When Kristie Dunham booked hotel rooms back in June for next month's Junior Olympic Tournament in Irvine for her 16-and-under BAM girls water polo team, she made reservations at hotels near pools that would host the classic division.
It looks like earlier wake-up calls will be in order and a little more time spent on the Southern California freeways after BAM qualified for the top gold division a few weeks ago by going 3-1 in a Central Zone qualifying tournament, which included teams from Bakersfield to Davis at Johansen High in Modesto.
"I'll be honest, I didn't expect us to qualify for the gold division," Dunham said. "We won three games against quality teams. We're going to be staying a little farther away from the gold division sites.
"It means we're going to have to get up a little earlier because we're going to have extra travel time. Great job, coach. Way to underestimate your team."
It's the second year for the BAM, which combines Buhach Colony, Atwater and Merced high school players together for one team. However, there are no Buhach Colony players on this year's team, which has players from Atwater, Merced, Golden Valley, Modesto and Beyer.
"It's been fun," said Atwater junior Kirsten Knoblach. "I never knew some of the players from the Merced area, so it's been really fun playing with them.
"It definitely gives me a lot more experience, playing this summer. In water polo, experience is so important. The more you play the better you get."
The BAM squad got off to a rough start in the qualifying tournament when it lost 22-1 to a loaded American River A team.
"We were definitely a little shell shocked that first game," said Dunham, who will be coaching at El Capitan High in the fall. "But the girls showed a lot of character coming back after losing like that to win the rest of the weekend."
Included in BAM's wins were a 10-7 win over Ripon and a 10-9 win over the American River B team.
"I think we all realized some of the things we could take from that first loss," said Merced's Kathryn Elgin, who led BAM in scoring. "Coach Kristie told us we can do some of the things that American River did against us like pick up the pressure on defense. It helped us connect with each other."
According to Dunham, BAM got contributions from a number of players during the qualifying tournament.
Merced's Jane Eckles was big playing center defense. Eckles got plenty of help from Delilah Medina on the defensive end.
Knobloch and Atwater teammate Nicole Goodnight gave the team some speed on the outside to help out in transition.
"It's a well-rounded team," Dunham said. "We have some speed from some of the Atwater players. We have a strong center in Kathryn. I think we can counter and play half court, which you need to be able to do both at this level."
The Junior Olympic Tournament, which will feature teams from all over the country, will begin on Aug. 1.
"I'm very happy we qualified for the gold division," Elgin said. "We're going to be facing some tough competition, but it will be fun going up against different people from different areas."
Kirsten Knobloch (Atwater)
Delilah Medina (Atwater)
Nicole Goodnight (Atwater)
Emily Brown (Atwater)
Kathryn Elgin (Merced)
Jane Eckles (Merced)
Megan Shank (Merced)
Savannah Hall (Merced)
Stephanie Hart (Merced)
Tiffany Fredrickson (Golden Valley)
Sophia Mesches (Modesto)
Madisen Stoughtenborough (Beyer)
Emily Mesches (Modesto)