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Longtime boys coach has high hopes for Lady Buffs
New Manteca High girls basketball coach Cody Norman defends Elizabeth Tolbert while demonstrating a drill in practice Saturday morning. - photo by HIME ROMERO


2011 finish: 12-2 VOL (co-champ), 23-5 overall. Lost to Vanden in second round of SJS D-III playoffs.
Coaches: Jim Agostini (varsity head), Rick Marsh (varsity assistant), Jazz Herrera (varsity assistant), Rich Posz (sophomore head), Melissa Puahi (sophomore assistant), Kelly Silva (sophomore assistant), Kay Bautista (freshman head), Stephanie Swift (freshman assistant).
Notable returners (position, grade): Alyssa Gonigan (G, 12th), Alex Scopas (G 12th), Angelique Cardoza (G, 12th), Rosemarie Wood (P, 12th).
Notable newcomers (position, grade): Victoria Vezaldenos (F, 11th), Nayeli Del Real (P, 11th), Olivia Vezaldenos (PG, 9th).
Outlook: East Union will soon find out if it is rebuilding or reloading after losing the prolific guard-forward tandem of Shalane Jackson (graduation) and Tiare Tu’uga (transfer). It’s a young and unproven group that looks to continue the team’s run of 12 consecutive postseason appearances, a stretch that includes six VOL titles in eight seasons. The Lancers have experience at the guard positions, but there are high hopes for young Vezaldenos.

2011 finish: 12-2 VOL (co-champ), 25-4 overall. Lost to Modesto Christian in second round of SJS D-III playoffs.
Coaches: Cody Norman (varsity head), Tony Gonzalez (varsity assistant), Angie Ayers (sophomore), Frank Triglia (freshman).
Notable returners (position, grade): Mikayla Hasal (PG, 12th), Jasmine Odell (F, 12th), Jessica Hasal (SG, 11th).
Notable newcomers (position, grade): Courtney Range (F, 12th), Abby Behler (F/C, 11th), McKenna Balmut (F/C, 11th).
Outlook: Veteran boys coach Norman is coaching girls for the first time and inherits a two-time defending league champion from former head Andrea Hiatt. The Buffaloes lost backcourt depth but are in good hands with Mikayla Hasal returning for a fourth season. The feisty Odell has help in the paint with Balmut and Behler looking to make an impact in their first varsity season. The addition of Cal-bound Range from St. Mary’s makes Manteca an early favorite in league, and a deep postseason run isn’t out of the question.

2011 finish: 3-11 VOL, 5-21 overall.
Coaches: Steve Unterholzner (varsity head), Jim Shirron (varsity assistant), Trisha Were (varsity assistant), Martha Spivey (sophomore head), Liz Widgren (sophomore assistant), Casey Matlock (freshman head), Roger Delgado (freshman assistant).
Notable returners (position, grade): Celine Barber (G, 11th), Asia Cortez (G, 12th), Valerie Nestor (C, 12th).
Notable newcomers (position, grade): Katelyn Teixeira (G, 9th), Kayla Wilson (G, 9th).
Outlook: An infusion of young talent has Unterholzner cautiously optimistic for the season. Barber was one of the top two scorers as a sophomore, and she’ll have two seasons to compete alongside a pair of promising freshmen in Teixeira and Wilson. Add veteran point guard Cortez to the mix, and Sierra has an interesting core of guards that could be on the court at the same time. Sierra’s tradition of physical post players continues with the return of Nestor, so it won’t entirely be small-ball for the T’Wolves.

2011 finish: 3-9 VOL, 7-19 overall.
Coaches: Ed Fang (varsity head), Dwayne Davis (varsity assistant), Kirsten Thompson (sophomore head), Daniel Sanchez (freshman head).
Notable returners (position, grade): Jazlyn Simon (PG, 12th), Loreal Taylor (C, 11th), Marissa Elliott (F, 12th), Manraj Kaur (G, 12th), Janet Visaya (G, 12th).
Notable newcomers (position, grade): Taylor Conley (C, 11th), Briana Fernandez (G, 11th), Jamie Metcalfe (G, 11th), Akilah Lesley (F, 11th).
Outlook: Lathrop is set up to make a run at its first postseason appearance in Year 4 at the varsity level. None of its top players transferred out, as has been the case in its first three seasons, and three Spartans (Simon, Visaya, four-year starter Elliott) are going on at least their third varsity campaign with the team. With Visaya back to full health from a leg injury, Lathrop has backcourt depth and is led by savvy PG Simon. The frontline gets a boost from the program’s sophomore team that went 8-4 in league.

2011 finish: 11-3 VOL, 21-8 overall. Lost to Sacramento in second round of SJS D-III playoffs.
Coaches: Chris Bauer (varsity head), Courtney Duran (assistant).
Notable returners (position, grade): Emoni Wilson (G, 12th), A.J. Brown (G, 11th).
Notable newcomers (position, grade): Elizabeth Alexander (F/C, 10th), Briana White (F, 11th).
Outlook: The Cougars lost some size and experience in the post with the losses of standout forward Jazmin Strane (graduation) and Leticia Infante (transfer), but there is help from last year’s highly-successful lower-level squads that both went undefeated in league. The guard tandem of Brown and Wilson are back and is poised for a breakout season. Wilson enters her fourth varsity year. Team speed will be a strength for the Ranch, which will look for points in transition through an aggressive defense.

2011 finish:  8-4 TVL, 19-9 overall. Lost to Bear River in second round of SJS D-IV playoffs.
Coaches: George Contente (varsity head).
Notable returners (position, grade): Ruth Waters (PG, 12th), Tia Sidtikun (F, 12th), Haylee Fannin (G, 12th), Kelsey Alexander (F/C, 11th), Morgan Carrico (F/C, 11th).
Notable newcomers (position, grade): Melanie Wilkersen (G/F, 11th), Taylor Vernon (G, 11th).
Outlook: Expectations are high for the Indians, who return all of their key players from last year’s battle-hardened group. They held opponents to less than 40 points per game in 2011-12 and will continue to be strong defensively with a healthy Fannin back along with 6-foot-3 reserve Taylor Bach and 5-10 Abby Waters. The trio of Ruth Waters, Sidtikun and Alexander remain focal points on offense, and the arrival of Wilkersen and Vernon gives Ripon more weapons.

2011 finish: 13-1 (co-SL champ), 22-5 overall. Lost to Turlock Christian in second round of SJS D-V playoffs. Lost to Eastside College Prep in second round of NorCals.
Coaches: Ed Mulder (varsity head), Eddie Mulder (varsity assistant), Pam Bowman (sophomore head), Phil Witt (soph assistant).
Notable returners (position, grade): Kaylie Colyn (G, 12th), Teagan Manus (PG, 11th), Cassidy DeRousse (C, 12th), Jenny Wickham (SG, 12th).
Notable newcomers (position, grade): Kirstin Bowman (F/C, 11th), Adrie Van Groningen (G, 11th).
Outlook: The Knights have big holes to fill left by all-around standout Mikaela Alger and her twin Morgan, two 6-footers who provided length and leadership. RC still has the goods to compete for another championship in the Southern League and a berth to NorCals. Scoring balance will continue to be key with sharpshooting veterans returning. Reinforcements from the sophomore team, which is coming off two straight 14-0 runs in league, adds depth.
— Jonamar Jacinto

Cody Norman’s transition from coaching boys basketball to girls has been smooth so far.

The Elk Grove native considers himself to be fortunate in his first season as Manteca High’s girls hoops coach after assisting Dave Asuncion on the varsity boys staff last year. He is guiding a veteran core of returning players that includes heralded newcomer Courtney Range.

Norman replaces Andrea Hiatt, who stepped down after her eighth season as the head coach. Hiatt compiled a 103-79 record and led the Buffaloes to five Sac-Joaquin Section postseason appearances and Valley Oak League title runs in her final two years.

“Coach Hiatt has done an awesome job here, so I definitely have some big shoes to fill with back-to-back titles looming over my shoulder,” Norman said. “The fundamentals that these girls have and their IQ are already high enough to where I don’t have to do a whole lot of teaching.

“Right now we’re going through new plays and the girls are coaching each other. Usually it’s me having to tell each player what to do, but they’re able to coach each other on the floor which is a big help.”

Norman’s coaching career began at his alma mater soon after graduating from Laguna Creek in 1997. He was part of Laguna’s varsity boys staff during its run to the 1999 and 2005 Division I section championships.

Norman began a four-year head coaching stint at Florin High in 2006 and left for Southern California following the 2008-09 school term. He coached Hamilton High’s boys squad for the 2010-11 season and was named Manteca’s girls head coach last May.

Four-year starter Mikayla Hasal has been instrumental in the program’s transition to a new coach. The Cal State Stanislaus-bound point guard is becoming more of a vocal leader to complement the more easy-going demeanor of Norman.

“It was a difficult transition, to be honest, but coach Norman is doing a good job,” Hasal said. “He’s a lot more relaxed than coach Hiatt, so we’re kind of anticipating how he’s going to be during games. We all think that soon enough he’s going to come out and get on us a little more.”

There may be games in which Norman has little need to do much speaking.

Enter Range, an impressive 6-foot-2 Cal-Berkeley signee and five-star prospect touted by ESPN as the nation’s fifth best high school wing player.

“With Courtney coming in, it’s a different game for us,” Hasal said. “Our offense and our defense kind of revolve around her.”

Range, a Manteca resident, previously starred for Stockton power St. Mary’s, helping the Rams earn the California Interscholastic Federation Division II state championship as a sophomore and the NorCal finals last year.

“It’s definitely a change, a lot different, but it’s still fun,” Range said of her time so far at Manteca. “I grew up with a lot of these girls, so it’s not like I’m going somewhere brand new. I fit it right away, and it’s only five minutes from home.”

Range’s anticipated debut will not be tonight’s Foundation Game against Ripon, or even the team’s official season opener on Dec. 5 at West.

Last May, the CIF approved a change to its transfer policy. Student-athletes who transfer without a change of residence are required to sit out 30 to 35 days.