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SOCCER: Craighead’s head-up goal boosts Buffs past East Union
Manteca-East Union girls soccer
Manteca forward Emilee Craighead tees up a shot from inside the East Union penalty box while challenged by Brooke Dorland. - photo by SEAN KAHLER

Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg encourages his players to be aggressive with free quick kicks.

It paid off for Emilee Craighead and the Buffaloes on Tuesday when her startling goal helped turn the tide in a 2-0 win at East Union.

The senior caught the defense by surprise after an East Union player was whistled for a handball infraction. The ball had barely settled back onto the grass when Craighead pulled the trigger from about 30 yards out and broke the scoreless tie in the 21st minute.

“Coenenberg always teaches us when you see that happen to just go for it and trust your gut,” Craighead said. “I just heard him yelling, ‘quickly, quickly!’ from the sideline and I just went for it. It definitely gave us some momentum.”

She later assisted the other goal, serving a ball into the box for Cameron Silva to poke it in with a leaping half-volley seven minutes into the second half. It was a deserved tally for Manteca’s skillful forward who had several electric breakaways result in wide misses or clutch saves by East Union goalkeeper Cassiday Pearson (six saves).

The Buffaloes (5-1 Valley Oak League, 14-3 overall) was in control the rest of the way, a big turnaround from the first 30 minutes of the match in which East Union (0-3, 5-5) had much of the possession.

“In the first half, they were pushing their back line up so much we got a little through-ball hungry,” Coenenberg said. “We were just playing long ball, long ball, long ball and they have some good speed in the back. We talked at halftime about possessing the ball more and build our attack, because in the first half I don’t think we strung together three passes.”

While it was not the result the Lancers wanted, the overall effort was a step in the right direction for a youthful squad that is still working off the rust from a lengthy break in action. They had just played their second game since going four-plus weeks without one.

“This game is probably one of the better games we’ve played all year,” East Union coach Jason Silva said. “The intensity was there and I felt we controlled most of the game, we just made a couple unfortunate mistakes and you just can’t have those types of plays. It’s just a learning process. Overall, the girls played well and battled for 80 minutes and that’s all we can ask for.”

East Union has had league opponents request postponements, and at one point last month Dino Cunial Field was deemed unplayable because of the sloppy conditions caused by heavy rainstorms. The team must now power through a compacted schedule while dealing with key injuries and COVID-19 protocols.

On Monday, the Lancers hosted Kimball in a make-up game and lost, 2-0. They next travel to Oakdale on Thursday and to Sierra on Saturday for a crosstown showdown that has been twice rescheduled.

Manteca, meanwhile, has a week to prepare for its next game against visiting Oakdale on Jan. 18.


Sierra 4, Central Catholic 1

The visiting Raiders (2-2-1, 3-6-2) had no answer for Jocelin Roa and the VOL-leading Timberwolves (5-0, 10-3-1) at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.

Roa finished with two goals and one assist. She is the second-leading scorer in the Sac-Joaquin Section with 57 points (25 goals, seven assists).

“Jocelin is a beast,” Sierra coach Manuel Pires said. “She’s playing with three and four girls around her and she’s still finding ways to score and set up others. Her work rate and brilliance on the ball is second-to-none. She just missed another hat trick tonight.”

Alexus Rossi and Presley Perez each contributed a goal. Payton Abrew and Preeya Singh each had an assist.