For Oakdale girls water polo coach Diane Kline, success isn't measured in just wins or losses.
Roster size counts, too.
The Mustangs have been among the Stanislaus District's best in the last four years. Oakdale has qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason four straight years and reached the Division 2 final last fall. That kind of success has acted like a lightning rod on campus.
Girls want in.
Kline's varsity roster has ballooned with new faces, varying in skill and ability. She can call on 17 players, up from the 12 she carried in 2011. She also returns five starters from a team that lost to Del Oro in the section final.
"We had such a good season last year. The team we have this year is very motivated," Kline said, "motivated to be in the section finals again. Even though we return quite a few starters, I have big batch of girls that came in with no experience. It's been an interesting dynamic."
How good the Mustangs fare this November may be determined this weekend at Western States.
One of the West Coast's biggest high school draws, Western States culls together 47 teams for two days of non-stop water polo action at multiple sites throughout the district. The tournament gets under way on Friday.
The Sac-Joaquin Section uses the tournament as a guide to seed its postseason, said Johansen coach and tournament director Brent Bohlender. For Kline and others, the tournament gives them a chance to scout and build contacts.
"It's a time for us to see D2 teams we'll see in the playoffs," Kline said. "Most are from Sacramento and we don't see them a whole lot."
Local teams competing in the "A" division will be hard-pressed to bring a home trophy. Bohlender has again assembled a collection of heavy hitters. Among them: Miramonte, Davis of Yolo, Newberg (Ore.), Rio Americano, Northgate and Clovis North.
Miramonte is the defending champion. Johansen was the last district team to win Western States, stringing together championships from 1997-99. There are no illusions of grandeur among the local guests.
"We're obviously not going to be the best team there," said Johansen senior Kyla Houck, arguably the Modesto Metro Conference's best all-around player.
"We're there to play harder teams and get better. Ultimately, our goal is to get as far as we can in sections."
Houck does have two stated goals for Western States:
1) She's interested in seeing how she matches up with some of today's best young talent; teams and players from outside the section;
And 2) She can't wait to see a high-quality match
as a fan.
"I like to stay and watch the trophy games," Houck said. "I like to watch good teams beat each other up."
Kline can relate.
She says she often catches herself spectating at large tournaments like this.
"If you've only heard of a team but never got to see them play, you do become and spectator or a fan," she said.
There will be eyes on Oakdale, a veteran-laden team anchored by returning starters Hayley Benson, Shelby Stender, Cassie Lee, Megan Tackett and Katie Vanderburg.
"They are the best in the county," Bohlender said. "I have no doubt about that."
The Mustangs recently captured the "B" division title at the Woodcreek tournament, beating two D-1 teams (Lodi, Clayton Valley) and a 2011 D-2 semifinalist (McClatchy).
A potential showdown with D-2 rival Rio Americano awaits the 'Stangs on Saturday if they can sweep Friday's matches.
"We've really put in a lot of hard work the last couple of years," Kline said. "I'm 100 percent confident in my team. It's more about taking on the challenge of playing competitive teams."
James Burns is the Regional Sports Content Editor of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2324.WESTERN STATES
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