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Four-year starter shined in lead role for East Union
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Shalane Jackson bided her time.

For three years she played second fiddle — more like third, fourth or even fifth fiddle — to the veterans of East Union’s decorated girls basketball team.

Knowing that her role was going to change drastically as a senior, Jackson went to work.

She hit the weights and got in the best physical condition of her life.

She worked on her perimeter game and became more comfortable at the free-throw line.

She transformed into a versatile 5-foot-9 point forward after anchoring the post as an undersized, albeit ferocious, 5-foot-9 center.

She became the Shalane Jackson she expected herself to be when she first joined the varsity team as a freshman.

She is the Manteca Bulletin’s 2011-12 All-Area Girls Basketball MVP.

“I put pressure on myself,” she said. “I’ve always known what I could do, but starting my freshman year I took the backseat because I was always youngster on the team. My senior year was my breakout year, my chance to show everybody what I can do.”

Jackson’s breakthrough was astounding.

After averaging nine points per game as a junior, she improved her scoring rate to 17.4. Jackson ended up No. 3 on the program’s all-time scoring list with 1,185 career points. Danelle (Liles) Bishop — a 1994 graduate who is currently head coach of Cal Poly Pomona’s women’s squad — remains as the Lancers’ scoring queen.

“Of course I would have liked to have been No. 1,” said Jackson, who also averaged 12 rebounds, five assists, five steals and connected on 70 percent of her free throws — all team-highs.

Free-throw shooting used to be her Achilles’ heel. She shot just 32 percent from the stripe as a junior, but this past season she stubbornly attacked the rim with no fear of drawing fouls. Jackson converted 176 of her 251 free throws, both area-highs.

“I shot a ton of free throws over the summer,” Jackson said. “Now when I go up there to shoot free throws in a game I expect myself to make every single one of them.”

All in all, she accomplished every goal she set for herself and the team.

Before the start of the season she signed to play for San Francisco State.

“Getting the opportunity to play college ball has always been my dream,” Jackson said.

During the season she led the Lancers to a 23-5 record and a 12-2 finish in the Valley Oak League, good for a conference title share with crosstown rival Manteca.

East Union went 93-19 and captured three league championships in Jackson’s four years.

She was voted MVP of the VOL, establishing herself as the frontrunner for the award after teammate Tiare Tu’uga, the Manteca High transfer who formed a potent 1-2 punch with Jackson, missed a handful of midseason games with a shoulder injury.

Jackson produced some eye-popping numbers in Tu’uga’s absence. In the Lancers’ first showdown with Weston Ranch, Tu’uga dislocated her right shoulder early in the third quarter and was rushed to a hospital after scoring 17 points. Jackson carried the team to a dramatic overtime win, finishing with 26 points, 18 rebounds and five steals.

In East Union’s two subsequent contests, Jackson burned Sierra for 33 points and 16 rebounds, then Lathrop for 27 and 16.

“I thought I was capable of doing that but I never really had to,” Jackson said. “When Tia was out I had to pick up the slack, and that’s what brought it out of me.”

She didn’t let up in the postseason. With a 42-28 win over Dixon, Jackson — who had 12 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, four steals and four blocks — led the Lancers to their 12th straight quarterfinal appearance in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

Her proudest moment ironically came in defeat. East Union went to Fairfield as huge underdogs against powerhouse Vanden for an SJS Division III second-round contest and nearly pulled off an upset, falling 64-58. Jackson had 29 points and 15 rebounds and was 15 of 17 from the foul line. She was more impressed with her teammates.

“I was very proud of my team,” she said, “I was in foul trouble for a little bit and I was sitting on the bench watching in disbelief with how they were able to play with that team. It was amazing to me how much they improved from the beginning of the season and even the summer league.”