During the last two weekends in July, Orange County hosted the biggest age group water polo tournament in the USA – Junior Olympic Championships. Around 780 teams and 10.000 athletes participated in the tournament, divided into two sessions depending on the age category.
Session 1 (July 22-25)
Laguna Beach water polo squad defeated Huntington Beach (5:3) and won the 10U girls tournament for the second time in a row. Top-seeded Laguna Beach advanced to the finals by beating Vanguard (5:2) in the semis, whereas Huntington Beach overpowered Commerce (5:1). The gold-medal clash saw Huntington Beach lose their lead achieved in the second quarter. Laguna Beach made a comeback, thanks to its defense being on point and brilliant Sofia Umeda who was proclaimed MVP of the tournament. Umeda, Schneider and Jones were in the squad which won gold last year. Huntington Beach’s only scorer was Wilkerson. In the bronze medal game, Vanguard came away with a narrow victory over Commerce Aquatics (6:5).
The final game of the 12U boys tournament started without a pregame announcement of the water polo teams and players. Vanguard won gold after a penalty shootout against Newport Beach (4:4; 3:1) water polo players who were undefeated until the finals. The two teams faced each other the day before when Vanguard boys lost (4:5) and therefore needed two more wins to play for gold. They recorded triumph over Rose Bowl Red and 680 Red, gaining an opportunity for revenge against Newport Beach, which defeated Greenwich in the semifinals. Dodd, Akerstrom and Bettino, as well as goalkeeper Pyle earned revenge and gold for Vanguard. Greenwich Aquatics won bronze after winning by one against 680 Red (8:7).
The 14U boys tournament saw Vanguard team take silver after a loss to Social Black (5:8) in the finals. Rose Bowl Red took bronze medal after a clash with CC United (5:2).
Stanford 16U boys recorded a convincing victory over Trojan Cardinal (10:5) for their second straight gold which they won at their pool. The experience of Sam Untrecht, Jayden Kunwar and Gabe Discipulo, who were a part of the last year’s gold-winning squad, was very significant. As top-seeded, Stanford recorded seven wins and went to the finals due to their unblemished performance. One of the people who contributed to the gold medal is also Coach Colin Mulcahy, who dominated Central Coast Section a decade ago, and played at California afterward. In the semis, Stanford edged 2nd-seeded 680 Red squad (11:5), which failed to win bronze against San Diego Shores (8:7).
In addition, Stanford 18U B team won gold in the Gold division. after recording five wins, including the triumph against South Valley in the semifinal and the CC United Black A in the final. Stanford 14U C team also finished 1st in the Invitational division after winning over HB Blue B team.
Huntington Beach-based Vanguard crushed Santa Barbara Premier boys in the 18U final game (14:7) at the Woollett Aquatics Center. After a close battle in the semis against Regency (11:10), they completely controlled the gold-medal match. This was the second gold at JOs for a majority of Vanguard’s star players, adding to the one from 2013 won as 14U. The top scorer with 4 goals was Zaan, who will soon become a senior, while future UCLA player Osborne found the net 3 times. Aleksandar Petrovic’s team netted 9 goals before their rival managed to score, and had 10:1 at halftime. It included 10 athletes consisting Vanguard squad defeated by Orange Lutheran in its first CIF-SS Division 1 final in November. Furthermore, some of those Orange Lutheran squad members now played for top-seeded Northwood, and Vanguard’s payback was the triumph at JOs on July 24. The bronze medal went to Northwood Red squad which beat Regency (10:7).
Vanguard’s boys won the 12U and 18U tournaments and were runner-ups in the 14U category. In addition, Vanguard’s 10U girls finished 3rd.
Waterpology.com asked Vanguard Aquatics Director and 14U boys’ coach Sasa Branisavljevic to comment on their remarkable performance in the 2017 Junior Olympics:
“I am very happy with Vanguard’s performance at JO’s this year. Humility, hard work.”
Branisavljevic emphasized the very capable coaching staff and a mix of the greatest trooper families as the key element making Vanguard different from the others.
“There usually is a huge disconnect between a desire to win and embracing the process of becoming one of the top teams in the country. All our kids and families are hardworking and are evidently willing to sacrifice more time and energy than all the other kids and parents. Also, I would like to thank Segerstrom HS (Santa Ana YMCA) and HBHS for allowing us to use their pools.”
He praised Nick Graffis and Laura Huynh who are in charge of Vanguard’s 10U squad. Giving that the girls’ program has started recently, winning the 3rd place is a huge success.
“We were not sure whether we are going to field a team a week prior to the JO qualifications deadline. I am extremely proud of our ladies!”
Speaking about Vanguard’s plans for the future, he said:
“We are grooming our boys and girls to become champions. When we come in 1st, 1st, 2nd and 3rd like the case were this year, we are extremely happy and proud but the coaches, kids’ and parent’s effort is always there. Winning is only a byproduct.”
He also summed up his impressions re the 2017 Junior Olympics:
“JOs is becoming a big festival that is drawing more spectators each year. It is great to see the growth in the club scene as they are the only true feeders to all the HS, College, and National Team programs.”
Why does the USA water polo, which has 10.000 athletes at one of the biggest age group contests, lack greater success on the world scene?
“This is a complex issue. When watching the Serbian team play the U.S. team, it seems to me as the Serbian guys are playing like they have everything to lose regardless of how many times they win. U.S. has Ivy league school graduates whose parents are very wealthy and I assume that water polo and the team is not their top priority. I feel that U.S. does not lack talent but it lacks pride and true selfless dedication.”
Session 2 (July 27-30)
Newport Beach won gold in the 10U mixed competition after defeating 680 Red (6 : 5), with SoCal downing Laguna Beach for bronze (4 : 0). 12U Girls saw Laguna Beach take gold with a win over Riverside (5 : 3), and Socal edged SB Premier for bronze after the penalties shootout. The 14U girls gold medal went to Laguna Beach who triumphed over Commerce (10 : 9), whereas Rose Bowl earned bronze beating SB 805 (11 : 5). In 16U Girls Rose Bowl prevailed over Diabolo Alliance (11 : 7) to win gold, while Northwood overpowered SB 805 for bronze after penalties. In the 18U ladies gold medal match, 680 held off SoCal (7 : 6), and bronze went to SB 805 after winning over SET (11 : 9).
See complete results of the 2017 Junior Olympics at the bottom of this page.