The Manteca High girls soccer team came into Tuesday’s match needing a win to remain viable in the Valley Oak League championship race.
Instead, it got wind – lots and lots of wind.
With the Mother Nature blowing at its backs in the first half, turning the venerable Guss Schmiedt Field into a dust bowl, Kimball struck for three quick goals en route to a comfortable, sometimes commanding 4-1 victory.
Taylor Hopkins scored twice, including the clincher in the 52nd minute. The sophomore forward found a soft spot in the Manteca defense – at the edge of the 6-yard box in front the of goal, of all places – and pounded a shot into the wind to close the scoring.
Kimball goalie Tayler Lennier had two full-extension saves on shots by Jasmine Odell in the second half to send the Buffaloes reeling.
“I’m very disappointed in our all-around effort,” Manteca head coach Justin Coenenberg said. “We were flat. Obviously, the wind helped contribute to some of that. It’s difficult playing in these conditions, but we can’t give up three goals in the first half like that.”
Kimball swept the season series with Manteca, outscoring the Buffaloes 6-1 in their two meetings, and further secured its spot atop the league table.
Kimball owns a one-game advantage in the loss column over defending champion East Union.
Manteca (5-3, 12-5), who began the season with title hopes of their own, fell three games off the pace.
Though there is still plenty of season left, Coenenberg understands any chance of a VOL championship was likely blown away with Tuesday’s loss.
“The first time we played it was tied at halftime and we were able to create some opportunities,” he said of a 2-0 loss on March 7. “So we felt like this was a game we could win.”
It didn’t look like it.
Manteca’s struggles were universal in the first 35 minutes of the game.
The defense extended Kimball possessions with poor clearances, which left junior goalie McKenna Balmut in one dicey situation after another.
Not only was she battling Kimball’s multi-prong attack, which features Sac State commit Adaurie Dayak, but she had to contend with strong wind gusts that changed shots.
Or in the case of Maya Lopez, turned one pass into a curling shot.
Lopez made it 1-0 in the 8th minute when the win pushed her low-driven cornerkick back on frame. It skipped through a crowd of legs and by Balmut.
She never saw the ball.
Later, Abigail Dyer made it 2-0 on a seemingly harmless shot from the corner of the penalty area. Balmut slid over to make a routine save, but the ball took a bad hop and glanced off her gloves. It tumbled over her shoulder and into the net.
And so it went for the Buffaloes.
“Kimball is a strong team from top to bottom,” Coenenberg said. “They do make it difficult on you, but we seemed to be out of sync.”
The offense never got on track, either.
Midfielder Katie Locke was Manteca’s most active player in the opening stages but she was sent off with a yellow card in the 15th minute.
The sister-sister duo of Sialei and Leah Manuleleua were unable to spring striker Sammie Morris with much regularity, and possessions often died after a single pass.
Morris accounted for the Buffaloes’ only goal, racing onto a through ball from Leah Manuleleua just before halftime.
With a burst of speed, Morris pulled away from the defense and slotted her shot past Lennier to make it 3-1.
That was all Manteca would muster against the springy goalie. Lennier (seven saves) left her feet twice in the final 40 minutes to preserve the lead. She pushed a shot off the post and later punched away a laser by Odell.
When Hopkins struck in the 52nd minute, Coenenberg, silent and stoic throughout, lost all hope of a comeback.
“That was tough giving up that fourth goal,” Coenenberg said. “We had the wind at our backs and I felt like we were playing effectively. But that goal took the wind out of our sails.”
Manteca 7, Kimball 1
Cecelia Gallardo powered the Buffaloes with a hat trick, scoring two of her goals in the second half to help the team break it open after it was tied at 1-1 at the intermission.
Fechi Nkwocha, Samantha Klump, Esperanza De La Riva and Ashlee Miller contributed a goal apiece. Seely McAdams and Klump each had an assist.