Forced into the situation of having to win five straight, Yucaipa was up for the assignment to earn an Under-16 USA Junior Olympic Water Polo championship, June 23 at Villa Park High School. In its 10-7 comeback win over Chino Hills to claim divisional championship, Frederik Stein led Yucaipa with four goals and goalie Mitchell Carpenter added an astounding 22 saves.
Yucaipa coach Kevin Womack said according to available records, the win of the Junior Olympic championship is the highest level victory ever for a boys water polo team in Yucaipa.
“By far they exceeded all my expectations,” said Womack. “We entered the tournament just to gain experience by playing at a higher level. A lot of our guys never have played varsity but they kept getting better every game to the point where the improvement was like night and day.”
Womack considered the competition equal to that of good varsity teams. He explained his team finished No. 1 among the final 24 teams who qualified from throughout the nation in the “copper bracket.” Womack said Yucaipa did not compete at the tourney’s highest level, teams made up from Division I all-stars coming from various high schools. Instead, the young Thunderbirds were comprised only of those entering their junior year at Yucaipa High School. Its championship was good enough to provide Yucaipa a hefty No. 121 ranking among club teams in the nation.
The Thunderbirds had to rely on their determined and deep bench in the finals against Chino Hills, who double-teamed leading scorer Luke Franklin, limiting him to one goal. Trailing 4-2 early, Stein helped make it 5-5 at the half. Chino Hills could only score two more while Yucaipa secured the win after goals by Tanner Childers, Nick Elkin, Kaden Wingerd, Jacen Brown, and Cade Bolt.
“In the second half, you could tell they really wanted to win it. Everyone played their part and that’s what you have to do to win championships,” said Womack.
He credited the long arms of Carpenter, a phenomenal defense and his team’s good conditioning. Womack pointed out that Carpenter averaged more than 15 saves per game. "
“Without Mitchell (Carpenter) we would not have even qualified for the tournament. He makes the biggest difference in the world.”
Carpenter’s most nervous moments came in two overtime wins against Tustin Patriot, both by identical 9-8 scores. The first came in the tournament qualifier last month when Franklin scored five times and Childers scored the game winner. The second win against Tustin happened in the tournament semifinals when Carpenter blocked another 15 shots and Nick Elkin provided the game winner. Stein and Franklin each scored in overtime and Childers finished with three goals.