2018 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics Day Six: Select Quotes

2018 Junior Olympics action for SET Water Polo Club. Photo Courtesy: Jeff Kuecker

Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

APTOS, CA. 2018 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics play at the Cabrillo College pool began at 7 a.m. on Friday, but Lee and Kristi Lapel of Huntington Beach they got a much earlier start than most families; after driving 350 miles they and their daughter Karly spent the night in their Artic Fox RV parked in a lot right next to the pool.


A compilation of quotes for Day Six of JOs begins with the Lapels and their extreme passion for polo. Swimming World also spoke with Rob Hagerty, a veteran coach with SET Water Polo Club, Bella Gonzalez, a young coach for L.A. Premier Water Polo Club, and Catharyn Hayne of KLC Photos, who is providing blanket coverage of all sites and games at the 2018 Junior Olympics.

Kristi Lapel explained that one person per team often has an RV as a “portable clubhouse” for players in between games, an inspired way to support their athletes.

In California the distances between tournaments can be vast; according to Lee Lapel, the roads are not the issue, it’s the trees he looks out for.

“I’m freaked out about trees the whole time! I tell Kristi to look out for the road,” Lee said.


Kristi and Lee Lapel. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

Their daughter’s Huntington Beach club has won four of seven matches and is playing for as high as 13th place on Sunday. It’s likely that the Lapels—and their RV—will be parked right outside the Ohlone College pool where much of the action for the 14U classic division will take place today.

For Kristi, the JO’s are comprehensive.

“The whole experience, being here, being together, being part of the team… seeing and enjoying where we are,” she said.

Moving to the Cabrillo pool, Rob Hagerty, Coach for SET 14U, spoke with Swimming World immediately following a match in which his club blew a 5-2 lead with minutes left in the fourth quarter, then lost in a shootout to L.A. Premier.

– It’s always disappointing to lose a fourth quarter lead, and it’s especially tough to drop a shootout decision. What do you say to your players after such a difficult loss?

My message is: at this level it’s the fundamentals. And, worrying about what the referees are going to call, rather than just playing through it. It’s a lesson that they’ve all got to learn.

– SET is one of the premier clubs in the Southern California polo community. How has it been to work for them?

I’ve been here eight years now. I guess you could say I’m a veteran at this. I always enjoy it, and it’s about the girls’ development.


Photo Courtesy: Jeff Kuecker

For me, I enjoy not just the competition, but teaching the game. I really enjoy the fundamentals and the development side.

– Earlier, Elektra Urbatsch, who’s playing with a club out of Brooklyn, said hello to you and all the girls on your team.

She’s really come on from last year. Brad Schumacher [SET’s director], who does clinics all over the country, ran into her at a clinic [at Princeton, NJ]. At the time she didn’t have a team to play on, and Elektra made a commitment last year to [come West and] play a couple of tournaments and JOs with us.

We embrace that. It’s good for the growth of water polo throughout the country that she came and played with us and formed a bond. She’s still friends with, and stays in communication with [our players]. Also, she came out earlier this summer to train with us, even though she’s playing with Brooklyn now.

She’s a great kid—and probably grew six inches since last year! She’s really improved.

– What’s great about the JO experience is you make friendships for life.

It’s a wonderful sport, and the more it grabs on with the rest of the country, the better for everybody.

The LA Premier 14U girls team that SET lost to was coached by Bella Gonzalez. Her team had a great win, and her goalie—all 5-0 of her—was a difference maker in the shootout, stopping all of the SET attempts.


Elektra Urbatsch. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

– Today you got a great performance from your team and your goalie.

Yathea Pines is a great 14U for us. She’s been a goalie the whole time she’s been with our club. Her energy was consistent throughout the game.

We had two really good time-out plays that brought us even and into a shootout. I felt very comfortable having Thea in the cage for that. We are a younger 14U team, and some of our girls really stepped up! it’s definitely a good win because we lost a close one this morning [7-5 to Poway]. It was great to end the day with a shootout win.

– These are young players; how do they—and you—deal with the challenges of playing a sport like water polo?

Growing up as young girl, and the girls I coach now, you deal a lot with what to let go of during the game. It was close throughout three quarters, then we went down a couple of goals. But, we were able to forget about what happened and think: It’s 5-2, but let’s look at it as 0-0. Some girls let it go; others they cope with [mistakes] they made earlier in the game.

As a player, it’s important to move on and to re-evaluate after that game has passed. If it’s some kind of major goal mistake you want to react right away. What my team did really well is we didn’t let the momentum of the other team affect how we were continuing to move forward.

– What’s your background in the sport?

I started playing polo when I was 11 and played all through college. I played high school water polo in Los Angeles and then I ended up at Berkeley and played for the NCAA team then switched over to the CWPA [Berkley club team] where I won a collegiate national championship.

I’ve played many different levels with women’s water polo, so after graduating high school, I returned home from college and got involved with coaching. I’m now 24 and water polo has been in my life for 14 years.

– I’ve heard that one of your players is coming East to play in Brooklyn! What can you tell me about Juno Aselton, who’s currently competing in the 12U Classic bracket for LA Premier.

We’re very upset to lose Juno. She’s a great girl with wonderful energy. Having her in New York to show what Southern California water polo is all about is a great opportunity for her to teach her teammates but also any Brooklyn teammates to teach her.


Photo Courtesy: (c)Catharyn Hayne

It’s exciting that the sport’s growing in New York, and to have this mix of different styles of play, and to learn from one another is great.

We have a girl from Chicago on our 18U who stayed with us this summer. She’s been living with one of our high school families. Having that variety, realizing how different things are done, and seeing that water polo is growing in Chicago and New York is super exciting.

On the pool deck documenting the experience of JOs was Catharyn Hayne, photographer extraordinaire. Hayne graciously took time out of her hectic schedule organizing a crew of photographers who have fanned out to numerous pools across the San Jose region.

– When it comes to covering this tournament, you have been all over the Bay Area, traveling from site to site to site, ensuring that all teams and games have photo documentation. What stands out thus far about the 2018 JOs?

For me it’s that I get to see kids at every level. I love seeing the championship games of course because it’s riveting, fantastic polo, but also seeing the 10Us in the pool having fun—maybe not understanding that they’re at JOs. They’re having the best time, and that makes it so much fun to shoot!

I also like covering every single bracket. At the Invitational level, some of these kids just barely made it in, and they’re so excited to be here. I want to document that as well as the championships, because those athletes are just as amazing, but in a different way.


Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

It’s really fun to feel all that emotion and excitement.

– In terms of competition—between East and West, North and South—what in particular stands out?

It’s a different way of shooting between the men and the women. What’s appealing about shooting girls is that there’s a lot more giggling at the exciting moments. It’s a different energy level, but both really fun to shoot.

It’s almost a different way of thinking this time around.

– You and USA Water Polo have a system up, so that you can cover every single site. Given all the games and pools and teams, how is that even possible?

We look to match requests [from parents for photos] as best we can. On championship day we have a minimum of three photographers at the main pool. Then we look to bring in anyone else who’s available.


Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

We’ve got a really talented crew. Some people are coming in on their days off to shoot maybe one day. Some people will work the entire tournament; some will only shoot Session One.

We do spread out as we can; sometimes we might have someone in the East Bay covering five pools. We have spread sheets and split it all up by team—who’s where and who can get there.

We try to make it work as best we can!

Editor’s Note: Swimming World is on the ground all week with stories and quotes from the 2018 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics. Look for our coverage of the largest youth water polo tournament in the world. If you want to tune into all the action at Stanford’s Avery Aquatics Center, check out FloSwimming’s link to the tournament; for pictures from various JO sites, visit this link for KLC photos.