A total of seven Bahamian male water polo players gained some experience after playing in the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics in Orange County, California, USA, from Saturday, July 20 to Tuesday, July 23.
Making the trip were Alex Turnquest, Oliver Roberts, Alexander Gomez, Aidan Johnson, Gabriel Encinar, Nicholas Wallace-Whitfield and Gabriel Sastre. The players were invited to play for the Houston Storm.
All of the players except Gomez played for the Storm 16-and-under team. That team competed in the Championship bracket which included the best 48 water polo clubs in the United States. They finished 38th out of 144 participating teams.
According to Coach Laszlo “Coach Lotty” Borbely, it was a great tune-up tournament for the players ahead of the 4th Union Americana de Natacion (UANA) Pan American Youth Water Polo Championships, which is set for August 14-24 in Balmain Couva, Trinidad and Tobago.
All seven players join Team Bahamas in Trinidad and Tobago next month.
Borbely will serve as the head coach of the team headed to the Pan American youth championship. He travelled with the seven players to California and watched them in action. He said he was happy with the progress the team made as the tournament progressed.
The Storm team played eight games and finished with a 4-4 win/loss record.
Sastre led the way for the Bahamian players with 12 goals scored. Sastre scored five goals in an 18-9 win for the Storm over the Wolverines on Sunday morning, and returned later that day and scored five more goals in another Storm win – 14-1 over the Kearns.
Wallace-Whitfield also had a good tournament, scoring eight goals overall. Like Sastre, he scored five goals against the Wolverines on Sunday.
Encinar was excellent in the pool as well as he ended the tournament with five goals scored. Behind Sastre and Wallace-Whitfield’s five goals apiece, he scored three goals against the Wolverines.
In the first game of the tournament on Saturday, the Storm played SoCal Gold B team. They lost 15-4 but were optimistic that they could get into a rhythm as the tournament progressed. Sastre scored two goals and Wallace-Whitfield scored one goal.
After losing the next game against Shaq A in a shootout, they bounced back on Sunday, winning two out of three games. Regular time in the game against Shaq A ended with a 9-9 tie. Shaq A won in a penalty shootout, 3-1.
After scoring two victories on Sunday, the team lost to Greenwich White B, 9-8. “Coach Lotty” said the two teams went head-to-head the entire way and it was an all-out war.
On Monday, the team returned to the pool and shook off the loss against Greenwich White B. They won two games. In the first game, they defeated 209 Water Polo, 17-14. In the second game, they defeated Granite Bay in a close game, 16-14.
It was a dramatic day on Tuesday, the final day. The team fell to Puget Sound in a penalty shootout. The game was tied at 12 at the end of regulation, and Puget Sound won in a shootout, 4-2.
“In the first three quarters, we chased this opponent from behind, playing catch up with them. In the fourth, we tidied up the backyard and neatly closed the gap between the two teams. In the end, we had two opportunities to close down the match successfully. However, we proceeded to penalty shootout,” Borbely said.
Gomez played in the 18-and-under division for the North Houston Storm team in the Classic category. That team finished with a win/loss record of 7-2. In their first game, they lost to the Orange County Riptide, 7-4. They won their next four games, and then the Redlands Renegades snapped that winning streak, defeating them 10-9 in a close game.
The Storm bounced back and ended the tournament on a three-game winning streak. During that streak, they defeated NorCal 13-8; Chawp White A in a penalty shootout (4-1) after the match was tied at 11 at the end of regulation; and Costa Mesa, 17-7.
The seven players returned to The Bahamas Wednesday night along with “Coach Lotty”, having gained a lot of experience for next month’s prestigious tournament.
This weekend will be a busy one for Kaitlyn Williams, the lone Bahamian female water polo player, who will be playing in that same Junior Olympics tournament from July 25 to July 28. She will suit up for the Viper Pigeons’ 14-and-under girls team out of Houston, Texas.
In the qualifying stage in June, Williams scored 29 goals in five games.
The USA Water Polo Junior Olympics is the largest age group water polo tournament in the United States. Athletes and teams come from across the country to compete on the national stage. The Junior Olympics tournament consists of three divisions – the Championship division, the Classic division and the Invitational division.