Top water polo talent in west here for tourney

October 16, 2013 

There was a time when Stanislaus District teams dominated the annual Western States Girls Water Polo Tournament.

Johansen High's varsity girls team won the event four of five years in the late 1990s. And the year before the Vikings started their run, Merced captured the 1994 title. Davis High won the whole thing in 1990.

But no local team has won the tournament this century.

"I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the talent pool has been diluted with more high schools opening," said Johansen coach Brent Bohlender, who has won nearly 1,700 games — boys and girls — during his time as coach. "You've seen it here in Modesto, in Atwater with Buhach Colony opening, in Merced with Golden Valley.

"You might have a program that keeps going good for awhile, but ultimately there's a drain that occurs."

Davis coach Andrea Mazza, a 1992 Davis graduate who played for that 1990 Western championship team, agrees with Bohlender, but she's focused on helping bring a Western title back to the district.

"I don't know what the answer to the mystery is," said Mazza. "But I'm in it to bring it back."

Oakdale High turned in the best performance in recent years with its seventh-place finish in 2012. The Mustangs again will be led by Shelby Stender, the reigning Stanislaus District Player of the Year.

Merced High, the top team in the Central California Conference, also could make a run at the Final Eight.

Now in its 37th year, the Western States has featured many of the top players in the nation — such as Monte Vista High's Maggie Steffens, the leading scorer and MVP for the United States' gold-medal winning team at the 2012 Olympics.

Games will be Friday at Johansen, Downey, Beyer and Oakdale high schools, with Saturday's action at Johansen, Downey, Grace Davis, Modesto, Beyer, Oakdale, Turlock and Pitman highs.

Game times and levels of play can be found at ms.aquanite.com. The match-ups for Saturday will be posted at that website.

The finals will be at Johansen at 3:45 p.m. Saturday. Quarterfinals will begin at 7:30 a.m.

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