Leah Manuleleua ended her scoring drought against East Union on Wednesday, but more importantly she helped Manteca put a halt to a decade-long stretch without a championship.
The Buffaloes captured their first Valley Oak League title since 2005 with an emphatic 4-0 win at East Union’s Dino Cunial Field, and Manuleleua accounted for two goals.
“It felt really good, honestly,” Manuleleua said. “Today, my brother was making a joke about how they shut me down all the time, but I was really confident and I knew I could do it and that we could break them down as a team. It’s not just me individually taking them one-on-one, it’s us combining to the goal and that’s how I scored both times.”
The league’s reigning MVP was shut out in seven of eight previous showdowns with East Union, including last year’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III finals won by the Lancers.
East Union (5-6-3, 11-6-3) won’t get a chance to defend the section championship and will miss the postseason for the first time since 2010. It also claimed the Division IV section banner in 2014.
“We played to win, unfortunately we did not play well today,” East Union coach Victor Polanco said. “We played good for about 20 minutes in the first half. We had a few opportunities and did not put them in. That’s the way it is.
“But congratulations to Manteca. They’ve been right there fighting for the last couple of seasons, and I hope they get sections this time.”
A bride’s maid no longer, Manteca (12-1-1, 21-2-1), a section runner-up the past two years, will enjoy its long-awaited finish at the top of the VOL table. Ninth-year coach Justin Coenenberg has fielded superb teams in the past, and the 2015 squad was arguably the best in program history.
“We’ve had some talented teams, but East Union had some talented teams, Oakdale had some great teams, so did Kimball and Sierra,” Coenenberg said. “We just kept grinding and working and these girls didn’t give up. It was tough the last two years being right there, getting to section final games and coming up short, but they never quit.”
At the outset it was the Lancers creating scoring chances and holding the majority of the possession until Manuleleua broke the ice in the 27th minute, booting it in on the first touch off a low cross from Madison Burch. Wing defender Sandra De La Riva set up the counter-attack with a run down the right sideline and sent it ahead to Burch on the right corner.
“I knew I had to get it in,” Manuleleua said. “We needed to go be up and get the momentum so that in the second half we could put it away.”
East Union threatened to tie it soon after kicking off the second half. Rosalia Ravelo stole the ball in the Manteca penalty box and her shot slapped away by keeper Ashlee Miller (five saves). Ravelo had a second crack but blew it over the crossbar.
The Buffaloes responded with their second goal a minute later, with Burch finishing the play after receiving a negative pass from Ivy Benson. Manuleleua struck again in the 56th minute off Alexa Mayen’s corner kick, and Sarah Vegas capped scoring in the 70th.
Manteca was able to preserve the shutout in the final minute of play, when East Union attempted three headers that were off the mark following a corner kick. The Buffaloes defense —comprised of senior Jasmine Basuil, Natalia Duran, De La Riva and Mayen — has given up just 13 goals all season and five in 14 league contests.
“It’s a big deal,” Coenenberg said of the clean sheet, the team’s 13th for the season. “We’re solid defensively back there. They don’t give up too many goals.”
While Manteca shifts its focus on the section playoffs, East Union’s seven seniors had their season end earlier than expected. A win on Wednesday would have pushed the Lancers through, as Oakdale lost to third-place Central Catholic 3-1. Kimball ends up as the fourth playoff qualifier out of the ultra-competitive VOL.
The section will reveal postseason seedings on Friday.
“These girls are leaving with a good record — two championships, VOL and sections, and it 44 games undefeated before we started this season,” Polanco said. “It’s a good record for these girls, and every game they gave 100 percent.”