Cozy Boys, Vanguard Water Polo Big Winners at 2018 Boys Junior Olympics

Vanguard's Nikola Mirkovic after his game winner in 14U. Photo Courtesy: KLC Fotos/Catharyn Hayne

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

PALO ALTO, CA. Three years after Johnny Hooper led his Santa Barbara “Polo Pals” to the 2015 18U title, the “Cozy Boys” of United Water Polo—another all-star team of friends made through various U.S. national team training programs—held on for a 9-7 win Tuesday over Stanford Water Polo Club in the Platinum Final of the 2018 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics.


For Hannes Daube, who kick-started his team with two goals in the first period, it was a last gasp of high school life before beginning a collegiate career at USC this fall.

“It’s all my best buds,” Daube, who spent much of his summer in Europe playing with the U.S. Senior National Team, said after the match. “We came together to play for one final time.”

Head Coach Trevor Wawrzynski, who emerged from a self-imposed retirement to lead the Cozy Boys, was grateful for the opportunity to work with an exceptional group of players.

“This was a players’ team.” Wawrzynski explained. “There were four players who called up their best buddies. It was a tribute to their last Junior Olympics for USA Water Polo.”

“It was an honor [to coach] them; they made it easy to do,” he added.


The scene at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

Not that the Stanford club made it so easy on Wawrzynski’s players at Avery Aquatics Center’s main pool. After romping undefeated through the competition the past three days, the host club stood its ground, much to the delight of a pro-Stanford crowd. Cozy Boys held two-goal leads after the first and second quarters, but then the hometown team came roaring back with two unanswered goals in the third period. When the they opened the fourth with a score to take a 6-5 lead early in the fourth period, the stands erupted.

But Stanford simply could not hold off what was clearly a team of destiny. Matthew Kacura tied the match at the 3:33 mark, and when Jacob Watson and Joseph Molina converted over the next two minutes, the host team’s hopes for an upset were dashed.

Not even a two-man advantage with two minutes left was enough to help Stanford rally from a two-goal deficit, as Sam Utrecht misfired high over Cozy Boy goalie Sam Krutonog.

Nathan Puentes gave the crowd something to cheer about when he converted with a minute left to cut the Cozy Boy lead to one, but a series of misses in the last 40 seconds led to a final score by Michael Graner one second remaining. For his efforts in goal, Krutonog, also USC-bound, was named MVP of the match.

The 18U Platinum final capped off another full day of action at JOs, as a total of 15 winners were crowned in four different age groups comprising three separate levels. The most prolific titlist was Vanguard Water Polo. Out of Huntington Beach, the club founded five years ago by Sasa Branisavljevic and Uros Dzelebdzic, captured a third-straight 12U Platinum title as well as the 14U Platinum crown. The club finished 11th in the 16U Platinum division but—after winning the 2017 18U Platinum title–was third behind Cozy Boys and Stanford this year.


Greenwich goalie with a big save! Photo Courtesy: KLC Fotos/Catharyn Hayne

In explaining his club’s mercurial success the past six seasons, Brian Anderson—Head Coach for the 12 U boys—extolled the club’s values in and out of the water.

“For our kids, it’s just about running the system,” he said following the 12U win. “Every year we have the motto: ‘One team, one heartbeat.’

“We do everything for one another, and everybody’s invested in the system.”

Radunovic, who coached the 14U winners to a thrilling 11-10 win over arch-rival SoCal, echoed his fellow coach’s focus on fundamentals.

“Continuity and focusing on the youngest age groups, putting our best coaches with the young kids—building from bottom to top; that’s the key,” he said.

Not to be outdone, SoCal—Vanguard’s biggest rival in the Southern California polo community—captured the 16U Platinum championship with a 9-6 win over CC United. After the match, the SoCal coach Paden Mitchell affirmed that, despite some suggestions to the contrary, his club remains the country’s best.

“Our team’s got this saying: ‘You put in the effort early, you enjoy later on.’” said Mitchell, still wet 30 minutes after a celebratory leap in the pool. “We put in the work early in that game and we got to enjoy the ending.”

“SoCal is the number one team in the country. We have been for the past seven years—we’ve won the Chairman’s Cup,” he added. “[This was] one of our teams getting back where it belongs, right at the top.”

Not to be overlooked, in the 12U Gold title match, U.S. women’s head coach Adam Krikorian was on the sidelines in perhaps an unfamiliar role; anxious parent. His son Jack’s South Bay United team came back from an early deficit to capture a convincing 12-5 win over American River. The boys from Hawthorne, CA scored nine of the match’s final 10 goals to overcome an American River squad that had beaten them 8-4 the day before.


KLC Fotos/Catharyn Hayne

SBU coach Alex Heck was ecstatic about his team’s success in the rematch.

“This is a personal first for me and a first for our club,” a hoarse Heck said after the match. Then, acknowledging that 12-year-old’s attention spans can be fickle, he added: “It’s constant chaos! I’m sure in 10 minutes they’ll be doing something foolish with their friends.

“But for these few minutes, we’ll enjoy this win.”

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.

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5 years ago

Michael, thanks for the story, well done! The feature photo of a Vanguard player is actually Nikola Mirkovic, not Logan McCarroll. Thanks again !

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