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La Jolla based water polo club makes its mark

San Diego Shores within goal of the gold

They may be too young for high school, but these athletes are the perfect age to hoist a silver medal.

The 14-and-under San Diego Shores water polo club team came within a goal of the gold in the 2009 Speedo invitational tournament, falling 4-3 to favored Los Alamitos in the championship game. The competition, held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, pitted the top teams from 12 different regions in America.

The Shores has represented San Diego 12 of the last 13 years, and finished with the bronze in 2005.

“We became a lot closer friends and better teammates,” said Ryan Michalko, an eighth-grader at The Bishop’s School.

The Shores, who beat Long Beach and Fort Lauderdale in the round-robin style tournament’s early rounds, upset highly touted Orange County to move into the championship game against Los Alamitos. It was a chance for revenge against “Los Al,” who had beaten the La Jolla-based club 11-4 the day before. The championship game was nearly a different story.

“We were down 4-1 but kept fighting back,” head coach Dan Way said of the 4-3 loss.

Many of the Shores’ 14-year-old players, from various parts of San Diego, are now at a crossroads. Most will move on to play against each other in high schools.

Riley Clark, now an eighth-grader at Muirlands, will look to join his brother on the La Jolla High Vikings.

But for 12-year-old goalie Andrew Chun, high school play will have to wait. The Bishop’s sixth-grader received major accolades for his goaltending, blocking shots from players much larger than him.

“Some of those people are so much bigger and really intimidating,” he said of the 14-year-olds he repeatedly denied at the net. “It’s really nerve-wracking, but I guess just somehow I manage to pull it together and, of course with the help of my team, to do the best I can.”

Andrew made 14 saves in 20 minutes during the semifinal win over Orange County.

“He played out of his mind,” Way said. “After the semifinal game, people were saying, ‘I can’t believe this kid’s only a sixth-grader.’ ”

Whether their futures involve playing with or against each other in high school or college, the 2009 14-and-under San Diego Shores water polo club will forever be linked by a November trip to Michigan.

“We’ll always be teammates and friends,” Andrew said. “It will stick with you all of your life.”