Coach plays matchmaker for water polo tourney

Johansen High water polo coach Brent Bohlender has spent 29 years organizing one of the most prestigious tournaments in the state.

Top teams from California and Oregon stream to Modesto every year for the Western States Water Polo High School Championships, and seeding has become increasingly difficult for Bohlender.

"At the end of the day, I try to make it so the top two teams play in the final," Bohlender said. "But that can get kind of dicey."

About 50 girls varsity teams, 15 of them from the area, will play Friday and Saturday in six pools. There are two divisions, with four local teams in the A Division and the remaining 11 in the less competitive B Division.

Bohlender is often questioned by coaches. Some think their team should be in the better division. Bohlender said his ultimate goal is to create the most competitive matches that can benefit each team.

"Some of these better teams can be overwhelming," said Bohlender, whose Johansen team will join Pitman, Turlock and Merced in the A Division. "Nobody out here wants to get beat bad."

When disagreement occurs, Bohlender tells coaches to "just trust" that he will make the right decision.

"I told one coach, 'If you win, I'll take you and your wife out to dinner,' " said Bohlender, who has coached boys and girls teams to more than 1,200 wins.

He said he hasn't received much flak for having 11 local teams in the B Division.

He said the better teams from the Bay Area and Sacramento stack up the A Division, including six of the last eight champions. Sometimes, if an out-of-town team is on the bubble, he'll put it in the A Division so that it will want to keep coming back.

They make the tournament more exclusive, as well as bring money into the area.

He makes sure to keep teams from playing conference foes or other common opponents.

"Hopefully I matched it up correctly," he said.

Bee staff writer Scott Oxarart can be reached at or 578-2300.