State

East Union looks to step up

MANTECA -- For all of the success East Union High has enjoyed the last eight seasons, a glaring hole remains in the résumé of one of the Stanislaus District's top girls programs.

The Lancers have been unable to take their regular-season success to the postseason, with just one victory despite eight consecutive playoff berths.

"We're proud of what we've accomplished, but yes, there is that issue of the playoffs," coach Jim Agostini said. The lone win was over Highlands in 2007, one of the three playoff games that East Union has hosted.

A Valley Oak League title would guarantee the Lancers (19-1, 6-1) a home playoff game this season, and it's a quest that continues tonight when they play host to rival Sonora (11-7, 6-1).

The showdown also pits two of the top teams in The Bee's Stanislaus District poll: No. 2 EU and No. 3 Sonora.

The Lancers pounded Sonora 49-31 on Jan. 8, but suffered a stunning loss the next week to leave the duo tied for first.

If EU runs the table, it not only earns a league title and a home game, but could snare a top-four seed -- that would be a first during its current run.

Seeding can be crucial, as the top four seeds play softer first-round foes and then get to host quarterfinal games.

So what makes this team capable of earning a high seed?

"I think we have the best set of guards in the district," said assistant coach Scott Renke, pointing to Rachel McDaniel and Ashley Rose. "They're interchangeable at the 1 and 2."

Both are comfortable bringing the ball up and taking the point, or shifting to the wing to be a shooter, Renke said.

Rose averages 18.3 points and four assists per game, and is the district's 3-point ace. She has hit 45 percent of her treys (50 of 111).

McDaniel, all-district as a junior, averages 12 points, 4.3 assists and four steals. She has signed to play for California Baptist University in Riverside, and recently shook off a month-long shooting funk.

"It happened last year, so I knew I could get past it," said McDaniel, who bounced back from last year's slow start to earn all-district honors.

While McDaniel struggled, Rose displayed her new skills and four other Lancers regularly scored six to 10 points.

"If you have a group of girls capable of doing that, and put them with two good scorers, you've got a good team." Agostini said. "We're getting 20, 30 points a game from the four."

The most dramatic change from last year, however, has been the role played by Rose.

A flat-footed 3-point shooter as a junior, she's now driving to the basket and scoring. Her defense, passing and ballhandling have improved, as well.

"I not only worked on going to the basket to score, but also kicking the ball back out," said Rose, who has scored 15 or more points in 15 of her 18 games. "I want to play in college, and I knew I would have to get better."

Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at restrada@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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