After two straight trips to the Sac-Joaquin Section finals only to fall short each time, the Oakdale Lady Mustangs water polo team captured it first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section crown with a full-blown playoff payback 5-3 win against powerhouse Rio Americano. In its lowest scoring game of the season, the Oakdale squad got 15 saves from sophomore netminder Caitlin Golding, two goals by freshman Emily Bennett and all-around superb play out of a talented core of student-athletes.
“It was a little surreal,” an elated Mustang coach Diane Kline said. “I don’t even know how to make sense of it yet.”
Emily Stolken, Aleksaandra Courtney and Shelby Stender each put a goal in against Rio Americano but it was defense where the Mustangs tightened their game since the 11-5 loss to the Raiders on Oct. 15 in Sacramento.
“We weren’t mentally prepared enough the last time we played Rio,” Kline said. “We had just come off a great tournament and we played them two days later, but it showed us that we were susceptible to having a bad game and exactly what we needed to key on next time we played them.”
The varsity Lady Mustangs capped off its first Sac-Joaquin Section Title to go along with a fourth straight Valley Oak League Championship at the Roseville Aquatics Center at Woodland High School in Sacramento.
“At the beginning of the year we graduated nine seniors and had only two starters returning,” Kline said. “We went in thinking that we were going to have to work really hard at the beginning of the year to get some confidence and after the Rio loss, the girls got locked in.
“The practices were crisper. As much as we try to keep it fun – it’s so mental. They’re kids, it’s hard to tell a high school kid to convince them to mentally focused.”
For the Lady Mustangs, getting back to the title game provided the focus they needed, and Kline said the tone was set in the first few minutes of the rematch with Rio Americano, as the girls would not be denied this time out. The low-scoring game was a thriller for all involved, said the coach.
“One of the parents on the bench started counting down at five seconds and then it was pandemonium from there,” she said. “The girls were going crazy.”
After accepting the section title banner and taking photos with family and friends, the Lady Mustangs gathered one last time as teammates for the year.
“The best part was when we had a chance to pull the team together and de-brief at the back of the facility and a couple seniors shared their emotions and we really appreciated what we accomplished,” Kline said, admitting that some of it is “still somewhat of a blur” after working so hard to get the blue banner.
The Mustangs will raise the championship, the athletic program’s first in women’s water polo. With one of the top pools in the section built just in 2010 and backed by community residents, Oakdale will return many standouts, including Shelby Stender, Emily Stolken, along with sophomore Kate Allen and goalkeeper Golding, who all have high GPA’s and, according to Kline college level scholarship talent on a roster deep with disciplined year-round players. With those facts in mind, neither Oakdale’s success – nor rivalry with Rio Americano – figures to cool off anytime soon.