High School Sports

MJC water polo teams set to resume winning

In the last four years, the Modesto Junior College women's water polo team has climbed from an also-ran to a state title contender.

The men aren't state finalist material yet, but with a strong core and 11 freshmen, the Pirates may not be far off.

Both teams made it to the Northern California playoffs last season, and each have six players returning.

The women have opened the season 7-0 and are ranked fifth in the state heading into the West Valley Tournament in Saratoga this weekend.

"We'll play some tough teams from Southern California, and we should figure out exactly how good we are," women's coach Kurt Olson said, adding that the Pirates "might get a look at Diablo Valley College," which finished third in the state last season.

The Pirates have the added benefit of returners from two years ago and a four-year Division I soccer player. Olson said he knew this year's team would be good, but the state ranking and arrival of Annie Zwahlen made the Pirates that much better.

Zwahlen started for the Brigham Young University soccer team the last four years while earning her bachelor's degree. A high school water polo player, Zwahlen contacted Olson about getting back into the pool two weeks before the season started.

She's taking classes at MJC toward her goal of being a registered dental hygienist.

Lorna Lynott and Vanessa Power return after a year off. Lynott was an All-America goalkeeper in 2005. Sophomores Michaela Solario and Lauren Griffin earned All-America status last season.

Olson said having a strong goalie gives the Pirates more options.

"They're so fast, they can swim, and they're just going to get faster," Olson said. "With Lorna, we can take chances on counterattacks. The other team takes a shot, Lorna gobbles it up, and we're taking off on counterattacks. It's been pretty fun."

For the men, Derek Bolton returns from the 2002 team and Eric Scudder from '05. Last year's veterans include Daniel Hunt and Scott Bryant.

"We're better than we were last year," coach Eric Fischer said. "There are a lot of kids who were the No. 1 players on their high school teams. Now, it's a different kind of ball than they're used to playing."

Fischer said men's water polo programs up and down the state appear to be on the upswing. That will be a challenge, but a fun one for Modesto.

"It's getting very competitive again, which is great," Fischer said. "I'm happy about it."