Many of the top-ranked girls water polo teams in Oregon and California will be in action today and Saturday in pools throughout Stanislaus County for the 31st Western States Championships hosted by Johansen High School.
A total of 88 teams — 64 varsity and 24 frosh-soph squads — will be competing at the prestigious tournament, which will feature 14 of the top 20 ranked teams in the state, and nearly 200 games will be played.
"It's easily the largest women's high school tournament in the United States and has been for a number of years," Johansen coach Brent Bohlender said.
"We've had a lot of Division I players in this tournament and probably had seven or eight who went on to play in the Olympics."
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The Vikings, who last won the tournament in 1999, turned in a respectable ninth-place showing a year ago, and Bohlender is optimistic they can fare even better this weekend.
"We're hoping to be in the top eight and into the final four this year," said Bohlender, whose squad opens the tournament this morning with an 8:15 meeting with Central California Conference-leading Los Banos. "The top teams have kids already signing to go to Cal and places like that."
College scouts and coaches from Arizona to Michigan will be on hand to survey the talent assembled.
"We have a number of universities who scout and come watch the kids," said Bohlender. "USC, UCLA, Cal has somebody coming over. Arizona State's head coach will actually be in town, and Michigan has a representative. We've kind of laid it all out."
Monte Vista High School of Danville, which has walked away with the tournament championship each of the past two years, is back to defend its title.
Other area teams competing in the tourney are Modesto, Downey, Beyer, Davis, Enochs, Oakdale, Merced, Atwater, Pitman, Ceres, Golden Valley, Turlock and Sonora.
"I don't think water polo is as obscure a sport as it used to be," said Bohlender. "Sometimes if you watch some of the competition around here, you don't have an opportunity to see top-notch play amongst equally matched teams.
"This is a great opportunity to see high school women's water polo at its best."
For Western States scores and daily schedule, go to aquanite.com/ms/.
Bee staff writer Stu Rosenberg can be reached at 578-2300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.