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Sammie nears full speed
Mantecas title hopes boosted by Morris return
Manteca striker Sammie Morris tries to avoid a collision as Lathrop High defender Ana Julia Ramirez comes in hard with a slide tackle during the Buffaloes annual Kicking for a Cure match on April 27, 2012. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

The blonde blur is back.

Sammie Morris has dazzled the Manteca High coaching staff with her fitness and speed during the first week of drills, showing no ill-effects from an ankle injury that derailed her junior season.

With more than two weeks to go until the Buffaloes’ season opener against Bear Creek, head coach Justin Coenenberg already feels 1-0.

His victory might be sentimental, but it could be just the break Manteca needs in its quest for a Valley Oak League title.

Morris is healthy, and that’s saying a lot. The senior striker broke her left ankle and missed most of last season.

“She’s looking good,” Coenenberg said. “She’s in the best shape I’ve seen her at.”

Senior Sialei Manuleleua knows what a healthy Morris brings to the field.

Manuleleua and Morris are year-round teammates with the Manteca Futbol Club, and both are fourth-year members of the varsity team.

Together, they form a potent 1-2 connection with Manuleleua playing the role of point guard and Morris the finisher.

“It’s her speed,” said Manuleleua, who recently signed a national letter of intent to play at Cal State East Bay next fall. “She has really good speed and knows how to cut perfectly behind and around people.”

Morris’ biggest obstacle won’t be the ankle – as odd as that may sound.

Her biggest obstacle is trusting the ankle when the pace and physicality of the game run in the red.

“That’s been the hardest part. I had to learn how to run,” Morris said. “When I did come back it was hard to trust myself and my team around me, because I was so afraid.”

So far, there has been little hesitation during conditioning drills.

“She’s about 100 percent,” Coenenberg said. “If not, she’s really close.”

Consider that a warning.

Morris, who has visited with Humboldt State and San Francisco State, appeared in only eight games last spring, scoring three times on eight shots.

When healthy, Morris is one of the area’s top producers.

 She led the VOL in points (2.727) and goals per game (1.134) as a freshman, and topped the Buffaloes with 23 goals.

As a sophomore, she had a team-best 25 goals and 10 assists in 22 games.

Manuleleua moved from the center midfield to the forward line last spring with Morris was injured. She rewarded Coenenberg’s faith with a 12-goal, 11-assist season and was named to the all-Valley Oak League’s first team.

The Buffaloes (9-3-2, 16-7-3) finished second in the Valley Oak League table, trailing unbeaten champion East Union (13-0-1, 19-2-3) and mere percentage points ahead of Sierra (8-3-3, 12-6-5).

With Morris back in the fold, Coenenberg will look to shake up the hierarchy with a shakeup of his own.

Instead of sinking Manuleleua back into the midfield – her natural position – Coenenberg will play her alongside Morris.

“They’re two players I like a lot and they share that work ethic,” Coenenberg said. “They’re both creative and smart. It’s fun to coach those types of players, where you could tell them things and they do it – but they also bring their own creativity.”

For Morris, the season opener against Bear Creek on Feb. 23 can’t get here soon enough.

She may be the lift the Buffaloes need.

Manteca reached the Division IV semifinal round last season, falling to eventual champion Vista del Lago 2-1.

“I’m super excited for the high school season,” she said. “I didn’t get to play last year and I was bummed. It’s nice to go into a season totally trusting myself and knowing that I could play fully again.”