La Jolla United 10-and-younger team strikes gold at USA Water Polo Junior Olympics

The La Jolla United 10U gold-medal team in the 2023 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics
The La Jolla United 10U gold-medal team in the 2023 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics: Jack Allen, Drake Benedetto, Wladimir Hansen, Connor Karimi-Jacobo, Bastiaan Kevorkian, Benjamin MacLeod, Ryan Phalip, John Schatz, Grace Shin, Cassius Tolentino, Griffin Tolentino and Cy Venieris, with coaches Stefano Mattesini, Mike Schatz and Arman Momdzhyan.
(Dan MacLeod)

The coed squad wins the club’s first national title after capturing silver and bronze medals the previous two years.


The La Jolla United 10-and-younger coed water polo team took a path of progression to the gold medal in the 2023 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics.

After taking the silver and bronze medals in the two previous years, the team grabbed gold this year for La Jolla United’s first national title since the club was established in 2018.

This year’s Junior Olympics, held July 20-23 in Orange County, saw La Jolla United earn the top spot among 98 teams from across the country, all of which qualified for the competition via regional elimination tournaments.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” said La Jolla United 10U coach Stefano Mattesini, whose first year with the team was when it won bronze in 2021.

“It was an amazing feeling to win gold,” said Bastiaan Kevorkian, 10.

Bastiaan, who will be a fifth-grader next school year at La Jolla Elementary School, has been on the team for all three of its years, along with a few others on the 12-member squad.

It was tough to lose in the finals last year, he said, but this year’s victory felt great. “I’ve been looking forward to getting gold my whole water polo experience,” he said.

Cassius “Cash” Tolentino, 10, who will be entering sixth grade at Meadowbrook Middle School in Poway, joined the team this season and was nervous going into the Junior Olympics finals. But he ended up elated with the win, he said.

Mattesini said the past three years have been “amazing,” as the team has been able to keep increasing its success.

This season proved a bit more challenging, however. The club’s home pool, the Coggan Family Aquatic Complex at La Jolla High School, was closed in May for an extensive four-month renovation.

The team has been practicing at the UC San Diego Natatorium, an indoor pool half the length of Coggan’s 50 meters.

“We lost time, we lost space,” said Mattesini, who is assisted by coaches Arman Momdzhyan and Mike Schatz. “The quality of practices was definitely reduced.”

However, “the kids are competitive and very committed,” Mattesini said. The parents are dedicated as well, willing to drive to last-minute practices or offer their own pools in a pinch, he added.

“Everybody was so committed to the process,” he said.

Last year, when the team was edged out of the gold medal by one goal, set the tone for this season, Mattesini said. “The team [was] not going to let anything get in the way.”

To prepare for this season, Mattesini entered the team in tournaments for ages 12 and under, where the kids learned to “raise the level of competition.”

“That’s what got the kids better prepared for this event [the Junior Olympics],” Mattesini said.

Playing in the 12U tournaments “was a lot of hard work,” but it helped, Bastiaan said.

In the Junior Olympics, La Jolla United went undefeated in its seven games, winning 9-7 in the semifinal against Northern California’s CC United and 8-7 in the final against Orange County’s Vanguard Aquatics.

Next season, most of the 10U players will move up to the club’s 12U team.

Bastiaan plans to keep playing in 12U, noting that his “family has a bond with water polo” — his father and older siblings also have played.

“I love being in the water and I have a strong arm and I love swimming,” he said.

“I love that [water polo] is competitive and you get to make new friends on my team and the others,” said Cash, who also will continue in 12U. “I look forward to keep playing and winning the gold medal next year.”

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