Shelby Stender has a smile so big it could troll for krill, but the incoming Oakdale High junior has a tenacious streak proven deadly in the prep pool.
Fresh off her second straight trip to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II finals, Stender has landed recognition on the All American water polo team.
According to Oakdale coach Diane Kline, Stender was selected for fifth-team All-American recognition to honor her performance from a sophomore campaign that led Oakdale in goals scored (81).
The recognition is the ultimate prize for an acclaimed youth player who made an emphatic splash on the prep scene when she became a key cog in Oakdale’s SJS runner-up squad her freshman year. A year later, her 11 postseason scores provided key momentum as the Lady Mustangs rallied to a return trip to the section title match (they fell to Rio Americano).
Stender was named to the All Section team, but her All-American nod was a pleasant surprise.
“She is the first girl All-American we have ever had,” Kline said. “It speaks very highly to what other coaches think of her.
“I think she puts in a lot of hard work and is very dedicated, so this is a huge reward for all that.”
Kline said that Stender and the rest of her under-16 Sonora/Oakdale club water polo team (SOAK) are on the verge of collective accolades as well.
The team finished fourth amongst a field of 11 squads at the Central California zone Junior Olympic qualifier from June 29 and 30. The finish locked a spot for SOAK in the Junior Olympic Championship Tournament in Orange County from Aug. 1 through 4.
“I always go in trying to be as realistic as possible, so I was hoping we would finish in the middle around fifth, sixth or seventh,” Kline said. “To see how well they played made me real excited because I could see how well things came together when they improved.”
The under-16s are the only SOAK team to reach Junior Olympic action. It was made possible by a few close wins. The team edged Napa 5-4, then stunned a talented Sacramento Polo squad with an 8-7 victory in shootout overtime.
SOAK was down one goal with 26 seconds left in that game, but Aleksaandra Courtney stole the ball and assisted Emily Stolken in the final moments. Stolken and Emily Bennett made their goals, and Caitlin Golding blocked one penalty shot by Sacramento to give SOAK the lead. Oakdale would go on to best Placer 8-2, but slipped 10-3 to highly regarded American River ‘A’.
Bennett, a longtime Water Polo and swimming talent, was also selected to a United States Olympic Development team. She is considered one of the top young water polo players in the nation.