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Vanguard Aquatics boys take gold, two silvers at USA Water Polo Junior Olympics

Vanguard Aquatics celebrates after beating San Diego Shores in the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics 16U title match.
Vanguard Aquatics celebrates after beating San Diego Shores in the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics 16U title match on Tuesday at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The pipeline remains very strong for the Huntington Beach High School boys’ water polo team. Nobody who was at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center on Tuesday could argue that.

On the club side, Huntington Beach-based Vanguard Aquatics put on a show in Session One of the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics.

Vanguard’s 16-and-under boys won gold, defeating San Diego Shores 11-8 in the platinum division title match. Vanguard’s Ryder Dodd and Zach Bettino, who will be a sophomore and junior respectively at Huntington Beach High, earned co-MVP honors.

Vanguard also won two silver medals. The 12-and-under boys lost 10-7 to Del Mar in the platinum title match, while the 18-and-under Black team fell to Bay Area-based CC United by a 13-10 score in the final.

Vanguard Aquatics' Zachary Bettino scores against San Diego Shores during the first half in the 16U title match on Tuesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“Very proud, obviously,” said Sasa Branisavljevic, the head coach for the Vanguard 12U and 18U teams, as well as the Oilers boys’ water polo team. “We’re soaking it in, enjoying the moment. The work is coming to fruition, right? [I’m] stoked.”

Dodd scored five goals in the 16U final, and Bettino, a left-hander, added four goals for Vanguard. Ethan Spoon and Finneas “Tas” Palcza added one goal each.

Vanguard had six players — Dodd, Bettino, Spoon, Palcza, Christian Hammonds and goalkeeper Jay Pyle — who played on both the 16U and 18U squads.

Vanguard Aquatics goalkeeper Jay Pyle makes a save against San Diego Shores in the 16U title match on Tuesday.
Vanguard Aquatics goalkeeper Jay Pyle makes a save against San Diego Shores during the first half in the 16U title match on Tuesday at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Hammonds had a team-best three steals and Pyle made 15 saves for the Vanguard 16U boys, who stormed to a 7-0 lead in the first half of the title match. San Diego Shores cut the deficit to three goals but could not get closer.

“Our upperclassmen are super-enthusiastic of our teamwork,” said Palcza, an incoming sophomore at Huntington Beach High. “We’ve been pushing it together the entire year. It was relentless work, no matter what.”

Vanguard Aquatics poses with the championship trophy after beating San Diego Shores in the Junior Olympics 16U title match.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Vanguard 12s, 18s take silver: The Vanguard 12-and-under boys lost to Del Mar in the title match, their first defeat of the tournament.

Brooklyn Vega led Vanguard with four goals and three steals. Asa Chen, Legend Cornell and Aiden Gonzales also scored for Vanguard, while Daniel Constandse also had three steals.

Goalkeeper Morgan Crichton made 11 saves for Vanguard.

The 12U boys fell behind 5-1 at halftime but played better in the second half.

“We had a good attitude and played as hard as we could every time,” Crichton said. “We could have kept up with them, but a lot of the time when we’re down, our team shuts down. If we can learn to keep our heads up high the whole game, we can get them next time.”

Vanguard Aquatics' Brooklyn Vega scores a penalty goal against Del Mar during the second half in the 12U title match.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Del Mar goalkeeper Luke Anderson earned MVP honors and Jett Taylor scored a game-high five goals for the winners.

Meanwhile, Vanguard’s 18U boys led much of the contest against CC United, but they were outscored 6-2 in the second half.

UCLA-bound left-hander Ethan Crooks led Vanguard with four goals, while Tyler Padua, bound for UC Irvine, scored twice. James Rozolis-Hill, Nikola Mirkovic, Matthew Morgan and Chase Dodd scored one goal each, while goalkeeper Gabriel Haddad made 11 saves.

“We ran out of steam, but we showed heart,” Branisavljevic said. “I mean, the entire tournament, for all the other teams that we beat we gave up 5.5 goals. In this last one, we gave up 13, so good job to CCU. They found a way to beat us.”

Branisavljevic credited his graduating seniors for sticking around. The Oilers were believed to be one of the favorites to win the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title this season, but the coronavirus pandemic restricted them to a three-week season with no playoffs.

“We were able to just keep our heads down and retain motivation, look forward to this JO’s, look forward to league,” he said. “That’s why I’m so proud of us.”

CC United goalkeeper West Temkin, who made 11 saves in the final, earned MVP honors.

Vanguard’s 18U Red team, composed of Mater Dei High players, also found its way to the podium and took bronze.

Session Two of the Junior Olympics, which features all of the girls’ divisions and two mixed divisions, starts Thursday.

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