The Stanford Water Polo Club not only is hosting the largest youth water polo tournament in the world, but the 16U Red squad is seeded No. 1 in its 48-team division.
No pressure there.
"JOs have not always been the kindest tournament for me," said Weatherspoon, who coached the 14U Red team to a ninth-place finish last year in Southern California. "But, I think it's a real exciting weekend. For some of the guys, it'll be some of the biggest games they'll play in high school, partially because they're at home and will be playing in front of family and friends.
"If you're home and you're the No. 1 seed and you're playing in the pool where you train . . . there's a responsibility."
Weatherspoon's team earned the No. 1 seed thanks to Lamorinda, which won the 16U title at the Junior Olympics last summer. When Stanford beat Lamorinda at the Zone Qualifying tournament last month, Stanford immediately had a target on its back.
To that, Weatherspoon isn't that concerned.
"As long as they do their job, they don't have to worry about the Southern California teams," Weatherspoon said. "We haven't played a team this summer that, player for player, was better than us."
The Stanford 16U Red team has finished no lower than fifth, which was the team's last outing — at the U.S. Club Championships in Orange County a few weeks ago.
Seeded behind Stanford is No. 2 Rose Bowl, No. 3 Regency and No. 4 Lamorinda. Regency features the younger members of the Mater Dei program, which hasn't lost a high school match in over two years.
The Stanford 16U squad last won a gold medal at JOs in 2008. The quest to duplicate that begins Saturday at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center when the local team opens against Chicago Park District at 8:40 a.m. A victory will move Stanford into a second-round game at 1:40 p.m.
If Stanford continues to win, action shifts to San Jose State on Sunday with matches at 10:20 a.m. And 1:40 p.m.
A 4-0 record will move Stanford back to Baker Pool on the Cardinal campus on Monday morning. Semifinals are Tuesday morning at Sacred Heart Prep with the championship match back at Avery Aquatic Center later in the day.
The Stanford 16U Red team has a number of local high school players, including Harrison Enright, Nelson Perla-Ward and Michael Swart of Sacred Heart Prep, Evan McClelland and Morgan Olson-Fabbro of Menlo-Atherton, Coby Wayne from Gunn and goalie John Wilson from Menlo School.
"They've done a good job this year," Weatherspoon said. "They've had a few good years of training and playing together. The younger guys on the team, I've coached them for three years (as they've come up through the ranks)."
Weatherspoon's 14U team finished ninth last year after losing one match in a shootout and another by just a goal. Defense will be crucial once again over the four-day tournament.
"I tell the boys if they want to win, they have to make their goalie look good."
The Stanford Water Polo Club will have nine teams entered, equaling the program's most ever in the Junior Olympics. There are two teams each in 18s, 16s, 14s and 12s plus one co-ed 10U squad.
The 18U Red team, which won the JO title last year under Brian Kreutzkamp, is being coach by Terry O'Donnell this summer. He coached the 16U Red team to fourth place at the 2011 JOs and inherits three players off the 18U championship squad — goalie Alex Gow from Menlo-Atherton and field players Patrick Goodenough (St. Francis) and Adam Warmoth (Los Altos).
O'Donnell also has his 16s goalie, Will Runkel of Sacred Heart Prep, which gives the 18s a solid one-two punch in the cage.
"I have two great goalies," O'Donnell said. "They're very supportive of each other."
O'Donnell's team is on the young side with six current members heading off to college and nine coming back to their respective high school teams.
"It's a nice group of kids, definitely different than last year," O'Donnell said.
The Stanford 18U Red squad finished third in the Cal Cup and seventh at the U.S. Club Championships, both good tuneups for the Junior Olympics. A lot of the same teams from those tournaments will be in the area this weekend.
The Stanford 18U Red team is seeded sixth and will open Saturday at Palo Alto High at 10 a.m. A victory means another game at Paly at 3 p.m.
If Stanford continues to win, it will play Sunday at Paly at 7 a.m. And 1 p.m. The championship match will be Tuesday at Avery Aquatic Center.
"There are about eight good teams with a chance," said O'Donnell.
Regency, which was favored to win last year before being upset by Stanford, is not entered. Most of its top players are traveling with various USA Water Polo all-star teams this summer.
The Stanford 18U White team, coached by new Paly head coach Brandon Johnson, will open Saturday at West Valley College at 9 a.m. The 16U White squad, coached by Matt Johnson, will open Saurday in the Challenge Division at San Jose State at 9:30 a.m.
The Stanford 14U Red and White teams will be at Wilcox High on Saturday at 7:50 a.m. and 11:10 a.m., respectively, while the 12U Red will open at Cabrillo College in Aptos at 11 a.m., with the 12U White at San Lorenzo Valley High at 8:45 a.m.
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