2019 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics: Select Quotes

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The USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics have turned fifty! Photo Courtesy: Everardo Luna

2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics. In its half century lifespan, the tournament has evolved from a regional novelty to a national behemoth. over two weekends last month, almost 900 boys’ and girls’ teams played hundreds of games in the balmy climate of Southern California.

usawp-jos-50-logoSwimming World checked in with select individuals who either are or have participated in what has become the world’s largest polo tournament—and one of the largest youth sporting events anywhere. A key consideration for each of those we spoke with is the extensive history all have enjoyed with JOs as players, coaches or administrators.

First and foremost, following is a brief accounting of this year’s JOs from Chris Ramsey, USA Water Polo’s CEO:

People always ask us about California vs. non-California: this year, membership growth in California is 1%; membership growth outside of California is 14%. Junior Olympics is fascinating because in the past, we used to give zones from other parts of the country their slots back [and] they were picked up by the bigger zones in California. That is no longer the case; every zone is filling every slot.

From the Mountain Zone in Nevada to Oregon, to Illinois to the Northeast zone—everyone’s using all their slots. That just shows you JOs are truly becoming a national event.

***

Bruce-Wigo

Bruce Wigo. Photo Courtesy: ISHOF

Historically, the first “open” Jr. Olympics were held at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1992 [in Fort Lauderdale, Florida]. Prior to that, there were qualifiers; the number of teams allowed was limited to approximately 50 teams total. The JOs of 1992 had almost 200 teams and they were held at the same time as the Barcelona Olympic Games.

 

The NBC “Triple Cast” made it possible for the athletes to watch all games as they were being played in the ISHOF auditorium, where there were also food stands and video game consoles, like Pacman.

Bruce Wigo, Trustee
International Swimming Hall of Fame
Former Executive Director, United States Water Polo

***

I have two fond memories of Junior Olympics. My first trip in an airplane was in 1972, as my high school team flew to Fremont, Nebraska, where the event was being held that summer.

[On The Record with Dan Sharadin, CWPA Commissioner]

The other was having the privilege of coaching the 17U boys (age class at the time) to a National Championship. All the difficult work had been done previously by Mike Schofield (Annapolis/U. S. Naval Academy coach) and Lloyd Robinson (Iona coach), as they had trained the team throughout the preceding spring. Due to their scheduling conflicts, I had the opportunity to fill in on deck and enjoy the culmination of their efforts. Two notable kids from that team went on to enjoy Olympic success: Brad Schumacher in swimming and water polo and Wolf Wigo, who served as captain and played in three Olympic games.

Daniel Sharadin, Commissioner
Collegiate Water Polo Association

***

if I was limited to one story  related to the Junior Olympics it would be this one…. even though it occurred the weekend before the 1990 JO’s.

As has been well documented, that group of boys from Annapolis was actually a Zone team before Zone teams were a thing. It was a cooperative effort between the top clubs & coaches in the Northeast. Dan Sharadin coached the group at the Junior Olympics, I had them the weekend before at the Villa Park tournament, then left to coach the Naval Academy team elsewhere. At Villa Park, most of  the top JO teams were also entered.

This was a very motivated group of athletes who had invested several years of extra training, competition, and their parents’ money to try and duplicate the type of competition schedule of the top California teams. We all had a chip on our shoulders and went out there to make a statement.

[On The Record with Mike Schofield, Legendary Navy Water Polo Coach Turned Referee]

Anyhow, we played really well at Villa Park and ended up in the championship game on Sunday afternoon against Newport Harbor, coached by the late, great Bill Barnett. At the time, I knew Bill a little bit, but not well. (He was also the U.S. Olympic Coach at the time and needed no introduction)

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Mike Schofield at Navy. Photo Courtesy: Phil Hoffmann

After we won our semi-final game, Coach Barnett approached me and said “Coach Schofield, I have a conflict- we’re playing you guys this afternoon in the final, but I also have to be at Newport Harbor High School an hour later to coach the USA vs Russia game. Would you be willing to do us a favor and play at Newport Harbor? We’ll promote it as the preliminary game right before we play the Russians”. Needless to say, we jumped on that offer immediately. In his typical low key, humble way, Coach Barnett offered our team a once in a lifetime opportunity and made it sound like we’d be doing him a favor.

[Passages: Bill Barnett, Former Olympic Men’s Water Polo Coach, Passes Away at 76]

The game with Newport and the subsequent USA – Russia event was an unforgettable experience for us, Coach Barnett became a lifelong friend and mentor, starred at our Navy camp for 20 years, and brought a USA vs. Italy game to the Naval Academy in 1991.

By the way, final score was Annapolis 8 Newport 5. and USA over Russia!

Mike Schofield, Collegiate Water Polo Association Referee
Former Head Coach, The Naval Academy; all-time winningest coach in Navy history

***

I would have to say my most memorable moment was in the summer of 2011 when our 18 U girls were playing Stanford and in the last few seconds of the first half of a game we were tied, they used most of the clock wisely, took a shot, Ashleigh Johnson made a great save, her sister Chelsea was up on a counterattack and drew the attention of the opposing goalie.

Ashleigh moved out to about 3 meters out of her goal, pumped fake a pass to her sister and shot a bar down full court goal to go into half time up by one. We were able to hold that lead and advance.

[On The Record with Carroll Vaughan, Head Coach for Gulliver Prep and Miami Riptides Water Polo]

Carroll Vaughan, Head Boys and Girls Water Polo Coach
Gulliver Preparatory School

***

I played for a long time and I loved it, JOs is a fantastic tournament—it’s the biggest of the year and biggest in the world. Kids have a great time here, and like my team, a lot of kids who might not have opportunities to travel with their own clubs are able to combine and come to JOs. For many of them it’s their first experience traveling out of state and they have fun and learn a lot.

We play in some tough games and we learn from those.

I’m from Utah and we made an all-star team and practiced a few months [to prepare]. We did well competitively but mostly it was fun to be with my friends, playing games and going to the beach.

As a coach, two years ago I was coaching the 16U girls and we ended up playing a Lamorinda, a team coached by my college roommate. I went to the University of the Pacific and played water polo and my roommate was Lance Morrison. He ended up coaching against me on the other side and the game went to a shootout. It was really intense. We ended up losing, but for me just to coach against a former teammate. Both teams played really well and it was a lot of fun.

Adam Huff, 14U coach
Vegas Water Polo Club
Head Coach, Murray High School, Salt Lake City, Utah

***

USA Water Polo - Tony Azevedo Retirement

John Abdou (right) with Tony Azevodo. Photo Courtesy: Jeff Cable

For me it’s been about 25 years. I first tried to qualify for Junior Olympics at the age of 15. I played for the Rose Bowl club. I’ve seen [the tournament] evolve over 25 years and the number one thing that we are proud of—what I think about when I see this tournament—is the geographic diversity that’s reflected here. What you’re seeing is, there’s a reason for people to be playing water polo and starting clubs anywhere in the country so they can come to an event like this.

That’s what I’m most excited about and I love seeing and running into teams literally from every part of this country playing water polo. This is their carrot, this is their summer; it’s what they train for.

[Catching up with USA Water Polo’s John Abdou]

John Abdou, Chief High Performance Director
USA Water Polo

***

My first JOs were in South Bend, Indiana, which is where my father went to college—he’s a Notre Dame guy. There’s a healthy distaste in the family for SC [Laughs]. One team from every area went, so you had to win the Northern California part to get to JOs. From California it was us, Clovis and Newport from down south. There were three teams from California that went. JOs had a really good team from St. Louis—that was the top four; the three teams from California and that St. Louis team that was really good.

I remember having a great time, staying in the dorms, summer thunderstorms, indoor pool, great competition. It sparked a love for the sport in me.

– The scale of JOs makes it impossible for the it to be staged outside of California but should this tournament be more portable?

For sure. You’re going to give up something in sheer numbers of pools if you want it to be this big. They do a pretty good job starting big and then creating smaller tournaments within as teams are weeded out. And the kids get competitive in their own little world. You play yourself into your world and now it’s competitive. You try to be the best team that you can be in your pocket of six or eight or ten.

[Catching up with Cal Water Polo’s Kirk Everist]

With this many teams, it’s gonna be hard—I don’t know what pool situations are in Orlando or someplace like that. I’m sure there are places where there are a lot of water. Whether or not the quality California teams would travel—I think they would if it was an anomaly—but you’re not going to get a “B” or a “C” or “D” team.

You lose something and I don’t know how you fix that. It’s a Herculean task to organize this thing, and [the organizers] do a good job of making it easy for people to get around. I’ve enjoyed it.

Kirk Everist, Head Men’s Coach
University of California at Berkeley
Olympian; five-time national champion—two as a player 1987, 1988; two as a coach 2006, 2007, 2017.

***

I did play for the only girls’ team on the East Coast at Navy, so I played under Mike Scofield—he was our coach back in the day. [My first JOs] was down in Fort Lauderdale at the Hall of Fame Pool—I think in might have been 1992—that one year with Wolf Wigo, I don’t know.

I’m still good friends with most of my teammates to this day. Serela Kay is the Santa Barbara coach. Cat Von Schwartz who’s also a National League coach—all these women who are still part of water polo were my teammates when I was 15 years old.

[Greenwich Local Makes Youth Water Polo Grow]

I still keep in touch with them all because of that Navy club team—the only girls’ team on the East Coast at that time.

Kim Tierney-Wang, Director
Greenwich Aquatics

***

Probably my biggest memory as a player—my club team, Beach Water Polo, didn’t participate in the JOs, so I played with Socal. Back at the time I want to say it was only 12 teams that made the JO tournament. The one that I remember most [it] was in Fort Lauderdale. It was so hard just to get there. It was especially difficult, in our zone, just to qualify. We happened to be really successful at the JOs and we won [that year]. What I remember was just making the tournament was a win in itself.

All these years later we see where this has evolved—it’s now the world’s largest water polo tournament—and that’s really important because we’re providing an experience for every kid no matter their level, when they started, where they’re clubs from.

UCLA Athletics - 2019 UCLA Women's Water Polo versus the University of Pacific Tigers, Sunset Recreational Center, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA. March 29th, 2019 Copyright Don Liebig/ASUCLA 190329_WWP_0149.NEF

UCLA’s Adam Wright. Photo Courtesy: Don Liebig

It’s very interesting on two different parts; it used to be such a small, niche tournament where you really had to be the best in your zone to [qualify]. Now it’s grown to what it is today.

[Five Questions for Adam Wright, UCLA Men’s and Women’s Water Polo Coach]

I believe every kid leaves here with a memory and that’s what’s most important—and that they stay with the sport of water polo.

I did coach in JOs; it’s a grind. I have a lot of respect for the Junior Olympics coaches—a lot of them are volunteers and parents and people who weren’t involved in water polo. I hope everyone understands the investment they’re putting into their kids. That’s the most important thing; not a championship but the experience the coaches are providing for every kid.

Adam Wright, head men’s and women’s coach
UCLA
Olympian; silver medalist in 2008; five-time national champion—1999 and 2000 as a player; 2014, 2015 and 2017 as a coach

***

Like we talked about last year, it’s water polo Christmas, so the celebration to come here—Trey’s [Doten’s son plays for Davis Water Polo Club] done at 7 a.m. but we’re camped here ready to watch all the games with a lot of friends and we’re going to see the kids play. We just love the whole celebration of the sport.

Fifty years—what an amazing platform; I guess 30-something years ago I was in it. And it seems to me that more and more teams, and new teams from regions, like North Carolina, that I’ve never seen before—that’s awesome!

– Overlap of 50 Years of NCAAs and 50 Years of JOs:

I do think there’s correlations. During my days in college [NCAAs] was an eight-team tournament. It then went down to a four-team and [that] hurt us at the Olympic level. To see it back with those play-in games and to see the tournament’s growth—hopefully that correlation will mean good things when we get to the highest level. It’s important that people realize that this grass roots effort and build it from the beginning is how we make that work.

[2018 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics: Day Two: Water Polo Christmas]

All boats rise together and there couldn’t be a better analogy about this [than] water polo. If we can keep this growth—and USA Water Polo’s doing a great job—I would think we’ll be successful at the highest levels again.

Steve Doten, Commissioner
The Western Water Polo Association
Former head coach, UC Davis men’s water polo

***

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Brett Lathrope. Photo Courtesy: UCLA Athletics / Eman Baha

JOs are great, it was always the summer tournament that everyone looked forward to. It’s something that you train for all year round. It was always super fun and there were always those great backdoors in the tournament that was really exciting.

I was fortunate to play with a really good, well-balanced club team—Lamorinda—and we had a few years where we made the finals but we always lost to Socal; they were a powerhouse back then. It was basically our Miramonte High School team with a few kids from Orinda.

[Five Questions for Bret Lathrope, New MIT Men’s Water Polo Coach]

Brett Lathrope
Assistant Coach, UCLA; 2019 Northeastern Water Polo Conference Coach of the Year