May 29, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Saddleback Valley water polo team powers to a title

Members of the Power Aquatics were (from left) Coach Kevin Mitchell, Nicholas Viloria, Skylar Iller, Daniel Maldonado, Xavier Clark, Caleb Scherbarth, Tyler Kiklas, Dylan Rodriguez, Nicholas Roy, Nathaniel Brake, Travis Kiklas, Sebastian Viloria, Gabby Reed and Coach Sam Gelberger. 

Power Aquatics 12-and-under boys water polo team in the Saddleback Valley, won its division at the 2018 National Junior Olympics and brought home the gold medal.

The local parks and recreation team upset the competition going undefeated at the tournament.

Here’s an account by one of the team’s coaches.

By SAMANTHA GELBERGER

They must have been asked over 100 times over this past weekend, “Where are you guys from?” With most Orange County water polo clubs having been established for years and facing the same competition each tournament, Power Aquatics seemed to appear out of thin air. The parents and coaches got a kick out of being asked this question by teams who practice just 5 to 10 miles from our home pool and  replied, ”We are just your little Parks and Recreation Department Program.”

Power Aquatics has been around for six years.

As a club, the goals are simple; provide a few days of practice per week to pre-high school aged youngsters at an affordable cost and hope that they fall in love with the sport. Well, the 12 and-under boys water polo class did more than just that.

Having only played together for six months, entering a national tournament seemed a little silly. Coaches deliberated on whether or not it would be good for the kids to go to the qualifying tournament just for the experience, or whether it would be demoralizing to be defeated by most if not all of the teams involved.

The impending doom of the qualifiers didn’t seem to bother the kids any, so they went out on a limb and entered the 12 and under boys.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the boys finished 11th overall in the Southern Pacific Zone. They got an automatic bid into the National Junior Olympics held in Stanford from July 21-24.

The club called a mandatory parent meeting to wrap our heads around what just happened. Excitement stirred in the stands as the parents rattled off statistics of how our kids just performed. Power set up a game plan on training for the next five weeks and how we would prepare for the road to JO’s.

For the coaches, the days seemed to get shorter and the weeks flew by. Before they knew it, they were driving up to Stanford to face 48 of the best teams from all over the country.

First up, a team from Texas called Thunder.  After a tight first quarter where the score was 3-3, the team shook the nerves and took off. The final score ended with Power on top 16-4. As each game grew progressively harder, the team rose to each challenge.

After three days of play, Power was 5-0 and headed to the final four. Friends and family joined the excitement as a rush of hundreds of messages on social media flooded the team with encouragement.

It was time for game six. The coaches and players had scouted San Jose Express and seen them hang with every team they played against. In fact, they had gone into three shoot-outs in just five games.

The game was slow and methodical.  Power came out on top 7-3 and was heading to the championship round.

The final game arrived. Everyone joked that we drove all the way to San Jose to play against Triton who is located in San Clemente, just a few miles south of Power in Mission Viejo. After three close quarters of play, the score was tied.

The kids looked exhausted and Power was in foul trouble. The fans grew louder and louder making up cheers on the spot and screaming, “Power, Power, Power.”

The score remained tied deep into the fourth quarter. With two possessions left in the game, Power used their final time-out.

Fans went silent as the ref blew the whistle to start the final play. The goalie had the ball and immediately all six of the Power players started swimming and switching positions. An opportunity arose.

A player had ever so slightly broken away from his defender to receive the ball from the goalie. Although the defense was still within a foot of Xavier Clark, he knew this would be the only opportunity to win the game. He grabbed the ball at about 6 meters distance from the cage and threw a side arm shot with everything he had left. It was a perfect right corner shot. Power took the lead 8-7 and won its division at the 2018 National Junior Olympics.

The Power Aquatics win was a true Cinderella Story. Naturally it is the greatest achievement the club has attained, but it also showed everyone that anything is possible.

By taking a chance and entering the sport’s largest and most prestigious national tournament, the Power 12-and-under boys brought home the gold medal and the story of a lifetime.

  • If you have sports news to share with our readers, please send it to Editor Tim Burt. Email: timburt@ocsportszone.com and make sure and include first and last names. We welcome team and action pictures with athletes identified from left to right.