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New order in SFL boys water polo?

Young Grizzlies must hold off experienced Del Oro
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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The big question as the Sierra Foothill League boys hit the pool for the 2009 high school water polo season revolves around the ongoing chase to catch up with Granite Bay. The Grizzlies have won every league title to date, but there is a strong feeling that this might be the year for someone to topple the mighty Granite Bay juggernaut. Del Oro emerges as the likely candidate, as the Golden Eagles return a strong team headed by Alex Obert, a Division I-level player and a strong supporting cast. Even if Del Oro manages to reach the top of the mountain, it is certain that the Grizzlies will be right there with the Golden Eagles. The list of players lost to graduation from last year’s Granite Bay team reads like an all-league roster - Steven Defranscisi, Jamie Tyrrell, Matt Wylder, Kevin Miller, Blake VanGundy and Christian Fehrenbacher. James Vigeant is the returning all-leaguer, and the Division I-bound star will carry a heavy burden as John MacLeane tries to break in a whole new crew. While the rest of the league points to Granite Bay as the co-favorite, MacLeane looks at Del Oro as the team to beat, while holding humble expectations for his Grizzlies. “We should be in the top four in the SFL,” MacLeane said. “We are very young. We lost a lot of team speed from last year. We want to make the playoffs.” At Del Oro, two of last year’s mainstays are gone – Holden Peck to graduation and Jason Armas to injury – but the core of an outstanding team is back for Dave Obert’s Golden Eagles. Senior Alex Obert scored 135 goals last season, but he is far from alone. Seniors Josh McCormick, Tommy McKenzie, Leland Delahanty and J.T. Rowe were all second-team all-league performers in 2008. The squad also adds two new pieces in senior Michael Coudright, a transfer from Armijo and junior Collin Johnston, who was the JV MVP last season. “We should compete for the league title,” Dave Obert said. “We will need to have great ball handling and team defense.” Oakmont reached the Division II quarterfinals a year ago, but like Granite Bay the Vikings lost a lot of the talent that made that happen. Also similar is the Vikings need to lean on a star player who is back for one more run. Shane Welch is a first-team all-league talent and will be one of the players to watch not only in the league, but also in the Sac-Joaquin Section. “Shane Welch has dedicated himself to playing water polo during the off season and has been an impact player on a local club all-star team the past few years,” said Oakmont coach Mark Plank. “Shane will command lots of attention from opponents as he returns as an all-league and all-section first team selection in 2008.” The Vikings return their starting goalie in Zac Daniewics, whose ability to start the attack will be key to Oakmont’s results this year. Plank is looking for senior David Smith and juniors Drew Wixon and Taylor Nordell to lead a season-long growth process that will make the club much better at the end than where it might be out of the gate. “There are a lot of unknown variables for this years Oakmont squad so I suspect the team is starting out in the middle of the pack within the powerful SFL,” Plank said. “The development of our role players as they gain game experience and everyone commitment to learn and follow the team system of play will ultimately determine our overall level of success. We are hopeful to return to the CIF playoffs for a sixth straight season, but know that we have a lot of work ahead of us to reach that goal.” Woodcreek returns a number of solid athletes in Alex Parker, Landen Bogle and Jake Jabbora, but the graduation of league MVP Cooper Smith leaves a big hole to fill for the Timberwolves. Sam Anderson assumes the role in the cage at Woodcreek, as coach Grant Guensler is another coach looking to get the most out of his group, with hopes of reaching the section playoff spots that go to the league’s top four teams. “Our team is striving for the section playoffs and advancing far in them,” Guensler said. “The key will be movement and conditioning. We are working hard to get in shape and become a solid unit.” Roseville’s top player from a year ago, Zac Bos, has also moved on, leaving coach Brad Molina a big task for the new season. Senior Joe Horchak was the No. 2 scorer on last year’s team after leading the junior varsity his first two years with the Tiger program. He is fast in the water and a prime all-league candidate for Roseville. Molina will also call on his JV MVP from last season, junior Brandon Bridges and junior goalie Andrew Sapp to help in the Tigers’ pursuit of a playoff spot. “We have an excellent group of players moving up from JV to varsity this year - a JV team that took second place in SFL JV tourney, won the Bella Vista JV tourney and was 22 - 2 overall,” Molina said. “Many of these boys could have easily moved to varsity last year, but we chose to keep them at JV so they could grow and have success together as team. My expectation is that four to five of our starting lineup will be juniors. “ I'll have much improved swim speed and defense, plus one of the better goalies in the league.” The race is on, as Granite Bay looks to stay on top of the water polo world for one more year, with the contenders closing in.