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The fledgling East Coast Water Polo program got its feet wet in its first large state competition when it competed in the recent Sunshine State Games at the Coral Springs Aquatic Center.
East Coast Water Polo 18U girls’ coach Marco Barrera said the main goal of his new team was to gain experience. In addition to training at Boca Raton High School, they also opened a satellite program in West Palm Beach. The club was founded by two long-time members of the water polo community: Kurt Predmore and Jorge Montero.
“This club is fairly new,” said Barrera, who was part of the club’s launch back in the winter. He also is the coach of the Suncoast High School water polo teams. “We wanted them to see what the other teams were doing and to show them how to prepare.
“The more they play, the better they get,” he said. “They gain an understanding of what needs to be done. I think it is going smoothly. We still have a ways to go, but so far it has been great. We are getting numbers and people are showing up. We are turning high school players into club players and that is always a challenge, but it is working. We want them to learn the game. The biggest part is the mental game.”
East Coast Water Polo’s Anabelle Phillips, 15, who lives in Boca Raton, said the tournament helped the players work together as a team and also gave them a glimpse of how better teams play.
“I have only been player (water polo) for four months,” said Phillips, who will be a sophomore at Boca Raton High School in the fall. “I wanted to get better and also build teamwork. It is definitely hard to play the best teams in the state, but I get to see how they play and put it into my game and get better.”
Teammate Maci Rippo agreed: “The tournament for us is just trying to figure out what we can improve on. For me, I play (high school) varsity, so it is nice for me to meet new people and be able to play year-round.
Rippo, who will be a sophomore at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton in the fall, has been playing water polo for the school since the seventh grade.
“It would be nice to play in college,” she said. “I am enjoying playing and enjoy seeing how I am improving.”
Anna Rosen, who is with the East Coast Water Polo Program as one of its lead coaches, served as tournament director of the Sunshine State Games for the third straight year.
“It is one of the only tournaments where you will see multiple generations within the same family playing water polo,” she said. “That’s amazing. You will see parents and grandparents playing in the open divisions and the kids playing in the younger divisions. I love that.”
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There were 800 athletes competing in eight divisions from U12 teams up to adult open teams. The teams came from Orlando, Tampa, Sarasota, and a lot of presence from the South Florida water polo community.
Matt Guse has been vice president of operations for the Florida Sports Foundation since September 2020.
“It’s great for us as an organization, but it is more important for these athletes to finally have a place to go out and compete and kind of get a little bit closer to normal,” he said. “This is huge. You look at some of these adults and they have been playing this game for 20-plus years regularly.
“Having to take a year off was pretty significant,” Guse said. “I am sure they are beside themselves for the opportunity to be competitive again. It is inspiring to see the older players still competing. We had the Senior Games back in December and we had about 2,000 athletes for that. Athletes of all ages are ready to be back out here. A tip of the hat to any 50-year-old still competing against a 20-year-old.”
The National Senior Games have been pushed back from November 2020 to April 2022, and the Florida Senior Games will take place in Broward County in December.
“I think that is going to be great,” Guse said. “We are going to use some of the venues that Nationals will use, so the athletes will get a chance to scope that out, so we think it will be a great fit. When they held Nationals in Albuquerque, I think they had upward of 14,000 people, so it is massive.”