Johansen water polo
Coach Brent Bohlender might have had moderate expectations for the Pacific Northwest Championships in Newburg, Ore., but Andie Plunkett was focused on winning the title.
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"I knew we'd reach the final and I though we'd win because we've been playing real well lately," the Vikings hole-set said. "We had a chance to win it, but it got away at the end."
The Vikings finished second at the prestigious event, losing 6-5 to Newburg. Plunkett, who had limited experience at the hole-set before this season, had five goals in a 13-1 win over Westview, sending the Vikings to the quarterfinals.
"This position is entirely new to her, so the learning curve has been very steep," said Bohlender, whose senior had 25 goals in six tournament games. "This was the first opportunity she has had and she stepped into the role flawlessly. She exhibited the confidence we will need to get back to the section semifinal."
Coach Matt Mendes can't recall the last time a Panther scored five goals in a game. He remembers a player putting in five goals against Modesto a few years ago, but not one of his own -- until last week.
T.J. VanderVeen blasted in five goals during a 6-2 Modesto Metro Conference win over Beyer, then put in two more in a 6-0 win over Enochs.
"Usually if a kid is near five, the game is in hand and you pull him for sportsmanship," Mendes said. "But T.J.'s were the first five of the match for us.
"His second goal was a goalie mistake, but his others were all legit ... from a distance, a header, a nice individual run past multiple defenders, and a PK."
Mendes has been pleased to see not only VanderVeen, but the rest of his team eager to shoot around the goal.
"Wish I could say that we've put an emphasis on it," Mendes said. "We just have a group (with) the desire."
After successfully converting only 11 percent of her hits into kills a year ago, Ryan Ramos committed her offseason on improving that skill. A month into the season, it appears the 5-foot-9-inch senior's practice time was well spent.
"Ryan is able to hit just about any set," coach John Labno said. "We use her pretty much anywhere across the front row to give the defense different looks. She is much more consistent with her hitting. She is hitting just over 20 percent."
Ramos led the Warriors to three victories last week, including a 3-2 upset of large-school Merced. The outside hitter averaged 2.6 kills per game, with a 24-percent conversion rate. Her '08 average is 3.2 kills.
"As a coach, you hope your program is progressing so that you can be competitive against all levels," he said. "That win and the one earlier this year against Los Banos show that, for now, we are at that level."
It's not often a goalie gets to roam on the field and take free kicks, to say nothing of putting the ball into the back of the net. Alonso Lara did just that last week -- and the Livingston goalie did it twice.
"I had been watching the goalie and could see that he struggled when balls were kicked right over his head," said Lara, The Bee's All-Stanislaus District goalie last year after leading the Wolves to a section title. "I told one of my buddies to leave the ball for me and to create some action in front of the goalie when I went to kick it."
The goal proved crucial, as it allowed the Wolves to escape with a 2-2 draw with Hilmar. Lara scored in a second game, too, putting in another free kick during a 3-0 win over Orestimba. Lara has six goals this fall.
"If you're taking free kicks, it helps a lot to be a goalie because you know what that other guy is thinking, what he's expecting," Lara said. "It gives you an advantage."
-- RICHARD T. ESTRADA