The Central California Conference has become one of the premier leagues for high school water polo in the area and the state. That competition was too much for Pitman and Turlock boys' water polo teams last year; but it's a new season and new teams.
Pitman High finished winless in league in 2012. Turlock High also struggled, finishing with a 4-6 league record. The Bulldogs, however, managed to notch a 6-4 record in tournament play—finishing with a .500 winning percentage.
“We had a .500 season and, all and all, it was a very solid year. But I strongly feel we have a better team this year and we're going to see a lot of good changes,” Turlock High head coach Erick Richter said. “We should expect good things for this new season. We will be amongst the top, but a lot of teams got better this year and I strongly believe that we have one of the strongest leagues in the area and California.”
The Bulldogs lost three seniors to graduation, leaving coach Richter to seek talent from younger players.
“The guys that stepped in to fill those shoes are doing very well,” Richter said. “I pulled up two underclassmen, a sophomore and freshman, into varsity for this season.”
Jacob Bradley, who played last season as a freshman, will join the varsity team in only his second year. Gabe Sleeper as the incoming freshman will be the youngest member of the Bulldogs squad, but is expected to be a starter, Richter said.
'Dogs top goal scorer and three year varsity veteran Nicolas Ogden will lead the Turlock team.
“Ogden will be our go-to guy and we will look to him. This year he [Ogden] will lead this team,” Richter said.
Richter knows that to compete in the CCC, his Bulldogs will have to play their “A” game all season long.
“I tell the kids that I can only give you the tools to be great, you have to push yourself to use them and if they can push themselves and see what they can do, sky's the limit,” Richter said. “They've got to give it 110 percent at practice and the games to be successful, that’s what I preach out here so it's on them, if they want it it's theirs.”
Pitman head coach Ryan Bullard knows that with the experience of last season, his team is ready for the challenges that await this year.
“We had only two seniors with experience and everyone who came up were first years,” Bullard said of last year's team. “We had guys move up from JV, so we had a team of just really young kids. Experience wise, we were really shorthanded and it made league a little tougher for us.”
Bullard said his Pride are ready to battle all the way around. But this year, the experience is there and that should make a huge difference.
“This year we only replace two spots and we have five returning guys that got a lot of experience now and that should help,” Bullard said.
Leading the Pride will be seniors Nate Hildebrand, Cameron Sondeno and Carter Day. Sophomores Josh Buck, Tanner Day and Nathan Olson are also expected to be contributors on this year's team.
“I expect a lot more from this team, as far as competing well in close games. We're young in age, but we have plenty of experience...so those young kids will bring a lot to the table,” Bullard said.
Turlock High will face off against Sonora at home at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Pitman High's next contest will be at Golden Valley at 3 p.m. Wednesday.