A return to the beginning of the journey for Triton locals

Calder Hilde-Jones (12) waiting on defense during the NCAA semifinals.

As Gunn High grad Calder Hilde-Jones walked onto the pool deck at Avery Aquatic Center last week in preparation for the NCAA men's water polo tournament, he could not help but remember his past appearances there.

"I thought about all the times in high school I'd been there," he said after UC San Diego, where Hilde-Jones is a redshirt sophomore utility, dropped a 16-7 decision to host Stanford in the national semifinals. "I thought about the weekend and how I've waited five years for this; how I've dreamed of playing in this tournament."

Before getting to the final weekend, the Tritons first had to win the WWPA tournament at Fresno Pacific, which they did by an 11-10 margin over No. 9 UC Davis.

That led to UC San Diego's opening round meeting with fifth-ranked Long Beach State. Hilde-Jones scored a goal late in the third period to put the Tritons ahead, 9-5, en route to a 14-9 decision over the 49ers and a spot in the semifinals against No. 1 Stanford.

"We know we can compete with anyone," Hilde-Jones said. "Right now it's disappointing but we're going to work hard to come back. We know we're a good team going forward."

The victory over Long Beach State gave the Tritons their first 20-win season in a decade.

Hilde-Jones played for Matt Johnson at Gunn and spent a summer with current Stanford assistant Brendan Johnson with an 18-year-old Junior Olympics team. He's built a lot of memories at the Stanford pool.

UC San Diego redshirt junior goalie Jack Turner, who attended Bellarmine Prep, also felt a wave of memories pass through. He spent four years with the Stanford Foundation water polo club.

"I felt like it was home," Turner said. "It was a lot of fun. I loved every second of it Next year we'll start where we left off. We want to get back to the Final Four."

Turner is one of five all-Western Water Polo Association picks who will return to UC San Diego. Turner, Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt and Skyler Munatones are first team picks. Kacper Langiewicz is a second-team pick and Konstantin Karlov is an all-freshman selection.

Langiewicz and Turnbow-Lindenstadt were also named to the NCAA all-tournament team.

Next season, Sacred Heart Prep grad Alex Nemeth will join Turner and Sam Thompson as goalies for the Tritons.

UC San Diego finished the season ranked 10th nationally and forged a 6-5 mark against top 10 teams over the course of the year.

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