Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat

Sonora Wildcat water polo head coach Matt Personius is hopeful for the 2014 season.

The girls team returns a solid core of players, which includes seven with Junior Olympics experience, that could challenge for a Valley Oak League title.

"I feel very hopeful about our season," Matt Personius said. "I think we have some excellent athletes on the team. We have a pretty strong group of girls with some strength from the bench this year, which will be a plus. We have reason to be hopeful."

Wildcats Hailey Carson-Hull, Taylor Coleman, Celia Cotrone, Katie Ferris, Samantha Slater and Josie Personius competed with the 16-and-under SOAK club team at this summer's USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics in Stanford.

The six Wildcats helped SOAK place 23rd out of 84 squads.

Coleman, a transfer from Bullard High School in Fresno, will be a strong addition to the Wildcats at center.

"She's big and strong," Matt Personius said. "We haven't had size at that position before."

Ferris will be Sonora's primarily central defender along with Tess Houghton and Dawn Thompson.

Thompson will also be used all over the pool as a utility player.

Sonora has a pair of super sophomores that will make an impact in Josie Personius and Slater.

"Those two started and played a lot as a freshman on varsity," Matt Personius said. "They got a lot of experience and developed. Both went to JOs. They both are gonna be well connected this year offensively and more defensively."

Matt Personius also noted that Carson-Hull has been a nice surprise.

"She's really made great strides," Matt Personius said. "This was a huge summer for her. She's progressed well."

Cotrone, a senior, is returning to the team after last playing as a freshman. She has previously been a starter on the Wildcats varsity soccer team.

"She decided to come back," Matt Personius said. "She's been progressing by leaps and bounds. She's going to be a real contributor for us this year. She's a good swimmer."

Protecting the net will be Katherine Baker, a first-year varsity player who was on the JV team last season.

In the summer, Baker attended Cabrillo College and suited up with a club team that also qualified for the Junior Olympics.

On the boys side, Sonora graduated the majority of its players from a 2013 squad that captured the VOL championship and made a run in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

Sonora will field a smaller team with only 11 players on the roster.

The Wildcats do, however, return Spencer Lyons and Seth Farwell.

"Spencer Lyons and Seth Farwell are very tough to handle defensively for other teams," Matt Personius said. "In a one-on-one situation, there's not going to be many people that can handle them."

Other returnees are Riley Richey and Colter Bassi. Richey is projected to be the team's primary center defender, but he is also dangerous at the other end.

"He's an excellent outside shooter," Matt Personius said. "I anticipate him to be an offensive contributor."

The Sonora girls will open the season at Pitman on Tuesday, Sept. 9, and the boys will head to the McCollum Invitational on Friday and Saturday in Roseville.

"That should give us an idea of where we're at," Matt Personius said.