This is unchartered territory for the Dinuba High boys water polo team, but it appears to be well-equipped for the journey.
The second-seeded Emperors will make their first appearance in a Central Section final at 6 p.m. today when they face top-seeded Hanford at Golden West's pool in Visalia.
And Dinuba (21-4) will send four players into the pool who figure to play college water polo next season, led by high-scoring Justin Lopez-Lamb.
"They are a tough group of guys, even if they aren't very big," Emperors coach Kyle Yano-Goss said. "Our biggest guy is Justin. When you line us up, our entire team is probably half the size of Hanford, but they've done some pretty amazing stuff for their size."
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In addition to Lopez-Lamb, a 119-goal scorer this year who's leaning toward playing for Cal Baptist, Yano-Goss said, the Emperors have 259-save goalie Rafael Bedolla headed to Occidental on scholarship, Angel Perez planning to play for San Diego Mesa Community College and Eric Guzman planning to walk on at Occidental.
Tanner Pattee, who has scored 59 goals, Derek Perez and Justin Klassen also start for the East Yosemite League champion Emperors, who beat Kingsburg 16-10 in the quarterfinals and Sunnyside 8-6 in the semifinals.
"The last game was a little jittery," Yano-Goss said. "This is as far as we've ever been. But they look like they have their heads on straight now. I think they are primed up and as ready as they can be at this point."
The Emperors take on a Hanford team that's made seven appearances in the section finals, winning a D-II title in 2004 and the overall title when there was only one division in 1982.
The West Yosemite League champion Bullpups (26-5) feature a deep lineup that rarely produces the same leading scorer game to game. Two-meter defender Brad Wright is Hanford's biggest player. Coach Vince Roeber describes Ben Hoover and Michael Conway as Wright's primary assist givers, sophomores Christian Sook and Davey Morales as aggressive attackers and Josh Ornellas as a player capable of finding a way to score, even when well defended. And holding it all together in the back is goalie Ryan Dias, who has 354 saves.
"It's just been one of those climactic seasons," Roeber said. "They started off well, have continued to grow and they are peaking at the right time."
- The D-II girls final is a rematch from last season, with top-seeded Porterville hosting No. 2 El Diamante at 6 p.m. today at Granite Hills.
The Miners, the top seed, beat the third-seeded Panthers 6-4 last season.
Both schools are making their fourth appearance in a section final, with Porterville winning titles in 2005 and 2006 and El Diamante capturing the championship the past two seasons.
Central Valley Christian welcomes a very familiar foe into its gym tonight for a Central Section Division IV volleyball semifinal.
The top-seeded Cavaliers are hosting fifth-seeded Bakersfield Christian at 7 p.m. in the 15th meeting of these two small-school volleyball powers since 2004. It's one of eight semifinals in four divisions being played tonight around the section.
Bakersfield Christian holds an 8-6 advantage in their matchups since 2004, including a win in last season's D-IV final.
"We're looking forward to it," CVC coach Amanda Oliver said. "It's always exciting to play Bakersfield Christian. They are a good rival for us."
The Cavaliers (28-3) defeated the Eagles (21-13) in their only meeting this season -- a 25-15, 25-18, 25-15 victory Sept. 19 that started a 21-match winning streak CVC rides into the rematch.
But a win during the regular season hasn't always translated to success in the playoffs. Bakersfield Christian defeated the Cavaliers during the regular season in 2007 and 2004 only to lose to CVC in the playoffs. CVC beat the Eagles in a nonleague match in 2006 before falling to Bakersfield Christian in the D-V final.
"We just have to expect them to be a very good team," Oliver said.
CVC hasn't lost since getting swept by Clovis West on Sept. 10. The Cavaliers scheduled the defending D-I champion in part to get battle-tested for another run at the state playoffs. Two years ago, CVC reached the state final, and hitters Alexandra Parades and Brelle De Groot and setter Shelly Leyendekker return from that team.
"I think we're capable of doing some great things, but we'll have to see how far we can take it," Oliver said. "I don't think there is any limit on this team because we continue to improve. We'll set high goals, go for it and see what happens."