It’s one thing to put together a lengthy run amongst the best teams in Northern California, but it is a completely different scenario when the battle is being staged against the best teams in the entire nation.
The Oakdale Water Polo program did themselves and the entire community proud with an impressive run during the USA Water Polo sponsored Junior Olympics in the Stanford Bay Area July 30 – Aug. 2.
Oakdale took on all challenges from the elite water polo competition in the nation, playing a ton of water polo over the grueling four-day schedule of events.
“The competition was fierce and exhausting as the girls played two to three games per day for four days straight,” head coach Alan Stender said. “There were over 300 teams (all age levels) from all over the USA playing at 20 different pool venues.
“Each day brought its own excitement.”
Oakdale’s 14-under squad made their mark on the tournament field, bouncing back from a lopsided tournament opener to beat Riverside of Southern California 4-3 for their first tournament win.
“It was the biggest tournament that we played in all summer,” 14-u head coach Diane Kline said. “They were one of the best teams we played against all summer and the win gave us a chance to play into the top bracket and that was what we were hoping for.
“So the girls were very, very excited to get that opportunity.”
The 14-u group did not misstep the entire tournament, battling each squad they encountered and notching a goal in each of the final seven contests they played in over the tournament’s final sessions.
In one of the team’s highlight performances, the squad edged out a determined Solo squad out of Menlo Park in an overtime-shootout after regular play time left the two teams knotted at six apiece.
Both teams sent three shooters for the one-on-one shots to determine the victor and Oakdale was able to nail two of its three shots while stopping Solo on two of their three.
“It is one of the most exciting ways for a game to end for spectators and fans,” Kline said of the thriller. “But it is definitely one of the most nerve-wracking ways to end it as a coach.”
The squad closed out tournament play with a 12th place finish in the Gold bracket, leaving no doubt as to where they stack up against the best water polo teams throughout the nation.
The 16-u girls had their share of excitement as well, posting an 11th place finish in the Gold Bracket, closing out tournament play with their own overtime-shootout victory over Puget Sound of Washington four goals to three in bonus play.
Oakdale came up just short in another close encounter on day one of tournament play, letting one slip away against Spartan 6-5 in a match that very easily could have changed the team’s already impressive fate.
“That one was within our grasp,” Stender said. “That was a one goal game that we could have won. Spartan is a tough team out of Michigan and if we would have won that game we would have been in that Platinum bracket.
“We may have got our butts kicked the rest of the tourney, but it would have been huge.”
Both squads left their mark on a tournament field that featured all of the up-and-coming stars in the sport, blessing the young ladies from Oakdale with a boost of confidence as they look to continue their upward climb on the Central Valley water polo scene.
“For our league, this tournament will really catapult them,” Stender said of both girls’ programs. “A lot of the teams from our section were represented there, but each one of those teams would only have two or three players from each high school. With us having virtually our entire varsity roster there, it really raises our whole level of play.”