It’s been two months since junior Shelby Stender and the Oakdale Mustangs captured the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 2 girls water polo championship.
Sixty days later, you can tell by talking with Stender about the victory that she can still hardly believe it was real.
“I didn’t believe it was happening,” said Stender, who has been named The Bee’s girls water polo Player of the Year for a second consecutive season. “When time expired, I had the ball and I thought, ‘What do I do with this?’ It didn’t feel real.”
It was real, all right. And it was a long time coming, too.
As a freshman, Stender and the Mustangs – including her sister, 2010 Player of the Year Savannah Stender – defeated nine-time reigning champion Rio Americano (Sacramento) in the semifinals, only to lose to Del Oro (Loomis) in the final. The following year, Rio exacted a measure of revenge by beating the Mustangs for its 10th section banner in 11 years.
But this season was different. In a championship rematch, Oakdale turned the tables with a 5-3 victory.
IN THE POOL: Stender was the team’s leading scorer with 107 goals but also led the team in assists, steals and ejections drawn. Despite leading the Mustangs in scoring, she played more of a “point guard” role.
“Whether it’s being able to score or creating opportunities for teammates or creating man-up situations, she’s constantly thinking about how to create some kind of advantage,” said Oakdale High girls water polo coach Diane Kline.
OUT OF THE POOL: “Outside of water polo, school is probably the extent of my outside life,” said Stender, who has a 4.3 weighted grade-point average this semester and recently brought home her first B. Instead of taking Calculus A/B, she passed over the class to take the more difficult Calculus B/C.
Still, not a bad report card.
As Grant Plunkett, the boys water polo Player of the Year, said, “I was afraid to take calculus. I took the easy way out. I took statistics.”
Stender would like to attend college on the East Coast – perhaps Princeton or Brown – and would like to study economics, though she’s also considering law.
QUOTABLE: “Winning this award says a lot about Oakdale water polo as a club, and my high school team worked really hard for this. All of this team effort helped us win sections.