Del Mar Water Polo Club’s 12U Boys Blue and 14U Boys Blue teams recently earned the title of national champions as both teams brought home gold medals from USA Water Polo’s annual Junior Olympics tournament, held July 16-19 in San Jose, Calif.
Hundreds of water polo teams from across the country battled for the championship in their specific age groups, having earned the right to compete through exhaustive regional qualifying tournaments. USA Water Polo’s Junior Olympics tournament is held every year in July and marks the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work for competitive teams in the youth water polo community. For many athletes and teams, this includes year-round training nearly every day of the week and additional countless hours spent on mental and physical preparation outside of the pool. These are the second and third Platinum Division national championship titles earned by Del Mar Water Polo Club, the first of which was achieved at last year’s 2021 Junior Olympics by the 12U Boys A team.
Del Mar’s 12U Boys Blue team made it through the grueling gauntlet of the Junior Olympics unscathed, winning all seven of its tournament games and defeating a highly-talented Patriot Aquatics team in the championship match.
Led by Head Coaches Cyrus Kahangi and Coach Marko Vukojevic, the team saw many victories throughout the 2021-2022 season, including going undefeated in the elite Futures Water Polo League and winning the Futures Superfinals tournament championship. During the championship match at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics, the Del Mar boys were down 2-4 at the end of the first quarter, but stuck to their game plan and managed to tie up the game by halftime. The team came out strong in the third quarter, took the lead, and never looked back, ultimately claiming a decisive 14-9 victory. MVP Grayson Taylor described his team’s grit and determination in a post-game interview: “It was really tough in the beginning. We just had to figure them out, get them into foul trouble, and play like the brothers we are.”
Head Coach Kahangi followed Taylor’s front line perspective with a holistic description of the water polo community and the value of the contributions made by each individual. “Just wonderful to see everyone’s hard work at the very end of their age group cycle,” said Kahangi, “Our boys, everyone else’s boys. Hats off to Patriot.”
The Del Mar 14U Boys Blue team played eight games in total during the National Junior Olympics, spread across four days. The boys had faced off against Newport Beach Water Polo Club throughout the year to compete in regional tournaments, winning three out of four final match-ups, often by a single goal. After Del Mar lost to Newport on day three of the Junior Olympics in a shootout, the result of a tie game, the team again faced the juggernaut of Newport Beach Water Polo Club in the championship final. In order to earn the ability to play in the final, Del Mar had to play in to the semi-final by defeating the powerhouse Vanguard Aquatics. The semi-final match saw another victory for Del Mar against Diablo Alliance, whose 14U team was undefeated prior to day four of the Junior Olympics.
Led by Head Coach Jakov Belamaric and Coach John Au, the team played an explosive game against Newport in the championship match up, maintaining a consistent lead throughout the game and securing its win with a decisive 10-point differential. The final score illustrates the resilience and stamina of the Del Mar team with Del Mar tallying 17 against Newport’s 7. Both goalie Oren Penning and center defender Jett Taylor scored in the final seconds of game play during quarter two (Penning) and quarter three (Taylor), Penning making a full tank shot and Jett with a half tank goal with seconds on the clock.
MVP Kenly Axline provided his insight and experience in a post game interview, describing the victory by stating, “I’m really excited about it. A lot of the boys on my team did really good, and they could have gotten it [MVP award] over me. I’m just lucky to have this opportunity.”
Axline’s unrehearsed responses illustrate a team and community-oriented focus, shaped through the character of the players and their families, and spearheaded by Del Mar Water Polo Club’s experienced coaching staff.
“When I got together with this group,” said Head Coach Belamaric, “We set a goal and we never stopped working hard for it. I try to teach more than just water polo and this is such an amazing accomplishment for them. To have such a mental resilience and desire for the win, to help each other. I can’t be more excited to see them grow in the future.”
Balamaric has been coaching with the Del Mar Water Polo Club for approximately five years, following a successful career with the Croatian National team. After having won five gold medals at the European Championships, Belamaric came to play water polo in the United States at the college level while coaching for regional club teams. This season marks a milestone for Belamaric, as he will be transitioning to the position of assistant coach with one of the top water polo programs in the NCAA, University of California, Berkeley. This opportunity is celebrated among the Del Mar Water Polo community as recognition of the hard work of Belamaric in helping to build one of the top age group programs in the nation and his skill at training athletes to reach their fullest potential in and out of the water.
The Del Mar Water Polo Club sees enormous potential in their athletes because all of the teams that qualified for the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics competed with excellent results. In addition to achieving two national championships, multiple teams placed with honors in their division and age bracket. For example, the 14U Boys White team won first place in the silver division, the 16U Boys Blue team won second place in the gold division, and the 18U Boys Blue placed 15th in the Platinum division. Furthermore, the 10U Boys Blue team achieved fifth place in the nation (Platinum Division), and 10U White co-ed team won 11th place in the silver division. The 12U co-ed team was also in the top division (Platinum) and was awarded 21st place. The club will begin training for the 2022-2023 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics on Aug. 29.
The Del Mar Water Polo Club was founded in 2008 by Olympian Brett Ormsby to help water polo players throughout San Diego County acquire the necessary skills to be successful throughout their water polo careers and beyond. The club focuses on fundamentals and skill development, in an environment that encourages teamwork, perseverance, and a commitment to achieving one’s personal best, providing players with the foundation necessary to transition into higher levels of play. Ultimately, the club hopes to instill a love for the game and a healthy appreciation for the hard work it takes to be successful, both as a water polo player and in life.
More information can be found at delmarwaterpoloclub.org. — Del Mar Water Polo Club
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