The road to the Modesto Metro Conference water polo title has been going through Johansen High for almost as long as the school has been open, but that might be changing this season.
Not only does Modesto boast a team that believes it's capable of challenging Johansen, Oakdale -- which began its program just a few years ago -- also appears to be a legitimate threat.
Both challengers received a boost Tuesday, as Modesto pounded another MMC foe and Oakdale posted the season's biggest upset with a 6-5 stunner over Johansen.
Johansen had won 51 consecutive conference matches and had not lost in MMC play since 2004.
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Now the Vikings (2-1) are tied with Oakdale for second place and looking up at Modesto (3-0). The Panthers meet Oakdale and Johansen the next two weeks.
Modesto's lopsided win over Enochs -- the Panthers led 6-1 at halftime -- was a business-as-usual event led by Quinton Bailey.
Splitting time between hole-set and the field, Bailey put in six goals. Chris Gallardo had three.
"We're playing Ben Meshes as our primary hole-set, and he will pick up goals here and there," Modesto coach Eric Byrd said. "But what often happens is the defense will play down, double-teaming Ben, and that opens things up for our field players.
"We've got a much better outside shooting team this year, and they're getting good looks at the goal. We've also got a smart group. They know how to exploit defense to set up the best shot."
While Bailey's production has been a blessing for the Panthers, Byrd pointed to Gallardo's quickness as a reason for Modesto's defensive prowess in the pool.
"Chris gets a lot of steals, not because he outmuscles kids, but because he positions himself," said Byrd, whose team is 5-3 overall. "Once kids understand the importance of position, it really changes the way they play."
So does a summer of playing competitive polo, Byrd said, noting the impact it had on goalie John Key. He had 14 blocks and allowed just two goals to Enochs.
"The work he put in during the offseason shows up in the plays he's making," Byrd said. "You can watch these games and get a sense of which kids are playing in the summer and which aren't.
"The (high school) season isn't long enough to develop into a top-flight player. You need to put the summer work in to get there."
The Panthers make the trek across town to face Johansen on Oct. 8, and Byrd's not sure how he's going to prep his Panthers.
"I'm thinking about not even talking about it ahead of time," said Byrd, confident his players won't be intimidated by the Vikings' success. "They've demonstrated to me that we're ready."
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BEYER 20, DAVIS 17, at Beyer -- In a battle of hole sets, Davis' Tyler Bolton and Beyer's Jason Marks scored seven goals apiece, but Marks got more help from his teammates as the Patriots (1-2 MMC) avenged an early season loss to the Spartans.
"This is the first time (we've) played as a team," Beyer coach Kirk Lindsey said. "It's a big win for our boys."
OAKDALE 6, JOHANSEN 5, at Johansen -- Brian Billings scored two goals and the Mustangs (2-1) stunned the defending Modesto Metro Conference champion Vikings (2-1). It's the first time Oakdale has beaten Johansen.
BUHACH COLONY 5, PITMAN 2, at Pitman -- In a game dominated by defense, Justin Tanzillo scored three goals and the Thunder (2-0 Central California Conference) pulled away in the fourth quarter for the victory.
CENTRAL VALLEY 2, OAKDALE 1, at Central Valley -- The Hawks (7-0-1, 2-0 Valley Oak League) scored early in each half to edge the Mustangs (0-1-1 VOL). Jose Ramirez took a pass in the middle from Eriel Cazares and scored into the lower right corner of the net at 1:08 of the first half. Juan Pacheco scored 1:27 into the second half with a shot into the lower left corner after accepting a pass from Larry Hernandez.
CERES 4, EAST UNION 0, at Ceres -- Luis Martinez had a goal and an assist to keep the Bulldogs (2-0 VOL) in first place. Goalie Kyle Cerny repeatedly turned back the Lancers' attacks and finished with 11 saves.
MODESTO 4, DAVIS 1, at Davis -- With the defense alert to T.J. VanderVeen's presence, he had seven goals in his two previous games, he spread the ball around and finished with a goal and two assists as the Panthers (3-1 MMC) beat the Spartans (0-2-2).
PATTERSON 11, GUSTINE 0, at Gustine -- Rodrigo Aldana (five goals) and Gustavo Molina combined for nine goals, and Michael Laines had four assists as the Tigers (10-2, 3-0 Western Athletic Conference) rolled.
HILMAR 6, ORESTIMBA 0, at Newman -- When it doubt, kick it to a Bettencourt. That's the philosophy at Hilmar, and it's working, as three Bettencourts totaled four goals and two assists as the Yellowjackets (2-0-1 Western Athletic Conference) rolled. Jordan Bettencourt had two goals, while Simon and Alex each had a goal and an assist.