Sports

Vikings' Fuller, Hanson are Bee's Water Polo Players of the Year

Jodi Hanson and Brad Fuller, water polo players of the year. (Steve Kosko / The Modesto Bee)
Jodi Hanson and Brad Fuller, water polo players of the year. (Steve Kosko / The Modesto Bee) Modesto Bee

Brad Fuller arrived at Johansen High with many of the traits required to be a prolific scorer in the pool. He honed his skills the last four years, finishing with a school-record 386 career goals.

From the first time Jodi Hanson dove into Johansen's pool, it was clear her forte was defense. Hanson showed, however, that she also could sling the ball past the goalie when the need arose.

Their seasons were similar as they led their teams to a Modesto Metro Conference title and the Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals.

Now the two will be sharing another similarity: Fuller and Hanson have been selected The Bee's Water Polo Players of the Year.

"Brad scored less goals this year than last, (but) developed other offensive skills as well as his defense," said Brent Bohlender, who coaches Johansen's girls and boys teams. "He was a more all-around player this year.

"Jodi developed into the player that made the difference. She assumed the offense with 127 goals, literally doubling her total from the previous two years."

Fuller was one of the fastest Vikings from the first time he jumped into the pool as a freshman -- and never slowed down.

"I like going all-out. I usually don't stop until Brent tells me to get out of the pool," said Fuller, who scored 130 goals as a senior.

Fuller says a few words of advice he received from Bohlender as a sophomore gave him the confidence to set the scoring record.

"He told me 'Don't be afraid to shoot,' " Fuller recalled. "I made a lot of offensive improvements that year. This year, I think I became a better defensive player."

The defensive element helped Fuller earn a spot on the all-Northern California squad, but it didn't save him from Bohlender's routine scoldings.

"He was always yelling at me about one thing or another, but I can see where it has made me a better player," Fuller said. "He recognized I needed to become a better defender, so he drove me."

The stability provided by three teammates, Fuller said, was as crucial as Bohlender's guidance.

"I was blessed to play with Steve (Giahos), Sean (Towers) and (Steve Solario)," Fuller said.

All three players join Fuller on the all-district team, with Giahos finishing as runner-up in the Player of the Year selection. The goalie's defensive work, Fuller said, often triggered the offense.

"Ten years from now, I'll look back and I'll remember the great times I had with them," he said.

Hanson, meanwhile, found herself in a new role following the graduation of Melissa McBroom and Ryley Plunkett -- three-time all-Americans who dominated the offense the last three years.

"I really liked playing defense, I'm good at it, so it never bothered me that I didn't score a lot of goals," she said. "I like the anticipation that comes on defense."

The ability to anticipate was an asset on offense, too. Hanson's 127 goals stand as the sixth-best season in school history.

That production was as surprising to Hanson as Johansen's trip to the section semifinals.

"We had lots of new players, so no one knew what to expect," Hanson said. "I think a turning point came when we finished second at the Oregon tournament. It helped my confidence by convincing me I could be a scorer."

Hanson credits a demanding summer program for improving her performance. She plays for the Modesto-Turlock Water Polo Club -- Bohlender runs the organization -- and was on the 18-and-under and open teams.

"A lot of the college freshmen and junior college players are in there, too, so you see tough competition all summer," she said. "Brent has a lot to do with that. He's demanding, but he's always got that smirk on his face, as if he's teasing. You understand he's doing it to make you better."

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