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Incoming transfers boost Manteca area girls teams
Tia Tuuga leads the fastbreak for Manteca High against Shelby Shirron and host Sierra in a Valley Oak League contest Feb. 15. Shirron is back for Sierra, but the she will see Tuuga in an East Union jersey this season. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

Tia Tuuga traded her green garb for the red.

Jazlyn Simon is back to her old black and gold.

And Weston Ranch may field its best team ever with the addition of Leticia Infante.

Transfers have shifted the balance of power among Manteca Unified’s five high school girls basketball programs, but to what degree remains to be seen.

Manteca High loses its top frontcourt player in Tuuga, who averaged 11.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.1 steals for last year’s Valley Oak League championship squad. Now a sophomore, she will be paired with San Francisco State-bound Shalane Jackson (9 points, 11.1 rebounds), a fourth-year varsity starter, to forge a formidable 1-2 punch at rival East Union.

The loss of Tuuga and all-league MVP Sharon Washington doesn’t necessarily mean Manteca is rebuilding. The Buffaloes went 22-5 last year — while advancing to the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs for the first time since 2000 — because of depth, and several key members from that team return.

Third-year starter Mikayla Hasal leads the way at point guard, and fourth-year senior Jaqi Gutierrez provides a veteran presence on defense along with perimeter shooting.

The athletic guard tandem of Mia Ramirez and Karleasha Thompson will have expanded roles after serving as super subs. Brianna Bell and Jimi Guibor are other top reserves who are back, while sophomore Jessica Hasal and junior forward Jasmine Odell are looking to make an impact in their first full varsity season. They were brought up for the playoffs last season.

Manteca once again will rely on overall team speed to overcome its disadvantage in height. Of its top players, Gutierrez and Odell are the tallest at 5 feet, 7 inches.

East Union (20-7) has its share of holes to fill. Graduated standouts Lexy Posz and Briona Fontenot were the Lancers’ top two scores in 2010-11, and Salina Tiscareno’s steady play at guard will also be missed. Senior guards Klasey Kachalkin and Kristen Piasecki hope to pick up where that trio left off.

Both Jackson and Tuuga are interchangeable wing players. Each can knock down mid-range jumpers, operate out of the high post and do some damage down low. They are also tenacious rebounders.

Weston Ranch (17-9) is primed to make a run at its first league title after finishing a win shy of a share last season.

Jazmin Strane could finally break out in her fourth varsity season. The 6-foot forward was an all-around producer her junior year, averaging 8.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.4 blocks. Emoni Wilson returns with valuable experience after seeing significant playing time as a versatile sophomore.

Aljanea Brown takes over for three-time all-league selection Timnesha Wilson at point guard. Brown led the Cougars’ sophomore squad to a 24-2 overall record and a co-championship as a freshman. The freshman team went undefeated in league last year, so the future is bright.

Weston Ranch has reason to believe the future is now.

 Infante, a 5-10 wing, transferred in from nationally-regarded St. Mary’s and should make an immediate impact. She was a part of a St. Mary’s sophomore team that went 24-0 and got promoted to the varsity roster for the Rams’ run to the California Interscholastic Federation Division-III state championship.

Simon was Infante’s teammate on the St. Mary’s sophomore contingent, but she has returned to Lathrop High where she made a splash as a freshman two years ago. The crafty guard will be joined by varsity veterans and fellow juniors Marissa Elliott and Janet Visaya. Elliot is a three-year varsity player and will play the wing, and Visaya, called up from the lower levels midway through the season in last year, could end up being the top outside shooter in the Manteca area.

Sophomore Jasmine Calix gives the guard-heavy Spartans, who are likely to improve on last year’s 5-20 finish, another backcourt option. That depth should help alleviate the loss of Diamond Gomez, another talented sophomore who transferred to Lincoln High in Stockton.

Erica Sanchez is the team’s only returning senior, one of three total, and provides defensive toughness. Loreal Taylor, a 5-9 sophomore, fills a need at center.

Sierra (15-11), which joined its two crosstown rivals in the postseason, is also young but isn’t short on size.

Six-foot senior center Lia Unterholzner is the most experienced returner having played varsity since she was a sophomore. Senior Shelby Shirron and sophomore Valerie Nestor are others expected to fill big shoes vacated by the talented low-post tandem of Alysia Atkins and Jordan Johnson.

Junior point guard Asia Cortez, sophomore Celine Barber and seniors Jessica Lopez and Kelly Paredes are the key members of Sierra’s backcourt rotation.