Local girls dominate at USA Water Polo Junior Olympics
They came, they saw and they definitely conquered.
Nearly every platinum division title at Session Two of the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics, completed Sunday at Stanford University, was won by a local club or a club featuring local players.
Six local players helped SOCAL Black capture the 18-and-under title, while the SET 16-and-under girls, with all but five of their players from Laguna Beach High, also won the crown.
Pacific Coast Riptide, based in Huntington Beach, won the 14U girls’ title, while the Laguna Beach Water Polo Foundation repeated as 12U girls’ champion. The 10U co-ed division was won by Vanguard Aquatics, based in Huntington Beach.
Corona del Mar High graduate Erin Tharp, a goalkeeper, and Newport Harbor graduate Jessica Lynch both contributed for SOCAL Black, as did keeper Marley Presiado, a Mater Dei graduate and Newport Beach resident. Newport Harbor incoming seniors Kili Skibby, Annie Rankin and Linnea Kelly also aided SOCAL Black, which defeated Bay Area-based 680 Drivers 8-5 in the final.
“It felt amazing,” the USC-bound Tharp said in a text message. “Ever since my first JOs, I have had the goal to win at least once, and to finally do it on my last one felt great! My team played amazing and I think we really played as a team the entire tournament.”
SOCAL Black defeated SET in an intense shootout in the semifinals. SET had several recent Laguna Beach High graduates, plus Tharp’s former CdM teammates Chloe Harbilas and Sophie Wallace, on its roster.
Ever since my first JOs, I have had the goal to win at least once, and to finally do it on my last one felt great!
Erin Tharp, SOCAL Black goalkeeper
“We had played SET at least four times this summer and they have always put up a fight,” Tharp said. “Going into the semis, [SOCAL coach] Andrew [Rowe] had told us to give it all we had and leave it all in the pool. I think that really stuck with us since it was our last tournament playing together before going off to college.”
SET did capture the 16-and-under division, with a 7-6 win over Santa Barbara 805 in the title match. Goalkeeper Quinn Winter, an incoming senior at Laguna Beach High, was the tournament MVP.
“She played as a complete leader, outside and inside of the pool,” said incoming sophomore Nicole Struss, one of the other Breakers on the team along with Molly Renner, Rachael Carver, Emma Singer, Grace Houlahan, Morgan Van Alphen, Kenedy Corlett, Jessie Rose and Emma Lineback.
The Laguna Beach players on the winning SET team were a mixture of Breakers varsity and junior varsity players from last year.
Zoe Seaboch won MVP honors in the 14-and-under division for Pacific Coast Riptide, which beat Laguna Beach 9-4 in the final. But the Laguna Beach 12-and-under girls repeated as champions, beating Commerce 9-7 for gold.
Tournament MVP Emerson Hensley, a center defender, led the way for Laguna Beach. Coach Kelcie Ferreira said that there were three holdovers from last year’s team, Ava Knepper, Claire Turner and Nina Rogers. Each was a top contributor, along with goalkeeper Siena Jumani and Sofia Umeda.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” Ferreira said. “It’s a long season for them, and they were able to take everything I threw at them.”
Kai Kaneko won MVP honors for the Vanguard 10U co-ed team, coached by Nick Graffis. Kaneko scored five goals as Vanguard beat Trojan 6-0 in the title game.
Graffis said a difference for his team was using the phone application Headspace, focusing on meditation and how to calm your nerves during the game.
“I’m really the most proud of that,” he said. “The kids really bought into that idea that there is more than just the physical aspect to this. They worked really hard at getting good at staying focused and composed.”
Graffis also highlighted two girls on his team. Emma Galaz and Kirra Panteleon played in the 10U co-ed final at noon Sunday, then immediately played for Vanguard in the 10U girls’ final at 1 p.m. That game was won by Shore Aquatics of Long Beach, 5-0.
Costa Mesa Aquatics Club also had a successful finish, as the 14U girls’ team won bronze in the classic division. The team was coached by Dustin Serrano and Morgan Turner. Club director Jose De La Jara said that Kira Anderson led the team in scoring throughout the tournament, while Maddie Ambrose anchored the defense as goalie.
De La Jara said that the third-place finish was the best for a CMAC girls’ team at the Junior Olympics.
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