It doesn’t take much serious scrutiny to see why Oakdale High’s varsity girls water polo is on the brink of another conference championship and run into the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Bold and efficient, the girls glide through pool water like aquatic animals.
They attack opposing nets with ferocity and remain well disciplined with their formations and ball movement.
The team may not have the exact same chemistry of a 2010 squad that rallied to an undefeated league stanza and section quarterfinal exit, but serious competition within the lineup has forced each girl to pick up her own level of play.
And having two sets of sisters to push players for playing time has done wonders to motivate the group as a whole.
“You can kind of tell when they get a little annoyed with each other and start treating each other like sisters instead of teammates,” Oakdale coach Diane Kline said. “But at the same time they push each other very hard and the team drives to get better and better as a result.
“They are so different that sometimes I forget they are sisters.”
Savvy senior Savannah Stender is the elite player of these sister-sets, but has freshman sister, Shelby Stender, nipping at her heels.
Shelby made a triumphant splash onto the prep scene this fall after years of club success had Kline gleefully awaiting her initial season in the high school pool.
“I pretty much made the decision to move her to varsity a week or two into the high school season.” Kline said. “Shelby has so much experience and really fits in well at the varsity level.”
Shelby has scored 14 goals from an outside attacker position, second only to Savannah. But being second to Savannah is nothing to complain about.
The senior standout has long dominated the local pool, and expertly turns and twists to find scoring angles in the center attacker position of the Oakdale offense.
Savannah has tallied an incredible 26 goals during eight contests this season.
She landed 15 scores against top-tier defenders during the Central Valley Showdown in Clovis and added four more during a 12-10 overtime loss to visiting Tokay on Sept. 15.
Savannah was a huge part of Oakdale’s successful season a year ago, and will be dearly missed by the program when she graduates in the spring.
“I am very close with all three of our excellent seniors on this team and I am going to miss them all,” Kline said. “At the same time, I have a special relationship with Savannah. She has meant so much to this program.”
The other two talented seniors on the varsity squad, Jennie Siemsen and Alissa Burford, hold down key starting positions in the Oakdale defense.
Alissa and her junior sister Kendyl Burford are both in their third season of prep polo since Savannah convinced Alissa to join the squad during a physical education class Alissa’s sophomore season.
Alissa starts, but is sometime spelled by Kendyl, who can play defense or attack the net. They both have scored goals this season.
“Kendyl and I play really well together, but we aren’t afraid to yell at each other, because we are sisters,” Alissa said. “I’m a starter and she’s not, so sometimes we get competitive with it. But we always team up in practice and work on what we just learned.”
Alissa said the girls enjoyed a fun trip to a local lake this fall in a team building day that helped the group get a little closer. She said the bonds the girls have created will be a big part of the team’s run for postseason wins this year.
And after one-sided Valley Foothill Conference victories and sharp play against big preseason programs, Kline is equally optimistic.
“They started the season so much better than I expected them to,” Kline said. “I think we will make it through the quarterfinals of playoffs into the semis this year. We are young, but playing very well.”
Today, Oakdale will tackle one of their toughest conference opponents by hosting Los Banos.
The Tigers fell to the Mustangs in overtime a season ago.