Regional Water Polo Tournament Gives USA Water Polo Extended Reach in the East

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This weekend the Greensboro Aquatic Center will play host to a high-level age group water polo tournament. Photo Courtesy: Eric Gordon

Continuing an expansion effort that has seen increased investments in Texas and Florida, the country’s leading water polo organization is upping its presence in the Southeast. This coming weekend, USA Water Polo is hosting a first-ever ODP (Olympic Development Program) East Regional Tournament at the Greensboro Aquatic Center in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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According to Eric Gordon, head coach and lead administrator of Carolina Water Polo, USA Water Polo’s inaugural age group selection tournament in his state will provide a huge boost for the sport’s profile in North Carolina.

“Greensboro has a very strong aquatics community but many families don’t know much about water polo or consider it when trying sports,” he said via email. “With 22 boys’ and 18 girls’ teams coming to Greensboro, it’s a great opportunity for the community to see how many kids and families are playing polo—and how passionate they are about the sport.”

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Local players get in shape at the GAC. Photo Courtesy: Eric Gordon

Acknowledging that polo’s growth in North Carolina is sure but steady, Gordon added: “It’s taken a few years but we now have a dedicated group of athletes who are training, traveling, competing and enjoying quite a bit of success.”

A national event, athletes from all over the country will take part in three days of competition from Friday, January 11 through Sunday, January 13. Four ODP zones—Great Lakes, Midwest, Northeast and Southeast—will be represented by hundreds of boys and girls born 2005 and later  who will compete in three different age levels including Youth, Cadet and Development.

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Ready for action! Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

For a complete event schedule, click here. Admission is free with competition starting on Friday at 4 p.m. (EST).

John Abdou, USAWP’s Chief High Performance Director, is responsible for ODP. He said that it was no accident that Greensboro, with a spectacular aquatics facility and a great history of swimming success, was his organization’s choice for launching a new tournament.

“We intentionally placed the tournament in North Carolina with the intention of the event helping to foster growth in the area,” Abdou said in response to an email inquiry. “There’s a strong local club led by Eric, and the Greensboro facility is world-class.”

Revealing a bit about exciting possibilities, Abdou pointed out that the Greensboro Aquatic Center (GAC)—which since opening in 2011 has hosted the U.S. Olympic Trials for Synchronized Swimming, the USA Swimming Winter National Championships, the Speedo Winter Junior Championships and the NCAA Division III Men’s & Women’s National Championships—has great hopes for future competitions; Greensboro is one of the cities bidding to host the 2025 FINA World Championships. 

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Coach Gordon on the pool deck. Photo Courtesy: Eric Gordon

By situating this new event on the East Coast, USAWP offers local players an opportunity for high-quality competition without traveling to the opposite coast. Which was another consideration by the USAWP brain-trust.

“That’s the whole point, to get more people excited about water polo in an area that is fertile for the growth of the sport,” Abdou said.

Gordon has been on the front lines of that effort. His club in Greensboro—he also runs programs in Cary and Hillsborough—has to fight for practice time at the GAC, in high demand for all aquatic sports.

“I love that water polo is taking over the Aquatic Center this time,” he said. “We often lose practice time due to swimming and have to scramble for pool time elsewhere.”

“This weekend, water polo gets the VIP treatment and the swim teams have to find an alternative,” Gordon said. “Hopefully, many [swim] athletes will come and watch :)”

Equally exciting; a handful of his young players were selected to represent the Southeast Zone—a first for Carolina Polo—Ethan Park, Ayden Miller and Nick Marciniak.

This success does come with a caveat; Gordon hopes that more of his kids will commit to participating in regional ODP camps and take a shot at high-level play.

“I  wish more of our players could have attended [recent] tryouts in Atlanta and Miami because we have a number of strong players who I think may also have been selected,” he said. “Fortunately,  we have a North Carolina High school aged team in the Cadet division so many of our players will be able to participate.”

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Making the save! Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

In addition to the competition in the pool, USA Water Polo will help position the GAC as a hub for growing the sport in the region. There will be a free Splashball clinic there on Saturday, January 12 from 1 – 2:15 p.m. And, thanks to the generosity of its equipment sponsors and vendors, USAWP will donate additional equipment—all with the goal of enticing young athletes to participate.

Gordon sees these efforts as well as the opportunity to watch high-quality age group polo minutes from home as a boon for the sport.

“Our families will get a chance to see players from all over the East Coast and Midwest and that should inspire them to get more involved in the sport,” he said.

And, in a comment that’s both obvious and true, the Carolina native who has devoted his life to polo added: “The more we grow, the more opportunities there will be.”

2 comments

  1. Connie Sharpe Ruohomaki

    North Carolina. East? I once thought that way when I lived in Nebraska.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Hi Connie:

      Well, this is how USA Water Polo defines its zones—actually, North Carolina is in the Southeast Zone.

      What will REALLY drive you crazy is that, by some definitions, every college NOT in California is considered in “The East.” Maybe I should make a map of that…?!

      Your correspondent