The rebuilding of East Union’s girls basketball team already appears to be over.
Whether the Lancers are ready to retake the throne remains to be seen. They will find out for certain on Wednesday when they entertain Kimball (11-2) of Tracy in the Valley Oak League opener.
“I do believe Kimball is the team to beat, to be honest,” East Union coach Jim Agostini said. “This is the third year of varsity for a lot of them.
“We told our girls we’re not going to win or lose the league title on the opening night, but we are prepared to play a really good basketball team.”
That the Lancers (8-3) are even talking league titles is saying something. They have already matched their win total from 2012-13, when they went 8-17 overall and 4-10 in the VOL while missing the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time in 13 years. East Union had captured at least a piece of six VOL championships in eight years in that same stretch.
Agostini believed at the start of the season that his team, as young as it is, could at least compete for the crown, but it won’t be easy. Leading the youth movement are second-year sophomore point guard Olivia Vezaldenos and freshmen Ruby Dauby and Loretta Kakala.
“There is a lot of parity in the VOL,” Agostini said. “The winning team could have two losses, or up to four losses.”
Fourth-year Kimball (11-2) seeks its first title and has the pieces in place to make a run. The Jaguars have five juniors who are in their third season at the varsity level, and they could have the league’s top player in senior guard Noni Kuumba (12.8 points, 4.2 steals per game).
There are two others games of note Wednesday.
Weston Ranch (7-4), also in search of its first championship in its 10th season, ventures to Sonora (6-4), where the Cougars have traditionally had trouble. This is also a matchup between two perennial contenders.
Weston Ranch will rely on its speed and depth to compete in the VOL. The team just got deeper, as Brookside Christian transfer Rauline Martinez becomes eligible.
Oakdale (9-4) and Sierra (8-5) were two of the league’s top programs in the early to mid-2000s, and both look to be on the rise following some lean years. Oakdale is led by Christina Cobarruvias, the lone senior on a squad that includes five sophomores and four juniors.
First-year coach Martha Spivey and Sierra play host to the Mustangs on Wednesday. It’s a big week for the Timberwolves, who follow with a trip across town to East Union. Sierra has one of the area’s top backcourt tandems in Celine Barber and sophomore Kayla Wilson, but the Timberwolves are also tough in the post.
Three-time defending champion Manteca (3-9) visits Lathrop (4-7).
Reigning league MVP Courtney Range (now at Cal) left a gaping hole at Manteca, but fourth-year varsity guard Jessica Hasal has emerged as one of the area’s top scorers. Four of the Buffaloes’ losses were by less than five points.
Lathrop also had some tough setbacks in nonleague action. Brianna Fernandez (knee) is expected to return from injury to give the Spartans a third scorer behind point guard Lauren Collins and standout center Loreal Taylor (14.9 points, 12.8 rebounds).