AquaHorns Make History at Junior Olympics

The 2021 version of National Junior Olympics is over, likely the last one in Texas for some time at least, and AquaTex with our friends from Longhorn had its most successful tournament ever.

Champions! 10u Co-ed.

Summary by our fearless leader, Coach Tom

Our youngest squad consisted of all first-time JOs attendees that somehow played like veterans all tournament long. Since the 10U course is smaller and teams only have four field players at a time, the action is non-stop; the decisions need to be made quickly and the passes delivered precisely. The entire coaching staff was blown away by how effectively the team moved the ball and found the open player for easy shots on the goal. On defense, our kids were quick to press and prevent any wide open shots on our cage. Overall, it was a true team effort that resulted in some great water polo that was unmatched by our opponents.

That should do for burying the lede far enough down the recap, this is where I mention that our 10U’s went undefeated and won the whole dang tournament! Laird led the team in the field and even closed out the championship game with a fourth quarter shut out as goalie. Silas was imposing as the starting goalie but had no problems switching to offense and dropping in long range shots. Eric was our third field player/goalie and excelled at both, often blocking the ball and quickly finding open teammates to advance the counter attack. Jane led the team in assists and routinely found a way to get the ball through the defense and into friendly hands. Lennon was a close range threat and rarely missed when he received the ball in front of the cage. Finally, Kevin was the lockdown defender that prevented the best player on the other team from getting loose for long range shots.

As I mentioned above, it was a true team effort that saw contributions from every athlete all tournament long. Huge congrats to these athletes as well as to Coach Evan for showing us that you can play Longhorn water polo at any age and any experience level!

Final Record: 5-0

Final Place: 1st Overall, 10u-coed Champions!

12U Coed

The 12U Coed Team featured athletes from five different clubs coming together to play one brand of winning water polo. After a rocky start, the team began to gel on day three and finished the tournament on a four game winning streak. In the pool, the team was led defensively by the strong showings of Daniel (including a Genai Kerr shout out) and Tristan. Tim was our toughest on ball defender while Finn and Kayla also tracked down players to press in the mid field. Rounding out the defensive stalwarts were Sabrina and Pierce, both athletes chipped in steals and accurate passes to jump start the fast break. William, Tomas, and Jordan used their speed to get loose in transition and put some shots up on the cage while Kieran was a strong finisher in close to the goal. Splitting time between two teams, Jake was a welcome addition to both the 2 meter offense and defense for the ‘Horns.

The team picked up steam as the tournament went along and by day four looked like one of the top squads in the coed division. Unfortunately, a few early losses against boy’s teams shut us out of medal contention and we weren’t able to match up against the top teams from the other bracket. Nonetheless, it was an inspiring showing from a team that came together over the tournament and shocked some of the traditional powerhouse clubs in Texas. The coaching staff would like to extend once final thanks to all our friends that joined us from around the state and the country, hopefully we’ll see you at a pool again soon!

Final Record: 5-3 (3-0 against coed teams)

Final Place: 7th Overall

14U Boys

The 14U boys earned the distinction of being the first team in program history to win both games on the opening day and earn a trip to the platinum bracket of the championship division. The squad came out of the gates blazing, with a solid win against Bainbridge and a major upset victory over Viper Pigeon. From that point, the teams became even tougher and while we played some of our best polo yet, it was not quite enough to advance any further than 12th in the platinum bracket.

The team was anchored by the amazing goalkeeping of Aiven, who single- (technically double-) handedly kept us competitive in most of our games. Between stopping countless one-on-nobodies, dropping in pin-point outlet passes, and even hopping in the field to score out of 2 meters, Aiven was a force to be reckoned with! Kelly was at the point of attack, often using open water to create out of a 1 v 1 matchup and come out on top. Cruz was the 2nd to last line of defense, using his speed and smarts to prevent much larger 2 meter players from getting good looks at the goal. Jake was a consistent threat out of 2 meters, notching at least four goals in the big win over VP. For drivers, the trio of Nick, Maddox, and Zeke found space to attack either in transition, from the perimeter, or on the receiving end of a pass in close to the goal. Tristan was the speed specialist, winning over half of the sprints and forcing the opponents to always keep a defender back to prevent the counterattack. Miles provided some much needed toughness as a perimeter defender, and Ethan came up strong in his minutes as the back up goalie.

Overall, a very successful outing for a group that was usually undersized, always outnumbered, but never outworked throughout the 7 game tournament. Keep an eye on this 14U team as they will return four veterans of the division to next year’s edition and be joined by some promising rising 12s, 2022 here we come!

Final Record: 2-5

Final Place: 12th in Platinum

16u Boys

Our lads recovered from some early disappointment to go 4-0 in the last two days to finish 13th in the Gold bracket.

The boys’ fifth place finish at Southwest Zone JOs Qualifiers put them in a good position for a Platinum-level finish. But a one-goal loss to in-state nemesis Viper Pigeon in the team’s first Junior Olympic match made the path to platinum more challenging. One lopsided loss to Navy (they finished third in Platinum) followed by very tough losses to Kearns (UT), Moose (OH), and Empire (OR) left the AquaHorns in a position to win the 13-17 bracket, which they proceeded to do.

Three games versus Texas opponents – Thunder, Cowtown, and another Viper Pigeon team – ended in very convincing wins (one coach asked, “why aren’t you in Platinum?”) with a final win over Mesa from Arizona. It was a great way to finish a very challenging tournament for boys who will return a year from now in an even stronger position.

It’s fair to say that our greatest success came from the defensive end, starting with Manu, who has improved dramatically between the pipes in just six weeks. He and Joey anchored our defense and counterattack with some great saves and ever-improving ball distribution.

Our core was really defined by Greyson and Axel, who swapped Center and Center Defender during matches, but were both effective and disruptive defenders on the perimeter while being our greatest offensive threats throughout.

Declan and Luca also shone defensively, both flashing great hands-free technique to frustrate many opponents (Declan had his best tourney ever – great hands!). August was the Swiss Army knife of the team, making some great defensive stops and playing nearly all offensive positions, putting pressure on our opposition at both ends. Riley displayed some of those recently-developed goalie skills stifling his opposites and showing his height on offense. Eric and Evan improved enormously in the course of a single tournament, Eric with his cannon of a shot and long-armed defense; Evan with that speed and willingness to mix it up defensively. Austin continues to make progress as a smart and stable distributor of the ball and effective defensive presence. And Bash, even with a couple significant injuries, was a contributor on both ends, shutting down his Mesa opponents in particular.

It was a hugely memorable experience, and one that we likely won’t replicate any time soon as JOs are almost inevitably headed back to California. We finished the season top five in our zone and with four consecutive wins to finish Junior Olympics on a very high note. It makes you look forward to 2022, doesn’t it?

Final Record: 4-5
Final Place: 13th in Gold

Photo gallery by Chris Graves

18u Girls

Coach Alon

On the first day of the tournament our 18-U ladies suffered from an early loss to Thunder. The second game of the day was also against a Texas opponent, Mavericks, who fell to the AquaHorns squad 13-6.

The last five games of our tournament were played against teams from the Chicagoland area. The ladies started out with a great defensive game (interrupted by a fire drill) against Great Lakes Aquatics, winning 9-4. Our ladies pressed the lanes hard and goalie Kateryna Ortiz shut down all outside shots.

In their next match against New Trier, the opposition came on with a strong counter attack and an even stronger center…winning 12-1.

To start off the third day, the AquaHorns beat St. Charles 13-9. Defensively, the girls continued to press hard in the lanes. Quick ball movement opened up centers Kendall Strauss and Claire Rogillio and allowed them to lead the offense. Lefty Cammi Schaufelberger put up two back-to-back counter attack goals in the third quarter.

The ladies fell in their second game of the third day in a true nailbiter to East Side. Defense remained strong with stand-out performances from Ella Swatzendruber outside and Gwen Sloat in center defense, Unfortunately, the Longhorn team wasn’t able to convert out of center to take the W.

On the last day, the ladies battled for 7th place against a team they had beat already – Great Lakes Aquatics. The opposition’s goalie played an incredible game, shutting down many shots from the 2M. Cait Sloat and Ella Swatzendruber led the team, safely moving the ball around the perimeter, stepping up to shoot when open, and playing solid press defense. Morgan and Cammi kept putting pressure on Great Lakes D with constant movement in the front court. The girls won 8-6 and took 7th place in the Gold bracket.

Final Record: 4-3
Final Place: 7th in Gold

18u Boys

Coach Tom

Our 18U team featured several first time JOs participants that emerged from the four day tournament with a full season’s worth of development both individually and as a team. Without a doubt, the steady presence of Thomas in the goal was the foundation the team built upon. Whether it was shutting down a one on nobody, turning away a penalty shot, or even connecting on a full court buzzer beater, Thomas made the plays that kept the ‘Horns in every game of the tournament. Will and Mac were also outstanding on defense, Will as our most reliable center defender while Mac used energy and awareness to force steals on the perimeter. Rounding out the defensive standouts were Billy and his effective press to steal techniques along with Perrin who was stalwart as the secondary 2 meter defender.

We were led on the offensive side of the court by Nick and Owen. Nick led the team in drawn ejections and made (almost) all of our penalty shots. Owen orchestrated the front court offense and was usually tasked with putting up a long range shot to beat the buzzer. Lane, Jack, and Ben all proved to be willing shooters that could hit from long range while Cuatro and Ian used their speed to find open driving lanes and counter attack goals. In center, both Will and Alexander were effective at scoring and drawing ejections on the rare occasions we were able to get them the ball.

Finally, by progressing from relatively unknown new guy to vital part of the offense, Gavin ran (swam?) away with the most improved player award. In addition to winning the majority of the sprints, Gavin leveraged his speed to find counter attack goals and to put himself in position to score several 2nd chance shots. Not bad for an athlete that started his club career in April!

The growth of the team was noticeable by the last game of the tournament, a decisive revenge victory over the Jungle Cats. We are looking forward to the eight returning seniors using this JOs experience to guide and motivate them for an exciting 2021-2022 season culminating in a return to California for next summer’s Junior Olympics.

Final Record: 3-5
Final Place: 11th in Gold