Coming off four straight shutouts, Manteca’s veteran defenders will be tested tonight by Vista del Lago’s multi-threat attack in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals.
The top-seeded Buffaloes (23-2-1) are one of three area squads looking to return to the final round.
Ripon (19-5) and Ripon Christian (17-6) will hit the road to take on No. 2 seeds in Division V and VI, respectively. Ripon heads to Sacramento to face Capital Christian (12-2-2), while the Knights tangle with Argonaut (13-8) in Jackson.
Fourth-year starter Jasmine Basuil leads Manteca’s flat-back defense with fellow senior Sandra De La Riva joining her in the middle. They are bookended by sophomore Alexa Mayen and junior Natalia Duran, who transitioned to the back line after playing mostly in the midfield at forward during her first two seasons.
“They are all really talented players, all very skilled,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “They don’t make a lot of mistakes. They’re patient and disciplined, and once they win the ball they’re the ones who get our offense started.”
Duran in particular is dangerous on counter-attacks with her speed and ball handling. She started out the season on the attacking third but eventually switched spots with Ivy Benson, who has given the Valley Oak League champion Buffaloes another capable finisher alongside Leah Manuleleua, the program’s career leader in goals scored.
“Earlier in the season we tried some different things, and we feel like that worked out better for us,” Coenenberg said.
Manteca has 16 clean sheets in 26 games while giving up just 13 goals. Coenenberg said senior goalie Ashlee Miller deserves much of the credit.
Miller was a field player for three years, but after she underwent knee surgery Coenenberg decided to stick her between the posts. She’s been tutored by former Manteca standout keeper Kym Gause, who helped the Buffaloes make back-to-back SJS Division II final-round appearances in 2004-05. Miller kept Manteca’s shutout streak alive with a second-half breakaway save in its 3-0 quarterfinal win over Benicia last Thursday.
“To be honest, she’s been the unsung hero for us,” Coenenberg said of Miller. “She doesn’t have to make a lot of saves because defensively we’re so strong, but the last few weeks she’s come up with some great saves.
“She played some goalie when she was younger and is playing there for her club team more recently. She’s done an exceptional job for us, and we’re lucky to have someone like coach Gause work with her every day.”
Fourth-seeded Vista del Lago (16-4-2) has blanked three of its last four opponents and knocked off Lincoln and Central Valley by a combined 8-0 score in its first two postseason contests. The Eagles are young but have a slew of dangerous players who can score at any moment. Freshman Mekaylia White leads them with 15 goals.
“They have quite a few girls that score for them, and from what I hear they have good team speed,” Coenenberg said. “They’re quick to the ball and are physical.
“With our defense, we can do a good job of neutralizing a go-to player, but when there are multiple players who can score it makes it more difficult.”