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The Sonora High School girls water polo team can add another accomplishment to an already strong season.
They made history by winning the Valley Oak League. And they did it without losing a VOL match.
For coach Matt Personius, the title is one that feels extra satisfying.
The season was meant to be more of a rebuilding year for the team. Two of last year’s standout players — Sammie Slater and Josie Personius — graduated.
This year’s 10-person roster included an even mix of upper and lower classmen, Personius said. The experience level varied, too.
“No one was sure how things were going to go,” he said.
Turns out quite well.
“We had a nice combination of athleticism and determination,” said Personius.
So they set their goals. They wanted to win league, even though at the time it seemed like a bit of a lofty goal, Petronius said.
He credits his team’s determination for the success.
“The girls accepted the idea of working towards a goal that might have seemed at first difficult to achieve,” he said.
For Petronius the job of rebuilding the team dynamic was a welcome one.
“For a coach it’s been exciting and challenging. It’s something new,” he said. “There’s nothing more interesting than the challenge of creating success.”
Among the challenges has been the lack of substitutes for the Wildcats. Schools with bigger programs can have as much as a team and a half available on the bench. Not so for Sonora, whose 10-person roster gives them three players on the bench.
But that’s been a scenario where the team has thrived.
Senior Lillian Fox has been a team leader throughout the season, Personius said. She has 57 goals in the regular season.
She’s the primary center and rarely gets a break from action. And she’s never asked for one.
“She is someone who we really rely on,” Petronius said. “She has probably the hardest job. It’s the most physically demanding.”
Senior Maggie Sanchez is a second year player who worked her way into a starting position.
After spending much of last season on the bench, playing behind other players, she put in the work on swim team and over the summer, Petronius said. And her contribution has been important.
“She has been another great mature voice on the team,” he said.
Then there’s freshman Megan Slater.
Slater is the team’s most prolific scorer with 75 on the season and plays well beyond her years and with plenty of passion.
“Other teams identify her. She is super fast and very aggressive,” Petronius said. “She has been a nice surprise. It’s not like coaching a freshman, she’s doing upperclassman things.”
The Wildcats were able to beat Oakdale and Kimball in regular season play, something Petronius said hasn’t been done in a long time.
The team will be looking to take that momentum into this year’s playoffs.
Seedings and opponents will be announced sometime Friday, Personius said.
And he feels confident they will earn a solid seeding, and hopefully a home game.
This weekend the ‘Cats will travel to an end-of-season tournament in Napa.
They’ll use the chance to play against some tough teams as a warm-up for playoffs.
“Winning or losing (this weekend) isn’t all that important to me,” said Personius. “It’s about honing and finetuning our game.”
The Union Democrat will update this story once the playoff ranking and game schedules are announced.