The Turlock High School boys water polo team made history this past week by winning the prestigious DeLong Tournament at Johansen High School for the first time in the program’s 50-year history. The boys followed up their big title win by taking down the Gregori Jaguars on Monday night in their 2022 regular season finale.
At the DeLong tournament, 38 high schools competed, including El Capitan High Gauchos (Merced) and Lodi High Flames, who have handed the Bulldogs two of their four losses on the season. Turlock began the tournament by playing in the Round of 16, where they took down Newberg of Oregon by a score of 9-3. The win secured them a spot in the quarterfinal to face the Clovis East High Timberwolves.
Against the Timberwolves, the Bulldogs came out with a comfortable lead that they would never relinquish thanks to stellar defense from Cole Hackler and goalies Logan Ladd and Max McFarlane.
Turlock head coach Nic Serratos explained that Hackler’s impact is impressive considering the position change he had in the middle of the season.
“[He] switched positions mid-season from the 2-meter offense to 2-meter defense,” Serratos said. “It’s a pretty big adjustment… It’s a big mental shift going from the focus of our offense to guarding their focal points defensively.”
The score ended 14-8 and the Bulldogs punched themselves a ticket to a rematch against the Gauchos in a unique opportunity to avenge their early season loss. The semifinal matchup against El Capitan proved to the toughest test for the Bulldogs.
“Our worst loss of the year was to them in the last tournament we were at,” said Serratos. “We definitely wanted to get back at it and give ourselves another chance at redemption. We were confident we could play with them, and we came out firing.”
The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 7-1 lead, but the relentless Gauchos would not go down without a fight as Turlock would be outscored 3-7 in the second half.
“They came out firing in the third quarter and we just had to slow down and regroup. We got back to our gameplan and held them off,” Serratos explained.
The win over the Gauchos ensured the Bulldogs another rematch to a former foe, the Flames of Lodi High, this time for the tournament championship. Serratos explained how the win over El Capitan was crucial for his team as they prepared to face the Flames.
“We knew that if we met El Cap, they would be our toughest test of the tournament,” Serratos said. “Once we got past EL Cap, I think it gave the kids a lot of confidence that they could play with anybody at that point.”
Once it was all said and done, the Bulldogs emerged victorious with a 17-9, championship-clinching victory.
Of the 50 goals scored by the Bulldogs, 19 belonged to Cohen Harris, which led all scorers in the tournament. Serratos spoke about the dominance his star player has displayed throughout the year.
“He’s just really shooting lights out,” he said. “He’s a confident shooter and leads by example. If he wants to impact the game, he knows he has to put the ball in the net. I don’t think he missed over three or four missed shots a game.”
Serratos also had high praise for Ladd and McFarlane. Ladd finished the tournament with 19 saves while McFarland pitched in with 28.
“We’re lucky that we have two really good goalies, not everybody has that,” Serratos said. “We typically split time in the first half and go with the hot hand from that point on and they did a fantastic job.”
The good times didn’t stop at Saturday’s tournament win, though. The Bulldogs then proceeded to travel to Modesto to take on the Jaguars of Gregori High in the regular season finale, where they continued their dominance. The Bulldogs received three shutout quarters from Ladd and McFarland while five other players scored two goals or more enroute to a 16-3 win.
The win gives the Bulldogs a 24-4 overall season record and an undefeated 10-0 record in the Central California Athletic League, with CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoff brackets expected to be released on Thursday.
“The tournament wins definitely factor into playoff seeding and the fact we came back and took down Lodi and El Cap is really important,” Serratos said. “Winning the tournament was really exciting and it was a relief for many of the kids to get past some of those big challenges… They’re just so confident right now and we’re looking forward to seeing the brackets come out.”