PCHS water polo player tries out for U18 squad
When people think of water polo, Utah isn’t usually on the list of top states for the sport. First on the list is California, followed distantly by every other state.
But, when USA Water Polo held tryouts in Orange County for its U18 national team, a Park City High School junior was invited to compete for a spot.
Matt Whipple, who only started playing water polo three years ago as a freshman at PCHS, has already made his mark on the sport. He was a 2015 first-team all-state honoree, earned a place on the Academic All-American squad and was Park City’s team captain despite only being a sophomore.
Though he didn’t qualify for a spot on the U18 national team, he said he was honored to make it to the national team camp.
"You first try out for a camp to go out of Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico," he said. "If you make that team, you go play in a tournament in front of all the national team coaches. They choose the top players from every zone that they think can contend for a [national team] spot. There are like 48 spots and I was the only one selected from the mountain zone."
Whipple spends his summers playing in California, but said the national camp was even more intense than his summer league.
"It was seven hours of water polo a day," he said. "It was different. I also play in Coronado, which is south of San Diego, in the summers. Comparing Utah to Coronado to what I was doing, it’s completely different. It showed how much California dominates the sport."
That domination made itself evident when the U18 national team roster was announced.
"Nobody from outside of California made it," Whipple said. "They said that everybody that made it was like 6-foot-6, 200-something pounds. I was also the only kid there that was in his first year doing [the national camp]. Everyone else had either been playing in California for a long time or, if they weren’t from California, this was like their third time doing the camp."
Though Utah isn’t a hotbed for water polo talent, Whipple said the sport has been growing in recent years. Last year, the Miners lost to Canyon View 8-6 in the title game. This year, Whipple wants the improved Park City squad to take the next step.
"We’ve been getting a lot better," he said. "I’ve been playing for three years and the first year we got beaten pretty badly. Last year, we got second at state and this year we’re probably going to win it, I hope."
Buoyed by crossover athletes from Park City’s dominant swim teams, the Miners are looking to take advantage of their youth the next couple of years.
"This year, we have one senior on our team and this is his first year playing," Whipple said. "We’re a young team and our strengths are when we’re set up in our offense. The counter-attack and our swimming ability will hurt us sometimes, especially against teams that have swam together for a long time. Overall, though, we’ve gotten a lot better through the years."
Whipple said he doesn’t know what his future water polo plans are yet, but he’s had conversations with some schools about playing at the next level. His dad, Jeff, played in college at USC.
"I’ve talked to a couple small DIII schools and also UC Davis, which is a top-five school, or at least a competitor," he said. "In water polo, it’s like Cal, Stanford, USC, UCLA and then other schools. There’s always like one other school that’s in the mix."
But, before he decides on a college, Whipple has some unfinished business at the high school level. Park City would like a shot at redemption against Canyon View this year and Whipple said he’d like to finish his PCHS career as a back-to-back 3A champion.
"That would mean a lot, especially since last year we lost in the championship by two," he said. "That was tough. The game was not a good game for us. Our shots weren’t falling. It would mean a lot to come out with two championships."
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