Defender. Scorer. Distributor. Punching bag.
All those roles were part of Taylor Hanson's job description this season for the Johansen High girls water polo team, and she made the most of them.
Hanson's ability to make a seamless transition to two-meter defender — the most physically demanding and challenging position in the pool — helped trigger the Vikings' undefeated run through the Modesto Metro Conference, a 30-4 overall record and an appearance in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 semifinals.
"Our team did amazing this year," said Hanson, The Bee's 2009 Stanislaus District Girls Water Polo Player of the Year. "It wouldn't have been my favorite year without the team we had. We all got along, we never fought and we really acted like a team."
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Hanson closed the book on her three-year varsity career at Johansen with an impressive list of honors and accomplishments:
First-team all-section in 2009.
Co-MMC MVP (an honored she shared with teammate and Vikings' hole-set Gabi Mantellato this season).
Two-time, first-team all-MMC.
Eighty-seven goals (third-best on the team) in 2009 and 210 career goals (which ranks 12th all-time at Johansen).
Three MMC championships.
Two section final four appearances.
Johansen coach Brent Bohlender said having a player of Hanson's caliber manning the back row and directing the offense made life considerably easier.
"It makes a big difference with her with the ball at the top because she can see everything and instinctively knows where the ball needs to go," said Bohlender. "Much like a point person in basketball, you've gotta have that person who can make the pass and make the necessary adjustments. She could drive to the goal if she needed to if Gabi was being sided. (Taylor) was willing to take on a lot of different roles this year.
"She scored 80 goals and she was often the one directing things."
Hanson's position required her to defend opponents' best players, most of whom were much bigger than the 5-foot-6, 135-pound senior. Whatever Hanson might have lacked in size, she compensated for in toughness.
"She's very tenacious. She is a very focused person in the game," said Bohlender. "Sometimes she can get a little carried away, so I have to rein her back in. She's a pretty feisty girl and a pretty feisty player. Water polo is a contact sport, so sometimes the bigger girls will try and hold and grab her, but she's feisty enough to work her way out of it."
Once Hanson realized where she would be playing, and where she was needed most, she dived in.
"I had to play there before, not knowing exactly what I was doing, but I was basically just trying to do everything I could to help the team," explained Hanson. "This year I really learned how to perfect it. I had to learn to guard hole-set and really be one of the main guards this year, and I thought I did well.
"It's extremely physical and it's exhausting by the end of the game because you're working so hard all the time. You're not only having to work hard on defense, but trying hard to get open and get shots on offense."
Bohlender had no doubt that Hanson would be up to the challenge.
"She kind of looked around and, rightly so, figured she would have to be the two-meter set. I think she was dreading it a little bit, but she ended up doing a great job for us," said Bohlender. "As a coach, I knew if she had to do it, she would and that she would do it well. She was groomed to be that utility player, that person I could stick anywhere I wanted and needed her to play.
Hanson plans to continue her water polo career in college while studying to become a teacher and coach at the high school level. Though she hasn't picked a college yet, UC Davis, Cal State Bakersfield, Sonoma State and Long Beach State have all expressed interest.
Bohlender feels that wherever Hanson ends up she'll succeed.
"She wants to play, that's the important part. One of the drawbacks is her size, but she has swimming speed and knowledge, and all the tools are there," said Bohlender. "She's smart enough to find a school where she can go and play right away."
Rosenberg is a Bee staff reporter, reach him at 578-2300 or firstname.lastname@example.org