Longtime Oakdale sports fans probably thought they would sooner see Batman and The Joker on a two-man bicycle than Oakdale and Sonora athletes on the same roster — but times — they are a changing.
Oakdale and Sonora swimmers have paired up for three teams in the Oakdale Water Polo Club, which is now affectionately referred to as SOAK.
The club’s 18-and-under and 16-and-under boys teams snared their Junior Olympic seed from a June 18 tournament on the road, but the 16-and-under girls hosted Oakdale’s first ever Junior Olympic Water Polo Qualifier on Saturday and Sunday inside the new Oakdale Aquatic Center.
The event saw entry from the seven best teams in the Bakersfield to Sacramento region, which is dubbed the Central California Zone. Oakdale went 2-4 in the round robin format, ousting Modesto Stanislaus in a 7-5 come-from-behind thriller to close out their action.
“It was really exciting because it was our first year with a center capable of hosting an event like this,” Oakdale coach Diane Kline said. “To have so many teams and coaches see our new facilities built a little reputation for us.”
Winning big games doesn’t hurt the reputation either.
Oakdale trailed Modesto Stanislaus 2-0 early and 3-2 at the halfway mark, but slipped into a 4-4 tie after a clutch goal from Vikki Swarthout to even things up. Cassie Lee scored to give Oakdale the lead and Hannah Hanko later found the net for Oakdale’s final tally for the comfortable win.
Shelby Stender, one of two 14-year-old standouts on the team, played sharp in the heart of Oakdale’s defense and keyed the middle of the club’s attack. She was joined by fellow Oakdale teammates Swarthout, Lee, Hanko, Megan Tackett, Amee Neathery, Lauren Travers and Ronda Vanderburg.
Seven Sonora girls fill out the rest of the roster.
“When we first talked about combining Oakdale and Sonora to benefit both programs, we had to ask ourselves if it was something we were sure we really wanted to do,” Kline said. “But as much as we will be rivals again when the school year starts, it’s a tremendous benefit to our summer work that we are together now. It’s not like baseball or football where participation numbers are never really a problem.”
The Oakdale girls qualified fifth and will enter with that seed to take on the brightest young water polo stars in the country at the Junior Olympic Championships Aug. 4 to 7 in Orange County. The boys teams began their tournament on June 28 at the same location.