May 30, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Tustin/Irvine Patriot 16-U water polo team takes third at tourney

Patriot player Max Abravanel goes up for a shot after an ordinary foul outside of the 5-meter line.

The Tustin/Irvine Patriot 16-and-under boys water polo team capped off its season with a dramatic win in the third-place game of the Classic Division of the 2018 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics in the San Jose area Tuesday.

The road to JO for the Patriot boys began back in June, when the qualifying tournament for the Southern Pacific  zone was held in the OC area.

The Patriot faced the first and second seed teams from the same zone, and that led to a 9th-place finish.

To see the slide show, please click on the first photo

Despite that, the team was guaranteed a spot in the JO and the boys were excited about playing in the largest youth water polo tournament in the US.

The JO is held in either the San Jose or the Orange County area in alternating years.

Since the tournament is up in Northern Cal this year, Duje Grubisic, head coach and the club director/president of Patriot Aquatics, decided that it would be fun for the boys to travel up north together in a van, and to stay in player-only hotel rooms.  With an uneventful drive from OC to San Jose on Friday, the played settled in their assigned room and rested in preparation for the start of JO.

The JO officially began for the Patriot on Saturday morning against the local team from Morgan Hill.

Right off the bat the Patriot showed some rust as the boys struggled to score despite many chances.

However the boys soon recovered and won the game convincingly by the score of 16-7.  The team from Costa Mesa was next, however this time the Patriot didn’t waste any time and jumped on their opponent from the very start.  The game ended with a final score of 14-5.  With two wins under its belt, the Patriot ended its first day of JO with lots of confidence.

The second day of JO started for the Patriot with a familiar opponent: South Bay United.  The Patriot had played against SB United three  times already during the season, with all wins but all close games.

The Patriot boys realized that their opponent is probably looking out for redemption, so they were fully prepared for a tough game.  The boys continued their strong start by taking a convincing lead in the first quarter and their opponent was never able to recover.  It was a nice win for the Patriot with the score of 9-5.

The boys carried over their confidence to the second game of the day against CC United B team with another strong first quarter.  The Patriot finished their day with their fourth win by the score of 12-4.

With a 4-0 record on the first two days of the tournament, the Patriot only needed another win on the third day to earn a spot in the semifinal round.  Their opponent ORWP from Glendale was in the same situation and had the same idea for themselves.

From the start it was clear on what ORWP’s strategy was: stop Patriot’s top scorer, Max Abravanel, from touching the ball at all cost.

The strategy worked, as the Patriot was only able to score three goals during the game, which ended with the score of 3-8.  The Patriot boys were obviously disappointed, but Coach Duje did a great job in keeping their spirit up, while reminding the boys that with a win for the next game, they would still be in the semifinal round the next day.

With that in mind, the boys took care of business against their next opponent South Coast A team with a win by the score of 12-6.  The Patriot boys earned a spot in the semifinal round on the fourth and final day of the tournament.

The semifinal game was against another familiar opponent: Redlands Renegades.  This was the same team that the Patriot lost to during the final game of the zone qualifier back in June.  Since both teams were familiar with each other, it was not surprising that it was a back-and-forth and low-scoring game.

With the game tied and with only a few seconds left in the game, the Renegades called a timeout to set up a final shot.

With the clock ticking down to zero, the Renegades made a pass from the corner to the center right in front of the goal.  With a sea of arms, one Renegades player managed to get up higher than anyone else and managed to tip the ball into the goal for a buzzer beater.  The Patriot players, coaches, and parents were all stunned as the final buzzer sounded while watching the Renegades celebrate the big win.

There was no time for the Patriot to feel bad for themselves, as the 3rd-place game was only a few hour away.  The boys got the news during lunch that their opponent will be ORWP again, and excitement was there again with the team as they were confident that they could make the necessary adjustment to beat their opponent.  With thunderous and continuous cheering from the parents, the Patriot boys battled against ORWP and played to a 8-8 tie at the end of regulation.

Going into the shootout the Patriot boys were confident because they knew their goalie Sam Monette has a talent for blocking penalty shots. Monette did not disappoint.  Out of five shots made against him, Monette managed to emphatically block three of them (allowing only two to go into the goal) while his teammates helped him by scoring three goals.

Redemption complete, third-place medal secured, self doubt extinguished. Coach Duje Grubisic knew his team had dug deep to bring home this win and couldn’t be prouder.

It was a tremendous ending to the club season for the Patriot 16-and-under boys water polo team.  Most of the players will continue to play water polo for either Beckman or Northwood high school, which are both in the Pacific Coast League.