High School Sports

Joe Cortez: Local teams ready to make splash at DeLong boys water polo tournament


Joe Cortez


Last week, Oakdale High’s girls water polo team reached the championship game of the Western States Invitational, which featured some of the top teams from Northern California.

Before falling 11-10 to Miramonte, the Mustangs defeated Davis-Yolo in the semifinals. The Blue Devils won the past five Sac-Joaquin Section Division I titles and reached the title game 14 straight times – or, every year this century.

This weekend, it’s the local boys turn to see if they’re equal to the task.

Thirty-six teams – 16 from the Stanislaus District – will compete at the annual DeLong Memorial tournament, which gets underway Friday at Johansen, Downey and Tokay (Lodi) high schools with two 18-team brackets.

First ball drops at 7:30 a.m. at Johansen and at 9 a.m. at Downey.

On Saturday, Johansen, Downey and Tokay will continue to host games, with Lincoln (Stockton) jumping into the mix.

All seven teams from the Modesto Metro Conference, all six from the Central California Conference, in addition to Ripon, Oakdale and Sonora, are scheduled to compete. However, they’ll be hard-pressed to beat one of the invaders from the northern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section or from the Central Section. No Stanislaus District team has won the tournament since Johansen in 2002.

Defending champion Clovis North (Fresno) will not be back to defend its title.

“A lot of these teams rotate in and out,” said tournament founder Brent Bohlender, the winningest coach in California history, regardless of sport. “With the boys, they find other tournaments and try to keep things fresh; it’s kind of a rotating door. The girls lineup remains pretty constant.”

Back this season after a lengthy absence is four-time defending section Division champ Rio Americano (Sacramento).

Even if one of the locals can’t knock off a team such as Rio, they can gain brownie points for their respective conference when the section seeding committee convenes Oct. 31 to fill out the postseason brackets.

In the CCC, Turlock, Merced and Atwater are tied atop the league standings at 6-2 (the Bears and Bulldogs meet today in Merced; Atwater hosts Golden Valley). A strong showing by these three could help when playoffs begin in two weeks.

“It absolutely helps,” said Will DeBoard, the section’s director of communications. “You look at Oakdale’s girls and they’ll probably be a No. 1 seed in Division II. They won it all last year, and that was a pretty impressive victory over Davis, who may end up being the D-I champ.

“It’s the same thing with the boys. This tournament is a pretty big deal.”

You know what else is a pretty big deal? Los Banos High’s girls tennis team.

The Tigers travel to Ceres today to take on Central Valley, a team they’ve already beaten 8-1 this season.

A win today and Los Banos would wrap up the regular season 12-0.

Not that it’s anything new, mind you. This would be the Tigers’ fifth consecutive undefeated league season since entering the Western Athletic Conference in 2010. Before becoming a member of the WAC, Los Banos played in the Central California Conference, and it held its own in that D-I league.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news for the rest of the WAC, but there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight to the Tigers’ dynasty. Los Banos’ No. 1 singles player, Shirley Liu, is a freshman. In fact, three of the team’s starting 12 are freshmen, one is a sophomore and five are juniors.

Lynn Barcellos, the Tigers’ coach for the past 21 years, allows two alternates to travel with the team for matches, and one of them is a sophomore. In addition to the 14 who travel for matches, Barcellos keeps 10 more players on the roster. Those are mostly freshmen and sophomores.

“I had 32 girls show up for tryouts,” said Barcellos, who guided Oakdale to a Sac-Joaquin Section championship in 1992 but has yet to win the prize at Los Banos. “A few fizzled out when they realized that we run. I kept 24.

“The girls have the attitude right now that they want to keep it going. They don’t want to be the team that breaks the streak, and all the other teams are really out for us.”

When you’ve never lost a game in WAC conference play, it can be difficult sometimes to maintain focus.

“We huddle before every match, and we talk about not being cocky,” said senior Amanda Marchese, who is one win from ending her regular-season career with a 48-0. “But we’re always confident in ourselves.”

After 59 consecutive wins, who wouldn’t be? Still, the big prize has eluded Barcellos and her Tigers.

In the past, the section has lumped teams into D-I or D-II. This year, a third division will be added, giving the Tigers a better shot at running the table against schools more similar in size.

“Two years ago, we lost in the semifinals,” said Barcellos, whose team has reached at least the round of 16 four consecutive years. “I’d like to win a title here because these girls are just as competitive as my girls in Oakdale were.”

Bee staff writer Joe Cortez can be reached at jcortez@modbee.com or (209) 578-2380. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeePreps.