Ripon High’s boys water polo team is again short on numbers, and its top player has graduated after leading the program with his scoring prowess in its first four years of existence.
And yet, head coach Erik Zador has even higher expectations for the 2014 Indians, a group he believes to be the best he has had at Ripon.
The eight-man squad (seven are in the pool for matches) have substantiated his claim so far. On Saturday, the Indians waxed four opponents en route to the 15th Annual Sunnyside Tournament title. It is the first tournament championship won by the team.
“We definitely are excited about the season,” Zador said. “I think we have a good chance of making it to the finals in (the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs) this year.”
Ripon is favored to win the Valley Oak League crown. In 2012 the boys team garnered a co-title and went on to reach the SJS Division II semifinals. Last year, it was eliminated by Bella Vista in the quarterfinals, 9-8. The Indians have yet to miss the playoffs.
On Oct. 24-25, the Indians will have a better understanding of where they truly stand among section powers when they compete in the challenging DeLong Tournament in Modesto.
“Last year we finished ninth in that tournament and in the year prior we were 10th,” Zador said. “We’re hoping to get inside that top eight.”
Ripon has entered three preseason tournaments, starting with the Sierra Shootout in Rocklin on Sept. 5-6. The Indians placed second in the Cen-Cal Tournament in Atwater, facing off against Division I competition and tallied wins over Tokay, Oak Ridge, Golden Valley and Atwater. They dropped a 15-13 decision to Merced in the final round after holding a three-goal lead through three periods.
Ripon dominated the Sunnyside Tournament field, mainly taking on opponents from the Central Section. They outscored the opposition (Edison, Fresno, Turlock, Sanger) by a combined score of 57-11.
Senior hole set Zach Scudder racked up seven goals in the championship round and was named MVP of the tournament. Utility Nathaniel Gagnon and 2-meter defender Cole Gonzales made the all-tourney team.
Zador said this year’s team has more balance than in years past. Ripon used to rely heavily on four-year starter Caleb Rogers, also a baseball standout in the spring.
“We’re more spread out than in previous years,” Zador said. “The boys are depending on each other more than depending on one particular player. Caleb was our main guy last year; if he didn’t have a good game we’d suffer. I believe this team is better than last year because we’re more spread out in ability.”
Ripon’s roster has two players from each class — two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen. Carson Morrow, Nick Gagnon, Daniel Esenwein, Ty Wells and Jacob Thompson make up the rest of the team.
Wells, an accomplished swimmer, and Thompson are the two freshmen. Both have limited experience in the sport but are already making big contributions. Wells is Ripon’s lone reserve, sharing the hole set spot with Scudder. Thompson replaces Darney Mack at goalkeeper. Mack protected the net for the Indians last season as a sophomore but now plays for the school’s football team.
The talent is in place for Ripon to make a deeper run in the postseason. What it doesn’t have is depth.
“Hopefully nobody gets injured,” he said. “That’s the concern for this eight-man team.”
Ripon begins VOL play this Monday against visiting Oakdale, starting with the girls match at 4 p.m. The boys start at 5.