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Booker, Goodwin play key roles for top teams
BSK--Unsung Centers file 1
East Union center Ciara Goodwin has her shot contested by Mantecas Aryana Martinez (35) and Loretta Kakala (34) on Feb. 12. The Lancers clinched the Valley Oak League title that night with a 64-48 victory. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Though tall in stature, the contributions of Weston Ranch’s Anthony Booker and East Union’s Ciara Goodwin can sometimes go unnoticed.

They’re senior centers for Valley Oak League championship basketball teams that star headline-grabbing guards, but their coaches can’t say enough about what they’ve meant to their respective teams’ success. Tonight, Goodwin and the No. 2-seeded Lady Lancers begin their Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff run against Central Valley, and on Wednesday Booker and the Cougars’ top-seeded boys squad welcome Cordova. Both programs are going after their first section titles.

East Union girls coach Jim Agostini calls Goodwin a “classic high school basketball player” who improved over time to earn her spot in the starting rotation. In contrast, 6-foot-2 freshman teammate Donja Payne has made an immediate impact on the varsity team and provides double-double production. 

“As a junior it took her a while to get comfortable and adapt to the varsity level and what we run,” Agostini said of Goodwin. “But she has a great attitude and is a good, hard worker. That girl put the time in to get better and she’s reaping the benefits.”

The 26-1 Lancers are also benefitting. They already had two established veterans in guards Olivia Vezaldenos and Ruby Daube, and the addition of Payne gave them a third scoring threat. The 6-foot-1 Goodwin averages 4.4 points and 4.7 rebounds, but what she provides for her team isn’t always best measured by quantity.

That doesn’t mean Goodwin isn’t capable of putting up numbers. In what was essentially the first of two VOL championship games against rival Manteca, Goodwin scored seven of her 10 points in the first half and totaled 11 rebounds, but she was also tasked with guarding heralded 6-2 junior Loretta Kakala. Kakala did rack up 29 points, but East Union dominated the boards and won, 74-58.

“Our (league) season came down to what we did against Manteca,” Agostini said. “There was no way I could put Donja on Loretta, so Ciara had to defend her. Other members of the team were helping her, but she did a great job. 

“She’s one of those component pieces you need to have on a team like this to be successful. A good basketball fan notices her, while most people are seeing Donja, Olivia and Rube. Ciara does the little things that go unnoticed. We’re not where we’re at without her.”

Weston Ranch (23-4) has been on a roll since the CSU Monterey Bay-bound Booker joined the team at the start of league, winning 14 of its last 15 games. Booker, who arrived from Chavez of Stockton, had to sit out the first 30 days per CIF transfer rules. He’s chipping in 6.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

 “Players who have to sit out are so anxious to play that they want to do everything when they finally step onto the court,” Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan said. “(Booker) was finding his role his first couple of games and he slowly got better.”

 The Cougars fared well without him while navigating through a challenging nonleague schedule, though that shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, third-year starters Jaelen Ragsdale and Josh Dilg along with the versatile guard Fred Lavender and energetic 6-5 forward Jordan Strane made a surprise run to the SJS Division III finals last year without a true big. The Cougars also welcomed 6-3 senior transfer D’Angelo Finley (Foothill of Pleasanton), who did not have to serve the sit-out period.

With all the puzzle pieces in place, Teevan may now have the best team Weston Ranch has had — and that’s saying a lot. With the 6-10 Booker in place, the Cougars can now match teams with size.

“Last year was kind of an uncommon run we made in the playoffs,” Teevan said.

Booker played a big role in helping Weston Ranch sweep second-place Manteca and reigning VOL and section champion Sierra. 

He was a non-factor because of foul trouble for most of the Cougars’ first meeting with Manteca, but in the last six minutes of the game he kept 6-9 Anand Hundal (23 points, 13 rebounds) from scoring as Weston Ranch prevailed, 72-68. Two weeks later the Ranch survived a scare from Sierra in a 63-56 win, and it was thanks in large part to Booker’s 17-point, 13-rebound effort.

“Last year we got pounded inside against Sierra, and there was the threat of Manteca doing the same to us this year,” Teevan said. “He gives us something to hold our own. We can’t keep asking Fred and Angelo to guard 6-10 guys over and over. 

“We’re never going to ask (Booker) to win those matchups, just to hold his ground. He’s already made that impact defensively and now he’s searching out points.”

Booker again made his presence felt in the rematch with Sierra, scoring the game’s first seven points and finishing with 13 to go with eight rebounds and two blocks. He then tallied 12 points and 15 boards in the regular-season finale against Kimball.

“I don’t know if we beat Sierra at home (without Booker) — he was 7 for 7 (from the field) in that game,” Teevan said. “And I don’t know if we beat Manteca, probably not twice. You can say that about a lot of our players, but when you get to a certain level of play you can’t be missing anything, whether it’s a good point guard or a good big man.”