PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. ASHLEY ROSE, East Union
(5-5 senior guard)
The transfer from St. Mary’s has improved her all-around game since joining the Lancers two years ago. Rose is averaging 17.4 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 steals and was named the Tom Hawkins/Tracy Breakfast Lions Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. In 12 non-league contests, Rose nailed 34 3-pointers but has improved her ability to make plays while driving to the hoop.
2. RAVEN ANDERSON, Sonora
(6-2 sophomore center)
The Wildcats dropped four straight preseason contests while Anderson was visiting family over winter break. Anderson is a presence in the paint as one of the league’s tallest players, and she helped lead the sophomore team to the championship last year. She averages 15.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 rebounds.
3. RACHEL MCDANIEL, East Union
(5-7 senior guard)
The 2007-08 VOL and Bulletin All-Area MVP averages 13.3 points per game but is also the Lancers’ best defender. Bound for Cal Baptist University on a scholarship, McDaniel also produces 4.3 assists and four steals.
4. ARIEL MCINTYRE, Sierra
(5-9 senior post)
With 5-10 center senior center Heather Scharmann also in the paint, the Timberwolves have the most rugged and battle tested frontcourt in the conference. McIntyre turns in close to 15 points and nine rebounds per game.
5. TIMNESHA WILSON, Weston Ranch
(5-3 sophomore point guard)
One of the area’s top playmakers led the Cougars to their best preseason finish in program history. Wilson does it all for Weston Ranch, as she averages 12.6 points, 3.5 assists, 4.5 steals and 2.9 rebounds.
Keep an eye on: PG Cassandra Clark, Oakdale sophomore; F Shalane Jackson, East Union freshman; PG Allison Perry, Sonora senior; C Heather Scharmann, Sierra senior; PG Sharon Washington, Manteca sophomore.
The Lancers ended the Valley Oak League season on a downer last year, losing to rival Manteca. The loss forced East Union to share the championship with Sonora, and the win for Manteca was enough to just get it into the postseason.
The Lancers shooting for its third straight VOL title and fourth and five years, only this time they want it all to themselves.
“We’re very aware of what happened last year,” East Union coach Jim Agostini said. “Not to take anything away from Manteca, they played a good game and won. But I don’t think our girls walked away feeling that they played their best game.
“It was one we let get away. It’s a thorn on our side and it’s something we hope to not let happen again. If we’re fortunate enough to have an opportunity to finish something off, hopefully we handle it differently.”
The Lancers handled their preseason masterfully, going 13-0 while winning the Tom Hawkins/Tracy Breakfast Lions Tournament title with a 54-48 victory over Napa (10-4).
Senior guards Ashley Rose and Rachel McDaniel lead East Union, but the emergence of freshman forward Shalane Jackson, sophomore wing Lexy Posz and junior center Rachel O’Neal have made the Lancers even better than last year.
After posting their best preseason mark in this decade, the Lancers are understandably the league favorite, but Agostini knows it won’t be easy.
Their three Manteca Unified rivals — Manteca, Sierra and Weston Ranch — are capable of beating them, as is last season’s co-champion in Sonora.
Sonora’s 5-6 preseason record is misleading. The Wildcats lost four in a row before capping non-league action with a 56-41 win over VOL foe Central Valley with 6-foot-2 center Raven Anderson out of town for winter break.
Returning all-VOL first team point guard Allison Perry, a crafty ball handler and defensive stalwart, also missed some games. Even with 6-foot center Brittany Malone, who joined Perry on the first team last year, out for the season with an ACL tear, Sonora will give team fits with its combination of guard play and interior toughness.
Sierra (5-4) is as tough as they come in the post with double-double machines Ariel McIntyre and Heather Scharmann leading the way, and Weston Ranch (10-3) is off to its best start in program history.
Weston Ranch is led by sophomore guards Timnesha Wilson and DeArbia Gardner, junior guard Courtney Duran and the all-freshman post of Jazmin Strane and Denell Fox.
“I think the league is a lot more competitive this year,” Agostini said. “All the teams have upped the ante. We can talk about Weston Ranch, we can talk about Sierra and Manteca.
“Weston Ranch has a very, very talented team, and they are capable of beating anybody in our league. We have respect for every team in our league, and we understand that if we don’t play well we can lose.”
Manteca (7-6) and Oakdale (5-5) should again be competitive to make a run at the playoffs.
Sophomore guard Sharon Washington and junior forwards Davina Bennett and Cynthia Perez typify the Buffaloes’ scrappy play.
Oakdale is spearheaded by promising sophomore guard Cassandra Clark, who averages 14 points per game, and senior center Jennie Paugh.
After ruling the Modesto Metro Conference for several years, Ceres (4-8) has struggled to match its past success in the VOL.
Central Valley (4-9) is just three wins away from eclipsing last year’s total, the third-year varsity program’s record, and has one of the most dangerous outside shooters in the league in Julie Calderon.