The Yucaipa Water Polo Club completed an improbable win streak in Irvine last Sunday with a 9-6 victory over Corona to qualify for the USA Water Polo Junior Olympic Championships in July. Yucaipa was forced into the elimination game after entering the final day of the three-day tournament with a 3-4 record.
Yucaipa Water Polo Club coach Kevin Womack said his 15-member team is comprised of those 16-and-under who will also play on the Yucaipa High School varsity this fall. Womack acknowledged he did not know what to expect from his team going into the Junior Olympics qualifying tourney. “I wanted our guys to experience playing against some of the top teams in the Southern Pacific Zone. What ended up was that our performance helped further establish water polo in Yucaipa,” said Womack, who hinted that he was surprised by his team’s showing in Orange County, considered the best prep water polo region in America.
What made the Yucaipa team’s qualification more impressive was that it’s comprised of totally homegrown players. Womack explained the opposition at the Junior Olympics has rosters built from the best talent picked from numerous high schools. “We are unique. We are all from just one school.” Womack indicated that his team’s work ethic provided just enough to qualify for a spot in the upcoming Junior Olympic Championships. The Thunderbirds will be bracketed in a division with 48 other teams nationwide. All teams are made up of players entering their junior year in high school.
Perhaps the biggest upset at the qualifying tourney was Yucaipa’s 9-8 win in overtime on Friday against the Patriot Water Polo Club of Irvine. Tanner Childers scored the winning goal after Luke Franklin had scored five earlier in the match. Womack credited the play of goalie Mitchell Carpenter who “was on fire” during the whole tourney. “He blocked two shots in the overtime win and was single-handedly the reason we beat Patriot. We were very excited with that win.”
Yucaipa’s magical ride was kept alive on Friday when Jacen Brown scored four goals in the 7-3 upset of Alliance Water Polo Club of San Juan Capistrano. Brown was on the Yucaipa High School junior varsity last season. Frederick Stein, another JV player, scored three goals in Sunday’s clincher over Corona. “Our guys said they were tired but in good shape after playing eight games in three days,” said Womack. He noted that his team could play 12 games in four days if successful at the USA Junior Olympics to be held July 20-23 in various locations in Orange County.
Womack was proud to point out that Yucaipa’s Jacob Stuart will also play in the Junior Olympics, but as a member of upper division Redlands Renegades Water Polo Club. Stuart and Carpenter were both first team All-Citrus Belt League and third team All-CIF last season.