The Stanford 16U boys water polo team celebrated a championship two years in the making. Most of the A team coached by Jamie Frank were playing for Clarke Weatherspoon at the 14U level, a team that lost in the national semifinals and came back to place third in the 2014 USA Junior Olympics, also at Stanford.
"Nobody likes losing in the semifinals," Menlo School sophomore Sam Untrecht said. "It's early morning and you have to be ready to play. This morning, we came out and and said 'Let's do it!' We were so pumped. We were all ready to play."
Stanford's shootout victory over SoCal Black, 7(4)-7(2), at 7 a.m. Tuesday set up a national title match with Sleepy Hollow Aquatics (SHAQ), a program based in Marin County, Tuesday afternoon at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center.
A third-period offensive outburst turned a thriller into a lop-sided, 13-7, victory for Stanford and the celebration began as the time expired.
"We trained all year long to get to this moment," Untrecht said. "Our high school season, our club season, water polo has been our summer. It all paid off."
Last year's 16U team finished 11th in Irvine while the 14U team won the national title. Untrecht was on that team, though he was on the B team two years ago. Untrecht and fellow Menlo student Jayden Kunwar are two of the handful of 16U players who won consecutive national titles.
"They were helpful," Menlo-Atherton junior Nikolas Caryotakis said. "They've been through all this and they knew what had to be done. I cannot imagine playing in front of a crowd like this. I was talking with Jayden and he just said, 'it's going to be great.' "
A total of 13 players were on the 14U team that finished third. This championship more than alleviated the memory of that setback.
"They worked hard and everybody contributed in there own way," Frank said. "This is all them. I couldn't be prouder of these guys."
Frank, in his fourth year at the 16U level and third as head coach, also credited coaches Colin Mulcahy and Brandon Johnson for their contributions. Caryotakis was named the tournament MVP.
"He doesn't stand out but he does all the little things that help everybody else," Frank said. "He's one of the best defenders I've ever coached. He's a rock in the middle."
Caryotakis became a defensive specialist almost of necessity. He started playing at age nine and was always up against bigger guys. He joined Stanford's club team in the sixth grade, without knowing many people. In soccer he was the center back or goalie and in basketball was known as a shot blocker.
"It all comes down to playing as a team," he said. "The team goal has always been about defense. If I can be a rock, it helps others."
With dozens of college coaches on hand, Stanford players showed their mettle.
"This is a big moment for the entire team," Untrecht said. "We all know what we are capable of accomplishing."
Frank said he would not be surprised to see all his players at the college level. "You can see it in their attitude and their willingness to work hard," he said.
Sacred Heart Prep junior Andrew Churukian and Alex Tsotadze each scored four goals to lead the offensive output. Kunwar, Untrecht, Caryotakis, Sacred Heart Prep's Corey Tanis and Gabe Discipulo also scored.
Goalie Anthony Rethans recorded 11 saves and continued his wizardry in the net by seemingly blocking shots out of thin air. Alexander Nemeth spent most of the second half of Monday's qualifying win over CC United in the net, helping Rethans stay fresh for the finale.
Hunter Barnett, Nike Bhatia, Miller Geschke, Nathan Puentes, Luke Rohlen and Michael Sonsini each had their moments.
Stanford took a 6-5 lead into halftime and then scored the first five goals of the second half to take control of the contest.
The Stanford 16U B team beat Vanguard Blue A, 11-7, to finish 17th in the championship bracket and Stanford C beat HB Orange, 6-3, to finish seventh at the Classic level. The Stanford D team finished sixth in the invitational division.
The Stanford 18U A team finished 17th after beating Lamorinda, 11-8, on Tuesday and the Stanford B team won the title of the Classic division, edging the Redlands Renegades, 7-6, in the final the 18U B's lost their first match and then won seven in a row to claim the title.
At the 12U level, Stanford A was fifth and Stanford B 15th at the championship level. The A team beat Newport Beach, 8-4, and the B team topped Royal 559 Black, 16-5. The 12U C team beat Santa Barbara Premier, 9-2, to finish seventh at the Classic level.