Oakmont makes big splash in girls water polo

Playoff berth is first for program in 14 years
By: Bill Poindexter/Roseville Press Tribune Sports Editor
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It’s been a revolving door of sorts for coaches of girls water polo at Oakmont High School the last several years.

Last fall, Casey Cornilsen took over after leading the Oakmont JV boys team for three years. This season, Cornilsen guided an Oakmont girls water polo team to where it hadn’t been in 14 years: the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

A 9-2 loss to Oakdale on Friday morning at the Roseville Aquatics Complex ended the season for Oakmont (13-9), but it’s far from the end.

“We’re still a young team,” Cornilsen said Wednesday as the Vikings prepared for the third playoff appearance in the program’s history. “We don’t have that many seniors, so next year should be a strong year also.”

Oakmont will lose senior goalie Natalie Barentson, team captain and strong shooter Molly Swart, defensive specialist and steals leader Paige Thomas and utility player Amanda Haack. Barentson routinely made saves while being outnumbered.

“There were a lot of times where we just couldn’t get back on defense, and it would just be her and two or three other players,” Cornilsen said of Barentson, who earned an outstanding player award in the Sierra Shootout earlier this season. “She’d come up and make a huge block, and then we’d counter because we’re a man up going the other way and we’d put the ball away.”

The Vikings will return leading scorer Hannah Woster, a junior, and freshman sensation Rebecca Brandt, who now know what to expect from their coach.

Cornilsen critiques during practice — shooting, swimming — and he coaches players who are on the bench during games.

“This is what we’re doing good; this is what we need to improve on,” he said. “It was a big learning development for me and for the girls as well as how I coach. I really support how you practice is how you play, so I really get on them in practice, then I expect them to show it in a game.”

The improvement is evident. After finishing fourth in the Capital Valley Conference and missing the playoffs in 2010, the Vikings this season went 8-2 in the CVC and finished second to Bella Vista.

“Even hard teams, we may not always win, but we give them a good game,” said Thomas, a fourth-year player.

Barentson said there was a different dynamic with the team this season.
“We always come to practice ready to practice,” she said. “We’re really serious about the game.”

In addition to its work ethic, this Oakmont team had — and has — smarts. Cornilsen said the team grade-point average was a whopping 4.25. The roster is full of International Baccalaureate students.

Oakmont should have a capable complement to Woster next season in the developing Brandt, who spent the first part of the season on the JV team. Cornilsen described Brandt’s arm as a cannon.

“She’s very quick,” he said. “Once she hit varsity, she has just launched. She should be an all-star next year.”