The Valley Oak League sports schedules must be written by Steven Spielberg, because prep football, volleyball and water polo seasons tend to end like a blockbuster movie.Today’s (Oct. 26) Sonora at Oakdale water polo match marks the start of a 10-day span that represents the area’s biggest and most exciting conference contests of the fall as traditional rivals vie for respective league championships.
Gridiron Glory Up For Grabs
It doesn’t get any better than this.
Oakdale and Manteca High varsity football teams are both 8-0 with a combined 680-235 scoring advantage over opponents this year. The two teams will face off at The Corral in Oakdale on Friday for a game that should decide the VOL championship and potentially the No. 1 of 16 seeds into the Division III Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.Manteca won 35-28 last year at Gus Schmeidt Field, and eventually settled for a co-VOL championship after losing to East Union a week later. The Buffaloes would go on to lose a 55-22 heartbreaker to Vanden in the opening round of the playoffs while Oakdale stormed to a section championship appearance.“We are definitely motivated to play Manteca,” Oakdale quarterback Spencer Thomas said. “We are going to The Corral for the league title and I think we are prepared for them this year.“We are friendly with all the guys and there is nothing between us, but once we get to the football field it’s on.”
Thomas was around for the one-score loss to Manteca in 2010, and knows the seriousness of this rivalry. Oakdale is 6-4 against Manteca across the last ten years with a tight 206-197 scoring advantage in 10 games.And neither team has been shabby in the playoffs. Oakdale and Manteca have combined for nine section finals appearances across Divisions II, III and IV across the last 12 years. They have never played each other in a section final.
“We get up at 6:30 in the morning to work out for the Buffaloes and the Wildcats (Sonora), but right now it’s the Buffaloes,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “Everything we do in the offseason is about getting ready for games like this.“This is why we coach, why we play and why we get up in the morning and grind. It’s a great opportunity for us.”
If Oakdale wins, the Mustangs are guaranteed a share of the team’s fifth consecutive league title, a tremendous accomplishment. They play Sonora (6-2) on Nov. 4 to cap the school’s rivalry games.
Another Chance At Redemption
Last year Oakdale’s volleyball girls avenged a road loss to Sonora by beating the Wildcats at home in the league finale to force a co-VOL championship.A loss this year in Wildcat territory has given Oakdale (10-1) that same opportunity as Sonora (11-0) will battle the host Mustangs to complete conference play on Tuesday, Nov. 1.And the Oakdale-Sonora rivalry goes back as far as Oakdale coaches can remember.
“The rivalry carries over from many years before I even started coaching, and I just fell into it,” 17-year coach Shelli Ponce said. “The Oakdale tradition is to always want to beat the team up the hill, and it has always been the best competitive match in the league for several years.”
Ponce said she remembers when the rivalry grew so aggressive that Sonora fans showed up hours early to a match in Oakdale so they could decorate the Mustang gym with signs and balloons as if it was a Sonora home game.
“They wore bandanas and had stick horses that they were riding around mocking us,” Ponce said. “That didn’t go over well at all with Oakdale fans.”
Since then, however, the antics have been reduced to aggressive home posters and loud crowds as both sides have garnered respect from the other.
“It’s turned into a good, friendly rivalry,” Ponce said. “Not much of the mocking stuff has been allowed for a couple years.”
Since Sonora’s enrollment has dropped the Wildcats to Division IV, both Oakdale (D-III) and Sonora sport No. 3 positions in the Sac-Joaquin Section power ratings.
Ponce said she hopes Oakdale can advance to No. 2 and drop Sonora to No. 4 with a win on Tuesday.
A SOAK Rivalry
The combined SOAK (Sonora/Oakdale) club water polo team attended by both Mustangs and Wildcats in the summer did well to advance the progression of both prep teams, and it has thrown a wrinkle into the already boisterous Sonora-Oakdale rivalry.
Teammates in the summer now get a chance to fight for Valley Foothill Conference honors that have been dominated by Oakdale in recent seasons.
Both teams get that opportunity today as Oakdale hosts Sonora in a four-match war at the Oakdale Aquatic Center.
Since Sonora travels well and since Oakdale teams are on the brink of unbeaten seasons, it’s the biggest home contest of the year for Oakdale.
“We are hoping for a packed house and a victory for both girls and boys,” Oakdale boys coach Alan Stender said. “This would give the varsity boys teams four years of undefeated league victories and the girls two years so we are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves for wins.”
The Sonora boys represent the greatest threat to break apart Oakdale’s span of wins, and the Sonora girls will look for some revenge after Oakdale won 9-2 in Sonora territory earlier this year.
“I think the club program has given another dynamic to the rivalry that existed with Sonora before we combined teams,” Oakdale girls coach Diane Kline said. “When the game is over we will get a chance to visit because the players have become friends, but right now we want to beat each other for much more than bragging rights.”