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Holladay Journal

Water polo’s popularity on the rise in local clubs

May 29, 2022 01:42PM ● By Daniel Olsen

By Daniel Olsen | [email protected]

The Millcreek area has seen a rise in popularity in swimming with clubs like Olympus Aquatics. What many residents don’t realize is that the sleeping giant of water polo is hatching from these same clubs.

Olympus and Skyline headline as two of the best water polo clubs in the state. Olympus is led by boys coach Shawn Stringham and girls coach Alexis Courtney. Skyline is led by girls coach Allison Fernandez and boys coach Brett Luch.

Other powerhouse programs like Kearns, Park City and Murray will jockey for positioning in the state water polo championships this month.

“I founded the water polo club from Olympus Aquatics in 2013,” coach Stringham said. “I’m also the men’s head coach for the Olympus Water Polo program within Olympus Aquatics. I also work as the Water Polo Club director for the entire program.”

While wearing different hats within the organization has kept him busy, Stringham remains as determined as ever to grow water polo within the state of Utah.

“The growth of water polo is really exciting in Utah,” Stringham said. “It’s getting national attention. They see the growth that this sport is having here. We are working to make this a sport in the UHSAA. The powers of USA Water Polo are watching Utah as a model for water polo growth. Olympus provides opportunities not only for Olympus kids but others in Utah.”

One thing Stringham is especially proud of is the growth of the Olympus Aquatics program on the water polo side. For some time, Olympus and Skyline were a combined club team but have since split into their separate programs.

“We have new water polo clinics almost every week throughout the summer,” Stringham said. “Athletes join in starting with the 11-12-year-old range. We teach Splash Ball which teaches them swim safety skills and gets them into our program. Last year, we introduced 100 kids to Splash Ball. We want to get them excited about a safe way to experience our programs. We do weekly Splash Ball sessions throughout the summer.”

The growth of water polo has increased exponentially in Utah on the women’s side too.

“We’ve had a lot of years of growth,” Courtney said. “Water polo is competitive and physical. It’s important to communicate and play together as a team. We need to play offense on a player and then defense. We need to do well individually and also work together as a team. We used to be combined with Skyline but then the teams were split. Several of my juniors and seniors split. One junior just started playing this year and the other girls are sophomores.”

Several girls have taken coach Courtney’s message to heart and stood out as team leaders.

“It took everyone to accomplish our goal in the tournament,” Courtney said. “Bella Faraone is an excellent goalie. Elle Graham is an excellent center defender. Ava Ransom is a great driver and plays center driver. Other key contributors for our team include Megan Stringham, Ainsley Marsh, Julia Ransom and Brianna Petty.”

Jaydon Courtney, coach Courtney’s son, is a freshman at Olympus and competes for the boys 16U and 18U teams.

“My mom has been the most helpful person for my mental state that there is,” he said. “She’s there to calm me down and tell me what I can do better. She’s been my rock and helped with problems I’ve had with keeping my head level. She played collegiate water polo at Slippery Rock University.”

Despite the high expectations that come with being the son of a former collegiate water polo player, Jaydon Courtney strives to keep a light attitude.

“My main goal for high school is to have the most fun I can,” he said. “We won 16U and will hopefully compete for an 18U championship.”

Fellow Olympus teammate and sophomore Nick Oman feels that he has a unique talent that helps him compete with older players at the 18U level.

“For me speed and stamina is my greatest strength,” Oman said. “I can keep going longer than a bunch of people. It helps when I’m going against bigger people. I put myself in positions where they can’t manhandle me.”

Other senior athletes for the Olympus program were Amelia Stringham, Eden Lewis, Ethan Thunell and Jaxon Gilbert. 

On the Skyline side, both the boys and girls are also near the top of water polo competition at every age group. Fernandez, the Skyline girls water polo coach, is pleased with how her upstart group performed.

“The majority of our girls had never played the sport until a year and a half ago,” Fernandez said. “In a short amount of time, they just placed third in their first 16U competition. They have put in hard work in such little time. They improved from girls that didn’t know how to play to placing in state.”

One of those girls that has improved quite a bit is Audrey Hall. She is a senior at Skyline High school and will be playing for the club team at the University of Utah next year. She also hopes to referee water polo games.

“Being a referee gives you a whole new viewpoint of the sport,” Hall said. “One of the greatest water polo players that I met said you can’t blame the entire game on the referees unless you did everything perfectly and still lost.”

Hall is one of the leaders of a young 18U team that will have to work their way up in the upcoming tournament. They had some close losses this year that affected their seeding. On the boys side, the Skyline 16U team won every game except the championship game to Olympus.

“In water polo there is a combination of swimming, wrestling and treading water,” Skyline boys coach Luch said. “There is strategy involved in trying to get in between the defender and the goal. The sport is a combination of basketball, hockey and lacrosse.”

Skyline has several talented players on the boys roster that have made a difference in their performance against state competition.

“Our biggest name in 18U would probably be Tom Diaz,” Luch said. “He is one of the best players in the state and has collegiate potential.”

Other notable players mentioned by Luch include Theo Swapp, Richard Heckmann, Sam Brooks, Mikey Hackett, Dillon Shaw and Stephen Mecham.