Junior Olympics bound water polo teams aim to keep improving
by Bob Brownne
Aug 02, 2013 | 4892 views | 0 0 comments | 108 108 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ellis water polo practice
Sara Sterni fires a shot at the goal during practice with the Ellis water polo club on Monday, July 29, at Kimball High.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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The Ellis Aquatics girls water polo program fulfilled one of coach Matt Gumpert’s goals for the year as two teams headed to Southern California this week for Junior Olympics competition.

Ellis has two teams playing at different venues in Orange County at the 2013 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics from Thursday, Aug. 1, to Saturday, Aug. 4. The 18-and-under squad competed last year as a 16U team, and a 14U team is competing for the first time.

Gumpert said having both teams qualify for the Junior Olympics met one of his benchmarks for the 3-year-old Ellis water polo program.

“Really my goal is to grow an age group each year, or at least maintain two age groups,” Gumpert said. “Whether they’re going to be studs or whether they’re just going to get a lot of experience before they get to high school, it’s going to be really good for them.”

Nearly all of the girls on the 18U team are making their second trip in a row to the national Junior Olympics. Their experience as a 16U team gave them a chance to see what makes other nationwide contenders so good.

Jhackeline Romero, 16, said it’s also a tune-up for when she and her teammates — most of whom play for the Kimball High girls varsity water polo team — make the transition to the high school water polo season this fall.

She said the Jaguars’ Valley Oak League opponents are good, but Junior Olympics promise an entirely different level of competition.

“We’ve grown to know how Oakdale is, how Sonora is. With Junior Olympics, you have more teams to go against,” she said. “They’re harder than the high school teams, because they practice more and there’s people from all over. You don’t know what to expect half the time.”

The 18U team is in a 24-team tournament. Gumpert said he could have made it a 16U team instead, but he would have had to cut three 17-year-old players — Colby Chase, Dallyce Marglon and Geraldine Vasquez. Chase and Vasquez were on last year’s U16 team, but are now ineligible for that division, and Marglon joined the U18 team this year.

This year’s U18 team finished ninth out of 11 teams at the Central California Junior Olympics Qualifier on June 29 and 30 at Johansen High in Modesto, making it into the top 10 that will go to Orange County this week.

“It was harder to qualify, but it’s better to have (the older players),” Gumpert said.

Colby Chase, 17, said she and her teammates learned what to expect last year and are prepared for tough competition.

“Some teams were extremely good — the first team we played blew us out of the water,” Chase said. “It did teach us to work as a team, and taught us no matter how good a team is, don’t give up.”

Most of the girls on the U18 team will also play varsity water polo at Kimball High, including Chase, A.J. Lee, Alyssa Poley, Courtney Moberg, Katelyn Traut, Megan Schwab, Michaela Smith and Tahnee Trew. Marglon will play for Tracy High and Vasquez will play at West High.

Ellis will also represent Tracy in the 48-team 14U tournament. Gumpert said the team is a mix of new and experienced players. The 10 players on the team include five who will join the Kimball girls junior varsity team in the fall and five more who are in middle school.

Domenica Avila, 14, an incoming freshman at Kimball High, is in her second year playing water polo and is looking forward to her first national-level Junior Olympics.

“I know there are going to be good teams,” she said. “My expectation is that we do our best.”

Her teammates are Alyssa Anderson, Sarah Snyder, Sasha Betts, Sophia Fairfield, Allie Lowe, Clara Ho, Emma Ronquillo, Madysen Ronquillo and Olivia Taylor.

Ellis Aquatics, which has a 150-member swim team, also formed a U16 boys water polo team for regional competition earlier this year, but it did not have enough players this summer for a Junior Olympics team.

Two players, Conner Miller and Preston Tsang, joined the Ripon Aquatics U16 boys team for this week’s Junior Olympics.

• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or brownne@tracypress.com.
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