By Ken Wattana
Special to Palo Alto Online Sports
The tuneups continue for local water polo clubs that have qualified several teams for the 2010 National Junior Olympics tournament that begins on July 31 in the Los Angeles area. The clubs hope to improve on their strong finishes from last year when Stanford Water Polo Club played host. Boys begin their competition on July 31, while girls start play on August 8.
Before that happens, a number of teams will be in Southern California this weekend for the annual U.S. Club Championships.
Leading the charge is the NorCal 18-under girls' squad that recently placed first at Pacific Zone qualification tournament at Miramonte High, going an impressive 3-0 with victories over Stanford White, Marin, and Diablo.
NorCal, coached by Chris Dorst, boasts a talented roster highlighted by Central Coast Section Division I Player of the Year Rebecca Dorst (Menlo Atherton) and Division II Player of the Year Heather Smith (Sacred Heart Prep). The team also includes All-CCS players Emily Dorst (Menlo Atherton), Jennifer Talbott (St. Francis), Kelsey Nolan (Leland), Hathaway Moore (St. Francis), Vanessa Lane (Menlo Atherton), Audrey Pratt (Burlingame), Caitlin Sandlin (Los Altos), Natalie Weil (Aragon) and Rachel Henry (Soquel), Katherine Elward (St. Francis), Daisy Anderson (Menlo), Allegra Tringali (Los Altos), and Barbara Peterson (Castilleja).
"The 18s are a surprising team," Chris Dorst said. "They qualified first in a zone usually won by Diablo or Stanford. All of our kids started out playing with larger clubs and came together a couple of months ago. There is a lot real balance in what we do and we should be very competitive."
The 18s, who placed 15th at JO's last year, have been bolstered by the addition of Nolan, Moore, Pratt and Talbott -- all of whom had previously played for other clubs.
Dorst characterized the team as balanced and versatile.
"We have five or six kids who can (hole) set," Dorst said. "We can get in transition and we don't need one kid to play well for us for us to do well. If one player has a bad shooting night, others can step up. We have a real deep bench and we can do a lot of things due to the ability of the kids."
NorCal's 16U team qualified fourth. Coached by Zizi Clark and Eric Rise, the team includes Menlo-Atherton's Emma Canny, Brittany Krappe and Marie Popp plus Nikole Ferrari (St. Francis), Brooke Robinson (St. Francis), Tegan Stanbach (St. Francis) in addition to a host of players from out of the area. The team placed 14th at JOs last year.
Both the 16U and 18U NorCal teams will be headed to Chino this weekend for the U.S. Club Championships, an invitation-only tournament that brings together some of the premier teams in California and serves as the final tuneup before JOs. This is the first time in club history that NorCal has sent teams to this event.
"Club Champs should be an interesting gauge of how well we play at JOs." Dorst said.
The Stanford Water Polo Club qualified several boys' and girls' teams for JOs, as well, and the club hopes to continue its recent success at the national tournament after hosting last year.
The Stanford Red 18U boys qualified second in the Pacific Zone at Soda Aquatic Center in Moraga with a young team that is very different than the 2009 bronze medal squad that lost key players to college. Nevertheless, the team is in no way short of talent.
Coached by Jon Barnea, they went 2-1 in qualifying with a wins over Golden State and Stanford White (in the semifinals) before falling to Lamorinda A in the finals. The team features CCS Division I Player of the Year Colin Mulcahy, who is also on the USA Junior National training team, along with CCS Division II co-players of the year -- Princeton-bound Ben Dearborn and UCLA-bound David Culpan, both from Sacred Heart Prep.
The team also includes Thomas Agramonte (St. Francis), who made the Junior National training squad, and All-CCS players Alex Bailey (Los Altos), Philip Bamberg (Sacred Heart Prep), Christian Broom (St. Francis), Robert Dunlevie (Sacred Heart), Mark Garner (St. Francis), John Holland-McCowan (Menlo), Brian Morton (Salinas), Peter Olson (St. Francis), Peter Simon (St. Francis), Jed Springer of Menlo Atherton, who will play at UCLA, and Connor Still (Sacred Heart Prep), who is headed to Princeton.
Many of the players who helped the 16-under squad place second in 2009 and first in 2008, now have aged up to the 18U and hope to continue their winning legacy.
"It's a new look, a new feel, as guys age out and age up," Barnea said. "We are trying to figure out how our rotations will work, how new guys coming in will step up and fill new roles. The guys have been playing together for years and years and it is a smooth transition from one year to the next and when guys graduate. Everyone is familiar with the expectations, what our philosophy is and how we want to play."
The Stanford 18U White team, coached by Tim Kates, qualified fourth. They went 2-2, recording wins over West Valley and Lamorinda Blue before losing to Stanford Red in the semifinals and Diablo in the third-place game.
Stanford's 16U Red qualified first, going 4-0 on the weekend and scoring wins over East Bay rivals Lamorinda and Diablo. The team hopes to continue the club's tremendous success at this level after top-two finishes the past two years. The team will head to JOs with the second overall seed.
The team features Max Schell (Soquel) and Casey Fleming (Valley Christian), who are on the Junior National training team, Patrick Goodenough (St. Francis) and Alex Gow (Menlo-Atherton), teammates on the Youth National Team; Connor Dillon (Menlo), Maxwell Draga (Soquel), David Freudenstein (St. Francis), Nick Hale (Menlo), Benjamin Hendricks (Gunn), Matthieu Leyrat (St. Francis), Cory McGee (St. Francis), Benjamin Pickard, Cullen Raisch, Caleb Terzich, and Adam Warmoth (Los Altos). The squad is coached by Jasper Billings.
The 14U Red team qualified third. Coached by Clarke Weatherspoone the team includes Matthew Abbott, Stephen Cho, Will Conner, Harrison Enright, Alex Freeman, Rishabh Hegde, John Knowx, Evan McClelland, Nelson Perla-Ward, Trevor Raisch, Ari Wayne, Coby Wayne, Shawn Welch, and Johnny Wilson. The 14U Red placed 13th last year.
Stanford's 14U White, coached by Sasha Potulnytsky, and the Stanford 12U Red and White teams qualified for JOs, as well.
The Stanford girls were just as successful in qualifying for JOs in Moraga and will send two teams to Los Angeles for all age groups, except the 12-under.
The 18U Red qualified third with a 2-1 record compiling wins over 680 and Marin and a lone loss to Diablo. The team is coached by Cory Olcott and includes Julia Peters (Presentation), Caroline Hanson (St. Francis), Lizzie Peiros, Kaitlyn Lo, Hailey Smith (Menlo) Sayeh Bozorghadad (Castileja), Evan Cranston (Castilleja), Haley Conner (Palo Alto), Jelena Cyr, Jenny Anderson (Gunn), who will play at Santa Clara, and Stephanie Weed (Mitty). Peters, Hanson and Cranston are teammates on the Junior National Training Team squad while Pieros and Lo will play at Stanford next season.
Stanford's 18U White, coached by Travis Wycoff, finished fifth at qualifiers.
The 16U Red squad qualified second, going 2-1 with wins over Ohlone and NorCal before falling in the finals to 680. Coached by Kyle Utsumi, the team includes Youth National team members Skylar Dorosin (Palo Alto), Pippa Temple (SHP), Carla Tocchini (St. Ignatius), in addition to local players like Olivia Santiago (Los Altos), Nicole Larsen (Los Altos), Elizabeth Anderson (Gunn), Lauren Lesyna (Gunn), and Martine Leclerc (Paly).
Santiago is a member of the Youth National Team.
The 16U Red placed 11th at JOs last year.
The 16U White team also was coached by Utsumi and went 2-2 for the weekend, qualifying ninth.
The 14U Red squad qualified second, going 1-1 and beating SHAQ before losing to 680. The team includes Hailey Adamski, Caroline Anderson, Kristen Denney, Anna Edgington, Lauren Goff, Tara Lawrence, Emma Malysz, Julia Ponce, Sami Strutner, Averi Westerman, Natalie Williams, Rachel Wong, Camille Zelinger and is coached by recent Stanford player and graduate Kelsey Holshouser. The 14s placed 13th at JOs last year.
The 14U White team, coached by Kandis Canonica who plays at Bucknell University, qualified fifth, losing to SHAQ and then beating Lazers and Diablo.
Coached by Stanford player Cassie Churnside, Stanford's 12U team qualified with wins over SHAQ and Diablo and a loss to 680.
The girls have been practicing hard as JOs approaches.
"Each week we try to improve on a phase of the game," Utsumi said. "We use the weekend competition to see how we are doing and see were we are making progress."
The Stanford boys and girls also will be headed to the Club Championships this weekend. Last year, the 16-under boys won the tournament, with Garner receiving MVP accolades.
Santa Clara Valley Water Polo Club, a new entry into the club water polo game, qualified three teams for JOs, one each in the 16U, 14U, and 12U age groups. Johnny Bega, who coaches at Los Altos and previously at Menlo-Atherton and SOLO Aquatics, runs the club.
Santa Clara's 16s qualified in seventh place, defeating SHAQ, DeAnza B, Golden State, and Stanford. Their lone loss was to DeAnza A.
The 14U team placed sixth to qualify while the 12U squad placed seventh. Santa Clara's 18U team missed qualifying for JOs by a single team.
Ken Wattana plays water polo for Palo Alto High and will be a senior there this fall