After a long 16-year wait, the Tooele Water Polo club finally reached the top of the mountain and took state last month. Prior to this, the last state title was in 2007, before many of the current players learned to walk.
On May 20, this year’s team defeated the Wasatch Water Polo by a narrow 12-11 margin. The championship-clinching win marked the conclusion of a roller-coaster, riddled with injuries and tough losses early on in the season. However, the team battled back and reached the pinnacle of success.
‘It’s kind of a family thing’
Over the last four seasons, Head Coach Nate Anderson has been a key component to much of the team’s successes. After spending two years serving under his brother-in-law, who was coach at the time, Anderson was promoted to coach over these last two years.
With his son Kincaide and daughter Petra — the latter who graduated this spring — having played water polo with the club, Anderson said the transition to coaching was easy. In fact, many other players, who have come and gone, had family members on the roster. Names such as Doug and Liam Seals, Cameron Reynolds and his brother, are among the many past and present water poloists.
“I don’t want to say that it’s a family thing, but it’s a family thing,” Anderson said. “The people in some regards, who keep the program robust, are those families that continue to participate — and a lot of credit [goes] to them for that.”
But despite the prevalence of related athletes on the team, Anderson doesn’t want to give the impression that it is an exclusive group.
“We want everybody to feel like water polo is a family,” he said.
Tooele rebounds from a sluggish start ahead of State tourney
In the early stages of the season, things looked bleak for the team. With a number of players either injured or otherwise unable to play, it took a handful of games before they recorded their first victory. According to Anderson the team was blown out by Olympus in the first game, largely due to a short window of practice time before the season began.
Once everyone started getting healthy and they found their groove, the team bounced back and finished ranked fourth out of the six teams in the Division-3 standings. Up first in the playoffs was a match against the Kearns Water Polo; a game in which they won.
In the second match, they squared off against Cache who was a familiar and elusive foe.
Earlier in the season, Tooele pulled off a tie against Cache Water Polo, which was huge for the team as Cache had their number for quite some time.
Reynolds reflected on that game, which ended 17-17, and said it was a turning point that led to the team’s eventual win in the playoffs.
“We were down by one point, with three seconds to go,” Reynolds said. “They gave me the ball and I scored, then they (Cache) couldn’t score.
“From then on, we knew we could beat them.”
And that’s just what they did during the state tournament’s round-robin play, advancing to the next round on the heels of a 13-7 victory. Following the win, it set the stage for a championship game against the Wasatch Water Polo.
The Championship game
Following their 2-0 record in round robin play, Tooele found itself in for a close contest against Wasatch. The team got out to a great start early in the first quarter, when Reynolds scored Tooele’s first goal a mere 30 seconds into the frame. Wasatch responded with two goals of their own and took a 2-1 lead.
Then, teammate Bennett Delaney netted another goal, followed by a pair of man-up goals (situations similar to power plays in hockey) by Reynolds to put Tooele back in the lead at 4-2, which held into the second quarter.
In the second Tooele tacked on another three goals and gave up four, but ended the quarter ahead 7-6. Things had become very physical between both teams by the start of the third, with neither team registering a goal for nearly two-and-a-half minutes of the stanza. Both teams traded goals from that point on, with Wasatch overtaking Tooele 10-9 leading into the fourth and final quarter.
Even though Wasatch extended the lead to 11-9 at the onset of the fourth, Tooele was undeterred and scored three unanswered goals to regain the lead at 12-11. A Tooele steal and subsequent running of the clock kept the score intact, sealing the victory — and the state title.
Cameron Reynolds named co-MVP
Following the conclusion of the tournament, All-State accolades were handed down and Reynolds was named MVP of the D-3 boys division. Along with three teammates who earned first and second team honors, and three others who were honorable mentions, Tooele was well represented in the 18-and-under state awards.
The girls team also earned recognition, as Petra Anderson was named to the first-team in the girls division. Mary Armantrout and Jaide Florence received honorable mentions to round out the total of nine Tooele water poloists bringing home awards.
Reynolds didn’t hog the glory while looking back on his stellar season. Like the others, he had to overcome the adversity that came along with an early-season injury and credited many of his teammates with the team’s success.
“[A] player that really stood out to me was Parker Davis,” Reynolds said of the sophomore center back defender, who initially had a sluggish start. “Something clicked this season and he’s just been awesome.
“Same thing goes for our goalie Chance (Roberts), in the first few games he was looking a little rusty,” Reynolds said. “But he just turned it on and went 100 mph and did a complete 180; he look[ed] like a completely different player.”
Now that he’s graduated, Reynolds plans to continue his water polo career at the collegiate level and will sign a letter of intent to play for Fresno Pacific University in Fresno, California. Since college water polo is relatively coastal, he went with Fresno as opposed to going to the east coast.
“It was either I had to go to California, stay here in Utah and play club (water polo) or go all the way to New York,” he said. “So after talking to all my coaches and evaluating my options, financially and academically, California just seemed like the best fit for me.”
Growing the sport locally
In Anderson’s view, water polo is perhaps one of the most challenging sports, especially in the realm of water sports. Being careful not to knock other aquatic sports, he thinks there is more intensity than the more traditional games.
“I think swimming is already a super difficult sport to participate in and be successful,” he said. “But, in the instance of water polo, you have people trying to drown you while you’re trying to swim.”
Whether or not water polo is a more intensive sport, one of the problems he and the rest of his team faces is the lack of resources in Tooele County. With limited facilities and even more limited availability, pool time is at a premium.
“Obviously, during the summertime, people want to frequent the pools for leisure activities,” Anderson said.
There is currently talk of Pratt Aquatic Center holding water polo “pickup” games on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but nothing has been finalized as of yet. Another idea that’s been floating around, according to Anderson, has been to hold an event at the Deseret Peak Aquatic Center to introduce the sport to established and curious individuals.
“If that goes through, it will be super fantastic,” Anderson said. “There are quite a few water polo players of the years that would be interested in that.
“Water polo is a great sport.”
Overall, Anderson goes back to what made his involvement with Tooele’s water polo so special; the tight-knit nature of his team. As coach, he values that connection beyond the pool.
“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do it,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like maybe I’m getting a little too old and out of touch with the young [players].
“But it’s been good and I’ve enjoyed the interaction with the families.”
It’s like he said: “It’s kind of a family thing.”
Tooele Water Polo Club roster:
Coaches: Nate Anderson, Camellia Anderson, Trish DuClos
Team: Robert Anderson, Parker Davis, Edoardo Marchesini, Kaden Martin, Jaxon Day, John Marsing, Tucker Woods, Bennett Delaney, William VonNiederhausern, Jonas Walker, Aiden Adams, Douglas Seals, William Seals, Logan Moon, Cameron Reynolds, Jason Rice.
Seniors: No.4 Edoardo Marchesini (foreign-exchange student), No.6 Jaxon Day, No.8 Tucker Woods, No.14 Douglas Seals, No.20 Cameron Reynolds.
Starters: Jaxon Day, Cameron Reynolds, Tucker Woods, Bennett Delaney, Parker Davis, Douglas Seals, and goalie Chance Roberts.
Full list of state award winners:
D-3 Boys: Cameron Reynolds (MVP), Douglas Seals (1st Team), Jaxon Day (2nd Team), Parker Davis, Kincaide Anderson and Bennett Delaney (Honorable Mentions)
D-2 Girls: Petra Anderson (1st team), Mary Armantrout and Jaide Florence (Honorable mentions)