With the temperature hovering near 50 degrees in Modesto this morning, the Sonora High School varsity girls water polo team will take to the pool to continue their run in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

Sure, it’s a bit chilly, and it’s early. The match begins at 9 a.m.

But this team seems to have been built for challenges.

They made history by winning the Valley Oak League. A first for the Sonora program. And they did it without losing a VOL match.

They’ve played teams who have had twice as many players on their roster, and many games with players in the pool without a break.

At the beginning of the season, head coach Matt Personius was managing expectations. It was going to be a rebuilding year after losing several key players to graduation.

Then this team showed up. And they started winning.

It all started last summer, Personius said. That’s when he started working with six members of the current roster. They formed a club team and went on to play in the National Junior Olympics.

That would prove to be valuable experience.

“That was the foundation that we were able to build off of,” said Personius.

This year’s roster was a combination of girls who had some exposure, others who had none.

“It’s also a challenge that creates an opportunity,” Personius said. “Very few of the kids are swimmers or come from a swimming background.”

That’s where coaching – and patience – comes in.

Personius said the team spent much of their time early in the season swimming from one of the pool to the other.

“What we have to do here is get kids over the hump,” he said.

In addition to the basics of swimming, there’s also the task of getting them used to spending an hour in deep water without touching a wall or the pool’s bottom.

Much like the training regime of a sprinter, becoming a better swimmer comes through repetition.

“We do a fair amount of what we call legs (treading water),” said Personius. “That becomes the base upon which your game is built.”

The game is physically demanding. And for girls there’s the added obstacle of dealing with the fact that their swimsuits become part of the game with defenders often tugging and pulling at the fabric, trying to gain an edge in the water.

“It’s so physical. It’s hard,” said Personius.

It also takes time to adapt to the basics of reading water, then treading water while ball handling, then treading water while ball handling and having someone in your space.

“It’s a whole progression,” Personius said.

Last Thursday the Wildcats won their first round playoff game against Los Banos, 21-4.

Leading the team on goals was freshman Megan Slater with six.

Senior Lillian Fox added five goals. Sophomore Emily Van Noord had four. Senior Maggie Sanchez scored twice.

The ‘Cats face No. 4 Christian Brothers today at Johansen High School in Modesto.

Contact Melissa Blanton at (209) 588-4534 or mblanton@uniondemocrat.com . Follow her on Twitter @downtownmelissa.