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Ripon eyes playoff berth in first varsity season
Ripon Highs Caleb Rogers charges at Jake Valow, who looks to start the fastbreak offense for visiting Pacheco in Wednesdays Valley Foothill Conference match at Ervin Zador Aquatic Center. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

RIPON — Ripon High’s ragtag water polo team is making quite the splash in its first year in the Valley Foothill Conference.

The Indians improved to 9-3 Wednesday following its 15-4 trouncing of Pacheco (Los Banos) at Ervin Zador Aquatic Center.

Last season, Ripon played an independent schedule as a coed frosh-soph team. Now it’s a coed varsity contingent consisting of three girls, two juniors three sophomores and five freshmen, and they compete against all-boys teams.

Most schools that field water polo teams have separate boys and girls programs with frosh-soph squads.

This team isn’t like most others.

“We’re a little dysfunctional as a team,” said coach Eric Zador. “We’re the only (boys) team that has a girl as a starter. We’re probably the only team that has two juniors as its oldest players but are the least experienced. But it just shows what kind of future we have as a team, because it’s doing pretty well.”

That was clear on Wednesday, when the Indians squared off with another second-year program. Pacheco (1-11) struggled to penetrate Ripon’s airtight defense for three periods, while the Indians scored at will for some stretches.

Sophomore Caleb Rogers and freshman Dalton Rogers led the way with four goals apiece. Zach Scudder added three, Trevor Smith tallied two and Emma Lewis and Nathaniel Gagnon contributed one each.

Ryan Jessop was impressive at goal, coming up with 16 blocks.

Gabriel Andrade scored the game’s first goal just 21 seconds into the match for Pacheco. Ripon answered with the next 11 until Andrade struck again in the final seconds of the third period. Andrade finished with three goals.

Ripon will compete in the DeLong Invitational at Johansen Friday and Saturday before wrapping up conference play next week against Sonora (Monday) and Ceres (Wednesday) at home.

The Indians are in line to capture at least the third of three Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II playoff seeds but can possibly move up with a win over Sonora, which defeated the Indians 14-10 on Oct. 3.

Oakdale is the defending VFC boys and girls champion and is undefeated this season.

Ripon has exceeded expectations so far, and to qualify for the postseason would be another stepping stone for the fledgling program. Zador said an influx of incoming freshman talent that he cultivates through the Ripon Aquatics swim and water polo programs should provide a boost next year.

“We’re just going to get better from here,” he said. “We’ll have some younger kids coming in next year, and hopefully we’ll have an all-girls team. I think we’ll be legit for a while.”