Like a scene from Jaws, the water surrounding Oakdale High’s Adam Lahey settled to an eerie calm this summer.
Lahey is the last remaining starter from Oakdale’s 2011 unbeaten Valley Foothill League Champion line-up.
But he’s not alone and the program isn’t treading water.
Oakdale had one of the best junior varsity teams in the area last year, thanks to a handful of players who now join Lahey and the 2011 reserves for what first-year coach Brian Kline says is no rebuilding year.
“I honestly believe we can repeat as league champs and at least go to the playoff quarterfinals,” Kline said on Sunday.
Considering Oakdale’s water polo conference has changed names more often than it has changed champions the past five years, it’s no grandiose statement.
The conference represented by Sonora, Ripon and Kimball is now dubbed the traditional Valley Oak League, but it really belongs to Oakdale.
Oakdale hasn’t lost a league match since 2007, when the Mustangs settled for a No. 3 seed from the Division I Modesto Metro Conference. They were unbeaten MMC champs in 2009 and 2010 and claimed undefeated VFL titles in 2010 and 2011.
Last year Oakdale carried a conference title to a No. 4 seed into the Division II Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, where section champ Rio Americano ultimately dispatched them in a 15-7 showdown in the semifinals.
Oakdale had outlasted Capital Valley Conference runner-up, Christian Brothers, 12-6 and bested playoff host, Woodcreek, in a thrilling 8-7 quarterfinal. The team did it on the backs of standouts like Neal Cadra, Jeremy Neathery and Braden Lee. Cadra now plays for California Lutheran University while Neathery and Lee see plenty of action with the Modesto Junior College water polo team (they scored two goals each in a win over Cabrillo on Sept. 6).
Since Casey Whitley, Michael Tripp and Will Cavanaugh also departed via graduation, Lahey has the difficult task of leading an entirely new cast of teammates. He will do it from Cadra’s vacated (center forward) position just in front of the opposing net.
The move means Lahey must physically battle most teams’ top defenders for positioning in front of the opposing net as his teammates move the ball around to look for a way to feed him passes before the shot clock runs out. It’s a gritty and often brutal position in the pool, but Lahey says he’s been ready for it for years.
“I knew it was coming as soon as I thought about Neal graduating before me,” Lahey said. “I feel confident and believe in the abilities of my teammates to get me the ball.”
Lahey said though his team was hit hard by graduation, the summer gave him hopes for a terrific end to his prep career.
“We definitely have quite a few talented players to fill those missing spots,” Lahey said. “We were looking really good this summer during tournaments.”
Frank Rossier saw some action in the varsity pool in relief of Tripp last year, and has taken up goaltending duties for the team. Four-year player Ben Kirby, junior Taylor Leach and junior Bane Bimberg will play driver positions (wing forward) while freshmen Jared Kahler and junior Chase Cunha play in the middle of the pool. Reserves Luke Tanner (junior), Kevin Crum (junior) and Spencer Lee (freshman) also expect to vulture some playing time.
It’s an exciting prospect for Oakdale Water Polo, as success would pave way for an interesting scene in 2013 when the entire team (minus Lahey) would return to the pool.
Oakdale was at Lincoln of Stockton on Tuesday to open the season. Results were not available at press time.