third. Presley Perez converted for Sierra off a feed from Lela Schluer.