Runner up honors for the Female Athlete of the Year in Oakdale were:
Justina Keith – volleyball, track and field
Domi Powell – volleyball, track and field
Shelby Reali – softball
If Savannah Stender embroidered the first letter of her name across her chest, it would not only be alphabetically correct, it would be a red cape short of describing her heroics. Oakdale High’s superwoman was unmatched talent in the water polo pool and capped a tremendous final year of prep competition with dazzling success for Oakdale’s swim team. She proved the perfect choice for the 2011-12 Oakdale Leader Female Athlete of the Year.
“I can’t even put into words how much I will miss her,” Oakdale water polo coach Diane Kline said. “I’ve literally seen her every day for the past four seasons and to imagine a season without her is hard.”
Savannah is Oakdale’s school record-holder in both career goals and goals scored in a single season. She’s short and slender, but the muscles trapped beneath the surface are fierce and prove quite formidable during competition.
“She is just unafraid, and will take on the biggest person on the other team,” Kline said. “She is unafraid to take risks to make something happen.”
She scored 108 goals to establish a lofty school record in 2011. She’s estimated at over 300 career scores.
“It keeps me real busy and I don’t mind being busy, being from water polo,” Savannah said. “It’s a great experience meeting lots of people with lots of memories.”
Her two overtime goals in the semifinals pushed Oakdale past Rio Americano for a historic upset. Rio had won nine straight section titles since the section added a second division for water polo in 2002. She added two goals against Del Oro a day later in the Sac-Joaquin Section finals, but the Golden Eagles snuck by 10-7 for their first ever title. Savannah was named the 2011-12 Valley Foothill League Most Valuable Player.
“She is an amazing kid to coach who works hard and always knows what is going on,” Kline said. “I am so proud of what she has accomplished the last four years, leading the varsity team to its best finish ever that they definitely could not have accomplished without her.”
And Kline wasn’t the only Oakdale coach with a close connection to Savannah.
Her father, Alan Stender, was Oakdale’s boys head coach until he retired at the conclusion of 2011. The position gave him a unique opportunity to take part in his daughter’s success while he led his own campaign of athletes.
“It just enabled me to spend a lot more time with her and be an intimate part of coaching her,” Stender said. “She just has a quiet, humble inner drive and when she gets in the pool it doesn’t matter if she is swimming or playing water polo, she doesn’t like to get beat.”
Savannah Stender didn’t get beat often in swimming either. Her swimming success can be measured in very swift meters. She played a role in the setting of two school records by swimming fantastic legs of the 400 meter freestyle relay (3 minutes, 52.34 seconds) and 200 medley relay (1:57.69). She took first in the Valley Oak League for the 100 free and led three relay teams to league championships.
It was a stunning last hurrah from an athlete who had skipped her junior season on the swim team to focus on water polo.
When asked what she would miss most about her high school career, the recent OHS grad had a quick response.
“About Oakdale High School specifically, probably the Oakdale pride, especially associated with their sports,” she said. “I got used to that playing water polo and I will miss that a lot.”
Savannah will head to the University of California, Davis, where she has been encouraged to walk-on to their highly touted water polo program. It’s a gauntlet of tryouts and practice sessions, but if Savannah’s prior exploits have taught sports fans anything, it’s to expect a super-effort.