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Starters take breather in blowouts
SOC file pic
East Unions Isabella Rivera (left) tangles with Central Valleys Emely Amaya during Tuesdays Sac-Joaquin Section Division III first-round game. - photo by Photo By Sean Kahler

Comfortable first-round victories allowed the East Union and Manteca girls soccer programs to rest many of their regulars.

Winning in the Valley Oak League, it seems, is hard on the body.

The Lancers and Buffaloes – two legitimate Sac-Joaquin Section title contenders – will need those starters in top form, too, as the thorny Division III tournament rolls on.

No. 1 East Union (18-0) will host No. 8 Benicia tonight. While the Lancers enjoyed a shutout victory over Central Valley, Benicia (12-7-2) needed two overtime periods to defeat No. 9 Ceres 2-1.

On the opposite side of the bracket, No. 3 Manteca (20-4-1) will welcome No. 11 Pioneer to Guss Schmeidt Field on Thursday. Pioneer (11-6-3) upset No. 6 Christian Brothers on Tuesday, pulling away from a 3-2 victory.

Both local programs know the opponents and games will grow stronger and tighter, respectively. So rival coaches can agree on at least one thing: It was a blessing to limit their players’ minutes early in the tournament.

“That’s a good benefit for them … to rest a little bit,” said East Union coach Victor Polanco, who is 37-0-1 in the last two seasons with a Division IV section championship.

“It’s something that I have to do,” he said of managing their rest and recovery. “I have to protect them, like last year.”

So on Tuesday, he did.

Many of the Lancers’ starters found time to rest during Tuesday’s match. The grind of the regular season had taken its toll on the legs of goalie Anna Wood, midfielder Isabella Rivera (knee) and sweeper Mariah Jeffery (ankle), among others.

Those three make up the spine of the Lancer attack. Jeffery came off the field following a yellow card in the 61st minute. Rivera sank back into the defense to protect the shutout, easing her load on the offensive end. Eventually, she too was subbed out.

And though Wood played the full 80 minutes, she was rarely tested in the victory. She had two saves.

Instead, Polanco used his substitutions elsewhere, rotating players along each line, feeding his bench invaluable experience.

“During practice before tonight’s game, we were icing and getting ready,” East Union sophomore Jenna Zuniga said. “We have a big bench, so if anyone gets tired we can sub them out. Our team is big enough to do that.”

Strong enough, too.

Polanco began substituting late in the first half with East Union ahead 2-0 and dominating the run of play. The Lancers outshot the Hawks 7-0 in the first half.

“I tried to save some of the starters. I also tried to give them some rest,” said Polanco, who noted starters Maddie Yslava (hamstring), Bella Cardenas (ankle) and Clarissa Lecce (ill) have also been slowed by ailments.

“Even though we won 2-0, I didn’t see this team attacking us. I needed to rest some of those injured players.”

Across town, Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg played with a much bigger cushion. The Buffaloes dispatched Vallejo 7-0 in their D-III opener, a margin that allowed the seventh-year head coach to go deeper into his bench.

Coenenberg played three of his frosh-soph call-ups, including Carly Morrish, Jocelyn Prado and Sarah Vegas.

He started subbing his starters with 15 minutes left in the first half and his team ahead 6-0.

“It was nice to get a comfortable win and limit the minutes of my players,” Coenenberg said. “As you know, the VOL is very competitive and physical and can wear players down. So the rest is beneficial at this point in the season.

“However, we need to make sure we realize that all playoff games will not be like that. I am assuming Pioneer will present a bigger challenge and we will be ready.”