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Oakdale Water Polo Teams Pursuing Perfection
11-2 OAK WP1
Oakdale High water polo players cant contain their glee as they dump coaches Alan Stender (falling) and David Earle (submerged) into the pool after clinching an undefeated league championship. - photo by IKE DODSON/THE LEADER

One second Oakdale High boys water polo coaches Alan Stender and David Earle were inconspicuously talking with Mustang parents, and the next they were scrambling to ditch wallets and cell phones as a pack of grinning athletes wrestled them from their poolside stances. Suddenly, both fully clothed coaches were dumped into the pool at the Oakdale Aquatic Center.

In that moment, perfection must have felt awfully wet and soggy for Stender and Earle.

The same coaches who predicted a perfect Valley Foothill Conference season for their varsity teams, saw that goal bloom into fruition on Oct. 26 after Oakdale boys and girls topped Sonora for unbeaten VFC titles.

And they did it in front of a huge crowd with onlookers packed into the bleachers and lined across both sides of the pool.

“It was wonderful to have a packed house, especially for a Sonora game,” Stender said after climbing from the pool. “We played wonderful.”

The Oakdale boys won 14-4 in the night’s final game and watched the Oakdale girls play to a league finale victory to kick off varsity action.

“The girls have put in a lot of hard work and extra time, so to win like this in front of a big crowd is really nice,” Oakdale coach Diane Kline said. “It was exciting to beat Sonora again.”

Oakdale’s girls saw a seven goal effort from senior Savannah Stender. Freshman Shelby Stender scored twice while Cassie Lee also found the net. Goaltender Hayley Benson played terrific to keep Sonora quiet.

The Oakdale boys claimed their ten-point win over the VFC runner-ups just moments later, and saw goaltenders Michael Tripp (10 saves, three quarters) and Frank Rossier (five saves, one quarter) play brilliant at the net.

Braden Lee scored five times while Jeremy Neathery, Casey Whitley, Brandon Terwilliger and Neal Cadra each scored two goals. Adam Lahey also found the net once.

It was a special game for seniors Neathery and Cadra, who wrapped up undefeated varsity careers. The Oakdale boys have now claimed four consecutive unbeaten league seasons, and Neathery and Cadra have been around to see the fireworks.

“It was great to play varsity at the freshman level and now undefeated for four years,” Neathery said. “I’ve learned so much.”

“I came up to the varsity level as a sophomore and moved into a starting position last year,” Cadra added. “It’s been phenomenal to be a part of three years of undefeated water polo.”

Cadra added that Oakdale’s goal this season is to claim a section title, but bracket makers at the Sac-Joaquin Section office have not made it easy for the Mustangs to reach the Division II finale.

Despite reaching the semifinals of last year’s SJS bracket and only losing to section champion Rio Americano, Oakdale is again stuck on the same side of the bracket of the reigning champs. The Capital Valley Conference champion (Bella Vista) is again gifted the bottom half of the bracket while Oakdale must likely square off with the Capital Athletic League champs (Rio Americano) to see a SJS title game. The CVC champion has won only one postseason game in two years of D-II action. Oakdale has three wins across divisions I and II in the past two years and has only lost to section champions.

“We are gunning for the section championship,” Cadra said. “Rio Americano is a good team but hopefully we can do it.”

The Oakdale boys open with CVC No. 2 seed Oakmont at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The Oakdale girls also play CVC No. 2 Oakmont on Friday at 10:30 a.m. The girls hope to best a 1-1 finish at the D-II postseason a year ago. Both first round matches will be played at Woodcreek High.