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Junior Joy Ride - Oakdale Girls, Boys Take Part In Their Own Olympic Games
8-1 OAK Polo1
The speed and athleticism of Oakdale High senior Cassie Lee will be key for the Sonora/Oakdale (SOAK) water polo team during Junior Olympic action in Palo Alto this week. Lee is shown here during a recent SOAK practice. - photo by IKE DODSON/THE LEADER

It turns out that Oakdale youth athletes are getting their own glimpse of the Olympic Games without the expense of a flight to London in 2012.

The Sonora/Oakdale (SOAK) Under 18 boys water polo team played the final game of their Junior Olympic Challenge bracket on Tuesday in Palo Alto, and will soon be followed by similar Junior Olympic entries by the SOAK girls across Under 14, Under 16 and Under 18 age divisions.

“It’s a really nice way to wrap the summer,” SOAK and Oakdale High girls water polo coach Diane Kline said on Monday. “It’s a fun tournament and we kind of hope it will build some momentum going into the high school season.”

And if anyone knows about momentum, it’s Kline. Her varsity team upset Rio Americano in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinals last year to ruin the Raiders’ hopes for 10 straight section championships. Oakdale would go on to slip 10-7 in the SJS finale, but a postseason push allowed Kline to lead Oakdale to its best ever season in the pool.

Six girls (Cassie Lee, Shelby Stender, Katie Vanderberg, Haley Benson, Tabia Sherman and Vicki Swarthout) from the Under 18 SOAK team are also on Kline’s 2012 varsity team that will compete this fall. The roster also includes 2011-12 Oakdale Leader Female Athlete of the Year, Savannah Stender, who will play for UC Davis in the fall.

The girls open pool play in their Challenger division on Thursday, and depart for the tournament today, Aug. 1. The Challenger teams are represented by those who didn’t slip into the top qualifier positions for the Championship bracket.

The Under 16 SOAK team, led by Oakdale’s Amy Neathery and Rhonda Vanderberg, did well at their recent qualifying tournament to see championship admission. The Under 14s, led by eighth grader Emily Bennett and OHS sophomore Emily Stolken, also reached the championship bracket.

All teams begin action in pool play formats, squaring off against the four other teams in their pool to decide entry in either Platinum or Gold brackets. Over 40 teams are entered in each age division.

“The teams that win these things are ridiculous,” Kline said. “They come from all across the United States. We played teams from Pennsylvania, Chicago, Colorado and Florida last year. All teams will end with a placement, but the top two teams really get acknowledged.”

The girls tournaments are scheduled to end on Aug. 5. A day later, Oakdale boys and girls water polo players jump back into the pool to prepare for a vigorous prep season under the tutelage of Kline and her brother, head varsity boys coach, Brian Kline.

“I think our success last season has really motivated a lot of the girls,” Diane Kline said. “They seemed really dedicated this summer and I’m excited to see their hard work pay off once the high school season gets going.”

The Under 18 SOAK boys wrapped their own Junior Olympic trip with a solid finish amongst highly competitive collection of teams in the Challenge division. On July 28, they opened with a 6-1 defeat to team WPC and were dispatched 13-3 by Arroyo Grande A later in the day. The team fell 10-7 to Eastvale to conclude the first day, and fought back to dismantle the Viper Pigeons Black 14-0 on July 29. They followed the win with an 11-9 victory over Hills B. The win advanced SOAK to play the Desert Aquatics on Monday, but results were not available at press time.

A win or loss in that game determined the teams’ seeding for two games that were completed by Tuesday.