There are many reasons why the CdM Aquatics Grey 18-and-under boys' team plans to have a good time at this year's USA Water Polo Junior Olympics.
Two of the captains from last year's CdM high school team, Newport-Mesa Player of the Year Reid Chase (Stanford) and fellow Dream Team selection Colby Watson (USC), weighed in on a couple of them before CdM Grey played in a scrimmage Wednesday night at UC Irvine.
"It's fun, because we all know each other and we've played together for so long," Chase said.
Watson grinned as he gave a reason that was the exact opposite.
"This team's fun because we're meeting new people," Watson said, setting off loud laughter among the members of the team.
Chase and Watson actually are both right. They are joined on the team by a sizable CdM contingent, players like fellow recent graduates Jack Harryman (Pepperdine), Danny Marshall (UCLA), Armen Mavusi (UCLA) and Jake Wyatt (Brown). Incoming senior goalie Evan Zoernack and 2012 CdM graduate Ben Zepfel (Harvard) also play for CdM Grey.
Yet, so do Newport Harbor graduate Dan Stevens (Harvard) and Los Alamitos graduates Connor Lees (Cal State Long Beach), Max Merrill (Cal) and goalie Luke Weiser (Brown), as well as Edison incoming senior Troy Oates.
Simply put, the CdM Grey team has a lot of talent. It is seeded third in the 18-and-under boys' championship bracket at the Junior Olympics, which are taking place at pools throughout Orange County from Saturday through Aug. 4. Session one, featuring boys' divisions and the 10-and-under girls' division, lasts through Tuesday. CdM Grey opens its tournament with games at Foothill High on Saturday.
The team's head coach is Ryan Bailey, a four-time Olympian who has been coaching at CdM for three years now. Evan Zepfel, Ben's older brother who played at CdM and Harvard for four years, is an assistant coach.
Bailey said he's excited, as this is the first year CdM Grey, tailored toward post-high school and collegiate players, is fielding teams at the Junior Olympics. CdM Grey also had a 22-and-under team planned, but that age division was scrapped for this year's Junior Olympics.
"It's kind of been an idea that we've had for a long time," Bailey said. "Kids graduate high school and really have nowhere to go. We had 13 seniors [at CdM] this year, so we figured it would be a great year to start it since we had such a big graduating class. It turned out even better than we thought, because we got a lot of CdM kids, then we added great Los Al kids, and Dan Stevens from Newport came over. It kind of took a life of its own and really turned into a great team ... At CdM, we want to be an all-ages club, and this is the first step in that direction."
Bailey, 37, has not been to the Junior Olympics in about two decades, since his playing days at Long Beach Millikan. As a professional player, summer was typically a time for international tournaments.
"We'll see how it goes," Bailey said. "I know I need help reading the complicated schedule ... it's pretty intense."
Competition should be intense, too. The top two seeds in the 18-and-under boys' division are Stanford Red and United, which features Mater Dei High players. United qualified first from the SOPAC zone, defeating CdM Grey, 10-6, in the first-place match. Merrill, a second-team All-Orange County defender, did not play in that game, however.
"I feel like we have a very good chance of making it to the finals and possibly winning this thing," Chase said. "We'll have everyone together for JOs, and usually we don't get everyone together for tournaments or practices."
Watson glanced over to Bailey, within earshot and sitting on a bench nearby.
"Plus, due to our supreme coaching, we can go all he way," Watson said. "He has his own [water polo] suits made after him."
Chase smiled as he piped up, too.
"I mean, Ryan and I have been friends for so long," Chase said, again causing laughter. "We have so much chemistry ... It's fun to have a coach who's as competitive as we are."
The team is definitely feeling loose heading into the tournament. And rivalries aside, Stevens said they're ready to get things done.
"Not a whole lot of people get to say that they're coached by a four-time Olympian," Stevens said. "But it was also kind of cool because back in January, when I walked on the [CdM pool] deck, I was the only Newport Harbor kid. I was walking onto a team composed of primarily former rivals. I thought it would be a little different, but it was great, because there was a lot of mutual respect. We meshed together very well.
"Since then, we've come together as a team. Not just a group of all-stars, a team, and that's something that I really like."
Newport Beach Water Polo and CdM Aquatics also have teams in most of the other boys' age groups. The Newport 18U team, which is seeded 14th and features recent Newport Harbor graduates Curtis Fink and goalie Wyatt Muller, opens play Saturday at Newport Harbor High.
Costa Mesa Aquatics Club, which is less than three years old, also has teams at Junior Olympics for the first time in program history. They're a 10-and-under co-ed team, a 12-and-under boys' squad and a 12-and-under girls' team. Club director Jose De La Jara said the girls' team is a combination team with Anteater Water Polo Club.
De La Jara said he hopes the club can medal (finish top three) in at least one of the divisions. CMAC is seeded third in the 12U boys "classic" division.