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2012 OHS Girls Water Polo Preview - Playing For The Polo Playoffs
9-12 OAK WP Prev Benson
This wanted poster featuring Oakdale water polo goalie Hayley Benson illustrates the need for one of Oakdales Most Wanted performers, a second-year varsity player with serious talent. Clothing was provided by Bucksworth Western Wear. - photo by Photo illustration by IKE DODSON/THE LEADER

When Oakdale High varsity girls water polo coaches and players coyly say they want to do even better than last year’s playoff finish, they only mean one thing — win a section title.

The 2012 squad has the difficult task of following Oakdale’s best season in school history, an unbeaten romp through the Valley Foothill League and 3-1 postseason finish to end four goals shy of a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II banner.

“The team has set really high goals for themselves and each other,” Oakdale coach Diane Kline said. “They would like to repeat a third consecutive league championship and better our finish in playoffs from last year.”

Last year Oakdale stunned Rio Americano when the Lady Mustangs halted the Raiders’ streak of nine consecutive section titles by besting Rio 4-2 in overtime in the SJS semifinals. The win ended the Raiders’ season and propelled Oakdale to its first ever section final, where Sierra Foothill League champ, Del Oro, claimed a 10-7 victory.

Since the SFL is now a Division I league, Oakdale’s top competition in D-II is now Rio, which returned most of the lineup that mourned a loss to the Mustangs in 2011. But before Oakdale can eyeball the postseason, the team must escape the newly-named Valley Oak League with a No. 1 seed.

It’s no guarantee, but considering the Mustangs have played well in recent years against top contenders Sonora and Ripon, a top seed is certainly within Oakdale’s grasp.

Oakdale (22-10 overall, 14-0 VFL in 2011) was sixth at the prestigious Clovis West Invitational on Sept. 7 and 8, despite the absence of first team All-VFL goalie, Hayley Benson, who was taking college preparatory tests.

The senior plans to go to school in Southern California to pursue a career in law. If she said she aspired to become a defense lawyer it would make for an easy correlation between her future career and the net she defends, but no such luck.

Benson was one of four first team all-league selections from Oakdale. The league MVP and Oakdale Leader Female Athlete of the Year (Savannah Stender) departed to UC Davis via graduation, but talented goal scorer Cassie Lee is back for another big year in the Oakdale pool.

Second team All-Leaguer Shelby Stender has also returned. Lee scored 62 goals for Oakdale last year while Shelby netted 57. Only Savannah (108) was better.

“I definitely feel like we have a lot to live up to because we did so well last year, but I think we are capable of going to back the section finals,” Benson said on Sunday. “I think if we work hard together as a team we can definitely win sections.”

Benson, Lee and Stender will be joined by the likes of standout newcomer Ronda Vanderburg, who performed well at the junior varsity level in 2011. Between Vanderburg, the other juniors and the return of several 2011 reserves, coach Kline has plenty to pool from, even if some lack necessary familiarity with the level of play.

“Overall we are pretty inexperienced at the varsity level,” Kline said. “But the new players have shown so much promise that I’m excited to see how much they improve and learn this season.”

Oakdale hosted Lincoln of Stockton on Tuesday, though results were not available at press time.