ASHLAND — An Ashland High water polo season that began with issues of depth and inexperience on the boys' team and doubts there would even be a girls' team continues its surprising turn at this weekend's district championships.

ASHLAND — An Ashland High water polo season that began with issues of depth and inexperience on the boys' team and doubts there would even be a girls' team continues its surprising turn at this weekend's district championships.

Both Grizzly teams are set to take their 6-4 records to Eugene and are seeded third in the four-team tournaments. Action begins today, when both Ashland teams open against second-seeded Cottage Grove.

The top two teams from each tournament will move on to the state tournament in Corvallis next weekend.

The Ashland girls, who began the fall in a scramble to find enough players to make up a team, boast little water polo experience, relying heavily on athletes more familiar with basketball and softball.

Head coach of both Grizzly squads, Christi Gilmore, is impressed that the girls' athletic ability and will to succeed has so far trumped their lack of experience.

"It's unbelievable," Gilmore says. "It's like the Bad News Bears. We sort of made this team out of thin air. We're going in third, but I think we'll come out first or second for sure in districts."

The Grizzlies are led offensively by sophomore Allison Gida, who doubles as a second-team all-Southern Sky Conference basketball player, and defensively by Carley Santee, a softball catcher who is putting some of those same skills to use as a goalkeeper. Santee managed 24 saves in Ashland's last clash with Cottage Grove. Gilmore is excited about her goalie's talent.

"Carley Santee is phenomenal," she says. "Just a rocket in the cage blocking shots. (She's) pretty amazing. She is a catcher, so she is rocking it."

The girls have come a long way from where they started the season. In the Grizzlies' first district tournament, they lost to every school represented in this weekend's districts: South Eugene, Cottage Grove and North Eugene. In their next district tournament, they turned things around, beating everyone but top-seeded South Eugene.

The Ashland boys' team is a young, rebuilding squad that can match its success of 2006 with a win over Cottage Grove today.

Gilmore believes that if the boys can increase their intensity, they can continue to overcome issues of team depth and inexperience and move on to the state tournament.

"I think (we can win) if we get our head into that game and bring the intensity level up," she says. "They have an inexperienced goalie, as we do. So if we can get our shots in there, I think it will be more of a match than it has been in the past. We just have to get those shots in that cage."