Today’s Oct. 24 water polo showdown between Oakdale High and host Sonora couldn’t be much bigger. For the Oakdale girls, it’s a chance to cap an unbeaten league season and high seed heading into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs. For the Oakdale boys, it’s a chance to flip a coin. Since the boys fell to Ripon twice and Sonora during the first half, Oakdale needs an upset win to force a tie for second and coin-flip to decide the final seed into the postseason.
With the game clock ticking off the final seconds of a match against Ripon on Oct. 17, goaltender Hayley Benson swam away from the Oakdale net with the ball in her possession for one last shot. Her arcing toss made just short of the pool’s halfway mark soared overhead, dropped past the outstretched fingertips of the Ripon goalkeeper and splashed into the back of the goal as the buzzer sounded.
It wasn’t a game winner (Oakdale already led 13-0) but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the reaction of the Lady Mustang players, who erupted into celebration. Not only had the goal capped Oakdale’s fifth Valley Oak League win and guaranteed a conference title, it awarded Benson her first score from the goalie position all season.
“I thought it was going to go over, so when it went in I freaked out,” Benson admitted.
Oakdale led 4-0 after a period and 8-0 at the half, rallying behind reserve players in the final two periods that never gave Ripon a break.
Megan Tackett scored three times in the win while Cassie Lee, Jill Kahler, Aleksaandra Courtney, Vicki Swarthout, Rhonda Vanderburg, Aimee Neathery, Hannah Hanko (two), Cheyenne Chrisman (two) also nabbed scores. Benson had five saves.
“The girls have worked really hard and definitely stepped up their level of play every season,” third-year coach Diane Kline said. “This is one big step towards the postseason.”
The Oakdale defense delivered another strong performance from a seasoned group led by Swarthout, who has scored several times this season to aid her teammates. Swarthout enjoyed the senior night celebration.
“I think this is a really good program to be a part of,” she said afterwards. “I’ve grown really close to these girls over the years.”
Oakdale was in good position to challenge unbeaten Ripon after a 5-3 lead at the half, but allowed six unanswered goals and a 5-1 Ripon advantage in the final period as they fell 10-6 to the VOL champion Indians.
Oakdale had success early from breakaways and outside shots, but couldn’t deliver quality shots on goal late in the game.
“They had more desire to stop us from scoring than we did to score,” Oakdale coach Brian Kline said. “Our game plan was to shoot from the outside and it was very successful in the first half.
“We just came out flat in the second half while they came out motivated. It showed in the score.”
The Indians kept Oakdale away from the net by placing 6 foot, 3 inch, 190-pound center-hole Trevor Smith into the center of the pool. Smith, who won Ripon’s highest ever state medal on the wrestling mat last year (seventh), knows a little about leverage and physicality.
“Oakdale beat everybody last year, so to beat them this year made up for when they smashed us last year,” Smith said. “It was all defense, defense, defense.”
Oakdale keeper Frank Rossier had six saves. Oakdale’s Jared Kahler (two), Adam Lahey, Ben Kirby (two) and Nate Van Cleave scored in the loss.