Earning the only medal for the Stanford Water Polo Club didn't earn head coach Clarke Weatherspoon a dunking from his 14A team on Tuesday on the final day of the boys' National Junior Olympics at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center.
"Only when you win," Weatherspoon said of the ritual dunking.
Weatherspoon and his squad settled for the bronze medal after dunking 680 Red A of Danville, 10-4, in the third-place match of the Platinum Division at Belardi Pool. Stanford finished 6-2 during four days of competition in what is billed as the world's largest water polo tournament, with 10,000 athletes (boys and girls) and 600 teams competing over eight days.
Stanford's only losses came to the finalists, Vanguard Blue and SHAQ. Vanguard Blue won the title in a shootout after handing Stanford a 10-2 loss in the semifinals.
"If you're going to lose two games, that's how you want it to happen," said Weatherspoon. "That's what I told the kids. In a four-day tournament like this, anything can happen."
Weatherspoon was impressed with how his team handled the pressure after losing two key players to injury, a starter three weeks ago and a top reserve just last Wednesday.
"You don't know how a group will respond to that," Weatherspoon said. "They did a really nice job. This said a lot about our kids. We've been a top-five team all year and performed at that level all summer."
Thus, a third-place finish was something to be proud of.
"It's definitely gratifying," Weatherspoon said. "You never assume your team will place in anything. You just hope the execution comes at the right time, and this group executed a lot throughout the tournament."
The key to Stanford's success was its defense.
"They always say that defense wins championships," Weatherspoon said. "We played great defense the whole tournament. Our goalie (Alexander Nemeth) is a great player."
Weatherspoon also singled out Nik Caryotakis, Alex Tsotadze and Andrew Churukian as key figures among the team's successful JO effort. Churukian had six goals in the third-place match.
While the 14A team was the only Stanford WPC squad to medal, the club had five teams finish among the top 12 in the Platinum Division. No other team in the nation accomplished that, according to program director Jon Barnea.
"Five teams in the top 12 is an amazing accomplishment," Barnea said. "It's a great showing."
The Stanford 18A team finished 5-3 and in fourth after dropping a shootout to Orange County on Tuesday in Belardi Pool. The 16A team (6-3) took fifth following a 9-8 win over 680 Red A at Sacred Heart Prep. The Stanford 12A squad (4-4) finished 10th after falling to Irvine Kahuna, 7-3, at Wilcox High and the 14B team (3-5) took 12th after dropping a 14-7 division to Foothill Red.
The Stanford 18B team (3-6) finished fourth in the Gold Division of the Championship bracket after dropping a 15-5 decision to Newport Beach at Sacred Heart Prep. The 16B squad (5-3) competed in the Classic Division and was seventh while the 14C squad (3-6) was eighth in the Gold Division of the Championship bracket.
The Stanford 18A squad just missed on its shot at a bronze medal in its 10.3-10.2 shootout loss to Orange County. Stanford trailed by 10-6 in the fourth quarter before Max Somple and Michael Swart each scored twice, with Swart's final goal tying the match at 10 with 1:44 left to play.
Each team missed a scoring opportunity in the final moments before Stanford controlled. Head coach Colin Mello called time with 11 seconds left, but Stanford could not get off a final shot and the game went to a shootout. Five players from each team alternated shots. Stanford had its first two shots blocked before Will Conner and Somple made theirs. After Stanford goalie Jack Turner came up with a stop, Stanford's Harrison Enright had a shot to tie, but was blocked.
"That last game was a roller-coaster," said Mello. "Losing a shootout is tough because you want to end it playing water polo. But, the fact we came back and made a game of it, finishing fourth is certainly nothing to be ashamed of."
Stanford missed out on playing in the title game after dropping a 13-12 decision to Regency in the semifinals. Regency is primarily comprised of players from SoCal power Mater Dei High. Regency went on to win the gold medal with a shootout win over LA Premier, which handed Stanford a 13-8 loss on Monday.
"We had Regency on the ropes and were up 4-5 goals," Mello explained of the semifinal. "But we just kind of lost it in the end. Both the championship match and third-place match were decided by shootouts.
"I would have liked to seen the boys get a medal . . . but, we just didn't get it done."
Stanford played without Menlo School senior Nick Bisconti, who is playing with the U.S. Youth National Team in the FINA Youth World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. That event begins Saturday. Stanford also missed Menlo-Atherton senior John Knox, who battled a wrist injury throughout the tourney. The injury was too painful on Monday, forcing Mello to sideline him for Tuesday's final two matches.
"They were both significant contributors," Mello said. "In fact, they all were. All of them are all-stars, losing anyone is significant."
As Mello said, there is little room for error in a tournament of this magnitude.
"What I learned is how hard it is to perform in this tournament and how hard it is to medal, and win," he said. "It's four days of high-intensity games. You can't afford to skip up, and we really didn't."
The Stanford 16A team got the game-winning goal from Finn Banks with under a minute remaining. Stanford had taken an 8-6 lead on goals by Chris Xi and Christian Znidarsic before 680 Red A rallied to tie. Goalie Benoit Viollier was a standout for the winners.
Also competing in the boys' tourney was the Mid-Peninsula Water Polo Club 16A squad, which had to settle for a fourth-place finish and 4-3 record after a hard-fought 15-14 loss to South Coast Red (of Thousand Oaks) on Tuesday at Hillsdale High.
Tied at 4 after one period, South Coast took a 9-8 lead into halftime and led by 11-10 after three quarters. South Coast twice extended to a three-goal lead in the fourth period before back-to-back scores by Alec Berquist and Jorge Pont narrowed the gap for Mid-Peninsula, and Christian Huhn answered a SC goal with :23 remaining in the game.
South Coast tried to run out the clock, but was thwarted by Berquist's steal setting up a possible tying goal, but leading scorer Mostyn Fero's backhand at the buzzer was just wide. Fero's five goals paced Mid-Pen, which is made up of Menlo-Atherton sophomores and juniors. Huhn added four, while Alex Hakanson and Pont finished with two each. Goalies Jackson Goudey and Cameron Raff combined for six blocked shots.
Head coach Giovanni Napolitano's team entered the tourney as the No. 14 seed, while South Coast, which Mid-Pen beat on Sunday, was the No. 3 seed in the division.
The girls' four-day tournament will get under way on Thursday, with finals scheduled for Avery Aquatic Center on Sunday.