Annie Zwahlen thrives on competition in any form.
So after graduating from Brigham Young University, where she started for the women's soccer team all four years, Zwhalen knew she needed something to fill the void.
"When I finished soccer, I've been so competitive all my life, I thought it couldn't be over and done," Zwhalen said.
She found what she was looking for in the Modesto Junior College women's water polo team. Reuniting with a handful of players she knew from her Davis High water polo days, Zwahlen has helped the Pirates earn a state ranking and a leg up in the Big 8 Conference. She has scored 14 goals this season. Lauren Griffin leads the No. 8 Pirates with 64.
Modesto (16-7, 5-3 Big 8) only has to win one of three games in this weekend's conference tournament at Merced College to advance to the Northern California playoffs.
The Pirates open Big 8 championship play with Fresno today at 1 p.m. The Rams won their last meeting, 7-5, a week ago.
Zwahlen, a 2003 Davis graduate, earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from BYU this spring. An aspiring dental hygienist, Zwahlen knew she'd take preliminary classes at Modesto JC while waiting to be accepted by her next school.
"I saw Kurt's number on the team Web site and left a message," Zwahlen said of coach Kurt Olson. "Ten minutes later he called back."
Zwahlen said she was "out of swimming shape" despite training for and participating in a triathlon in Sacramento during the summer. But she craved the team atmosphere. Plus, it wasn't as thought she hadn't been in the water at all in four years.
Zwahlen played "inner-tube water polo" at BYU -- an intramural sport where the athletes sat in inner tubes and paddled around the pool.
Being on the MJC team is obviously less intense than playing Division I soccer. But Zwahlen appreciates both kinds of sport.
"There's a lighter attitude here," Zwahlen said. "It's calmer. We want to have fun. The girls are great. I love every minute of it."
Shaking the sports bug will probably be impossible for Zwahlen, especially after the college debut she had. As a freshman, Zwahlen scored two game-winners as the Cougars upset Tennessee and USC. She became known for entering games and making things happen right away.
"I can't really explain something like that, playing in front of 4,000 fans," Zwahlen said. "It was just a great experience. It's been a wild ride so far."
Bee staff writer Kelly Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.