Five club water polo teams with local players made a sizable splash at the National Junior Olympics, finishing among the top five in their respective divisions. The Bay Area hosted last month’s tournament.
Stanford Water Polo Club’s 14-and-under boys team – featuring four Los Altos residents – bagged a bronze medal. Los Altos-based NorCal Aquatics’ under-16 girls squad finished third in its division, while the club’s 18 boys and girls placed fourth and fifth, respectively, and Stanford’s 16 boys took fifth.
The locals on the Stanford 14 team – Niko Bhatia, Miller Geschke, Alexander Nemeth and Nathan Puentes – “made major contributions” throughout the club season, according to head coach Clarke Weatherspoon.
Goalkeeper Nemeth posted a shutout in the first half of the bronze-medal game, which Stanford won 10-4 over 680 Red (Danville) to finish 5-1 in the tourney.
“Junior Olympics showcased his skill, and he allowed our field players to take risks and make the occasional mistake without giving up points,” Weatherspoon said of his freshman goalie. “We frequently structured our defense so teams would shoot the ball and Alexander would block it. We had tremendous faith in his ability.”
Field players Geschke and Puentes “played critical minutes for us during the Junior Olympics,” the coach said, and each scored important goals in Stanford’s first-round victory over SoCal.
“Our opponent focused on our centers while these two attackers did well with timely shooting and effective defense,” Weatherspoon said. “Their attention to detail in that game set the table for our run through the tournament. I don’t think we have our success in the tourney without their timely contributions.”
Defensive specialist Bhatia wasn’t able to contribute in the competition – sidelined by a broken foot suffered midway through the summer season – and the coach said the team “missed his presence in the middle, though others stepped into the gap.”
Stanford’s 16 team edged 680 Red 9-8 in the fifth-place game. St. Francis players Benoit Viollier (goalie) and Kevin Hansen (field) contributed to the Stanford cause.
NorCal Aquatics’ 18 boys finished fourth in the Classic division with a 5-3 record. The squad fell 10-6 to CHAWP (Inland Empire) in the third-place game.
“We played some tough competition from all over California and the country,” head coach Seth Tasman said.
He added that Bret Pinkser, Paul Bergivan and Alex Waggoner played prominent roles on the team that included Los Altos High players Bryan Kim, Montana Goloubef, Jason Lai, Dane Grosvenor, Scott Cairns and Josh Santos.
NorCal’s 16 girls – led by Christina Pao, Annalisa Pao and Julia Santos – captured third in the Bronze Division, according to Tasman, while the 18 girls placed fifth behind stellar play from Jenna Gavenman and goalie Romy Aboudarham.