La Jolla United 10-and-younger team takes bronze medal at USA Water Polo Junior Olympics
For being a first-year team, the La Jolla United coed water polo squad for players 10 and younger had an impressive showing at the recent USA Water Polo Junior Olympics competition, winning a bronze medal.
The USA Water Polo Junior Olympics, known as “the Super Bowl of youth water polo,” hosts 48 teams in various age groups in a four-day competition. With 95 percent of national water polo teams participating in California, the La Jolla team is practically third in the nation.
“Typically, there are 48 teams from across the country. This year they did a special Junior Olympics for California teams, and the teams from all the other states have a separate one,” said La Jolla United President Steve Horowitz. “The level of competition didn’t drop off at all. California water polo is the best in the country, so it was just as competitive as it is usually.”
The United 10U coed team rose to the occasion, winning all its qualifiers in San Diego before proceeding to Orange County for the four-day tournament July 22-25.
“We played four incredibly tough games,” said coach Stefano Mattesini. “They were a battle in every way. We were behind during the first game and had to find a way to win it. We tried shooting from half court, and it actually worked. In another game, we were leading comfortably and then the other team tied it up and we had to have a shootout. Our goalie blocked some amazing shots.”
In the semifinals, La Jolla United lost to the top team but was in position to play for third place and a bronze medal.
In the bronze-medal game, “we were behind three goals ... then ... one of our best players, Jesse Benmoshe ... shot two goals from half tank and scored the winning goal with one second left,” Mattesini said.
“This is a brand-new team. This was our first time having 10U kids playing together,” Horowitz said. “Before this, we would have a random 10-year-old, but they had to play on a 12U team. This was our first true age-group division,” with players as young as 8 and 9.
“Kids play for years and don’t come close to what this team accomplished,” Horowitz said. “It locked them in to loving the sport. They are the future of our club.”
The younger age group comes with some challenges, however. No. 1, Mattesini said, is learning the fundamentals and paying attention.
“When we started, they didn’t know much about water polo, but they had swimming skills,” he said. “So they had to learn everything. The biggest issue with that group is focus. ... We had to be patient and make sure they pay attention. Some kids already had some skills, so it was an advantage to help the others develop a little quicker.”
“They knew they had a chance to get to the top but didn’t know their real level until they started competing,” Mattesini said. “We had a few scrimmages and games earlier this year, and they realized they were actually really talented. ... Nobody wanted to quit. We had a lot of games where we looked dead in the water, but they kept fighting. ... It was a huge achievement for them.”
La Jolla United, based at the Coggan Family Aquatic Complex at La Jolla High School, is a water polo club with the stated goals of helping every athlete learn all aspects of the game and build individual skills. Learn more at lajollaunited.com. ◆
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