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Boys polo struggles at Junior Olympics


The relatively young Chehalem 18U boys team manages just one win in seven games, but made valuable strides

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Facing No. 9 La Morinda and No. 16 American River in the opening round of the Junior Olympics, the Chehalem Water Polo Club’s boys 18-and-under team was in for a rude awakening.

The Tigers dropped those first two contests by a combined score of 36-9 and despite stepping up their level of play from that point forward, struggled to a 1-6 record July 26-29.Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tough competition -- Barrett Allen (left) and Cameron Kisling rise to attempt to block an opponent’s shot during the Chehalem Water Polo 18-U boy’s team journey to the Bay Area to compete in the Junior Olympics last week.

“We had to adapt to their playing style, which is very different than Oregon,” recent Newberg High School graduate Spencer McMaster said. “They press a lot more and more counterattacking even. Down there you really have to work if you want a foul, so it was really different. We had to adapt for the first couple of games to get used to it.”

In most years, Chehalem is at a distinct disadvantage at the tournament because it basically draws its roster from the Newberg High School team, sometimes drawing a player or two from other teams in the state, but is up against all-star teams from much bigger communities.

The Tigers faced an especially tough road this year because they are significantly younger than in years past, while many of the teams they faced were exclusively filled with seniors and recent graduates.

“It’s just up to us to go out and play our best and take what we’ve learned in practice and put it into the game and see how it works, then adapt to the teams we struggle against,” senior Craig Beecher, who will captain the NHS team this fall. “I’m proud of all the younger kids. They worked really hard to get better and try to get adjusted to a different level of play, a different style of play.”

Chehalem fell behind 6-0 in its third game of the tournament against CC United, but played them to a 7-7 draw in the second half to build a measure of confidence moving forward. McMaster scored four goals, with Beecher, graduate Barrett Allen and sophomore Eric Wilson adding one apiece in defeat.

The Tigers came up against a team of Oregon All-Stars playing under the banner of Willa­mette Valley Water Polo Club and weren’t able to muster enough offense in a 9-3 loss that dropped them to 0-4.

Chehalem got on the board with an 8-4 victory against HOLA, getting great defense in the second half, five goals from Beecher and 11 blocks from goalie Kyle Hansen, who had one of his best games of the tournament.

“Kyle was great. As a defense, we couldn’t really do much against their counterattacks because they were so much faster than us,” McMaster said. “So Kyle did have a lot of one-on-nobodies and he just had to face them. He never got down himself even after taking one-on-nobody after one-on-nobody. The defense was solid, but he just had to pick up the slack that the rest of us were causing.”

The Tigers were brought back to earth by a 16-5 loss to the Gulliver Riptides in their next game, then closed with a 13-9 loss to West Suburban Naperville (Ill.) that demonstrated their inexperience.

“We all agreed what we want to take away is to keep up that intensity, that drive and focus no matter who we play against,” Beecher said. “We can’t be lazy and play down to other teams’ level because we saw teams go up on us and get lazy and play down to our level and then we’d start scoring goals and they’d have to pick up the intensity again.”

Beecher led Chehalem with 14 goals, 10 assists and 21 steals in the tournament, with McMaster adding 12 goals, five assists and a team-high 28 earned ejections.

McMaster was impressed with the play of Zach Schrage and Josh Passmore, two players who will have to play bigger roles for the high school team this fall.

Beecher, for one, believes the team is ready for the challenge.

“We talk a lot about being cohesive, having kind of a gang mentality,” he said. “We don’t want to make anybody feel left out or neglect anybody on the team. We’re a family, so we want to work as a family and win as a family.”