The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

After opening the season with three straight losses, the College of San Mateo women’s water polo team has righted the ship, winning two in a row at the West Valley tournament over the weekend.

The start of Coast Conference play is still a week away, but instead of playing in the Cabrillo tournament this weekend, coach Randy Wright will use the extra week for practice.

“We need more time practicing, more time working on things,” Wright said. “We’re just getting ourselves ready for league play.”

Wright said because he has such a small, young team — with nine freshmen and a sophomore — he’d rather get it ready for the rigors of conference play instead of risk running out of gas at the end of a lengthy season.

“The story remains the same. It’s all about the first weekend of November,” Wright said.

That’s the start of the Coast Conference tournament which will help determine the teams for the Northern California tournament. There is a change in this year’s Coast Conference, as it expands to 10 teams which are divided into two five-team divisions in the North and South. Each division will hold a postseason tournament, with the winner of each earning one of the Coast Conference’s two automatic bids to the Nor Cal tournament.

“It’s great for the Coast Conference,” Wright said.

That still doesn’t guarantee a Nor Cal spot for the Bulldogs, not with the likes of Cabrillo — which already beat CSM 22-8 earlier this season —  looming in the Bulldogs’ division.

“But one out of five (chance) is better than one out of 10 (to make the Nor Cal tournament),” Wright said.

There is a lot of water polo to be played before then, however. But Wright said despite expected growing pains, he has seen improvement. He has also seen the team buy into what Wright is selling when it comes to strategy. He knows that the Bulldogs can’t simply outswim the opposition. Instead, the Bulldogs need to slow the game down, working in the half-court offense and value possession of the ball.

The Bulldogs found that to be the key to success in a 13-4 win over Sacramento City College.

“We had seven strong, no bench. They had a choice to buy in or be dead tired. It was great to have those girls buy in,” Wright said. “You work ball control. You work on making it a half-court game. It forces the game into X’s and O’s.

“I think there is a lot of room for development. I can already see it week to week.”

Diamonds in the rough for Cross Country

Al Hernandez is no stranger to cross country, having won a conference title with City College of San Francisco in 1969 and has spent most of his life involved in the sport.

This year, however, he is the new face around the College of San Mateo athletic facilities as he takes over from longtime coach Joe Mangan on an interim basis as Mangan is currently on sabbatical.

Hernandez managed to cobble together the five runners necessary to field a men’s team this season and is still working on the women’s team which currently stands at three runners.

Despite the small numbers, Hernandez does have a couple of strong runners who are already ahead of last year’s pace. At last week’s Pat Ryan Invitational, both Jorge Tafolla-Hernandez and Mirka Uhlirova improved over last year’s performances — when the meet took place about three weeks later than this year. Hernandez said Uhlirova bested her 2014 time at the meet by more than two minutes, while Tafolla-Hernandez missed a personal record by 15 seconds.

“He’s ahead of schedule,” Hernandez said. “Mirka, she’s one of the ones who did her homework over the summer.”

The Bulldogs will run in the Lou Vasquez Invitational Thursday in San Francisco and in the Toro Park Invitational in Salinas Oct. 9. The Coast Conference finals will be held at Crystal Springs Cross Country Course in Belmont Oct. 30.

Football moves up in the polls

The CSM football team moved by one spot in the JC Athletic Bureau state rankings to the No. 2 spot, just behind Riverside.

Riverside received 11 of 16 first-place votes, while CSM got three — one more than San Francisco City College, which fell to No. 3 in the rankings.

CSM, Riverside and CCSF are three of 10 teams with perfect 3-0 records. CSM will be on the road Saturday at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton.