Talent floods water polo team rosters
PCHS teams look to beat Kearns, win state title
When looking at Park City High School Athletics, the swim teams tend to stick out. Both the girls’ and boys’ teams are four-time defending 3A state champions, with swimmers that are some of the best in the state at their respective events.
While some are dedicated swimmers who might even extend their careers to the college level, there are others on the high school’s swim teams that don’t consider swimming their main sport. For instance, water polo comes first for guys like Matt Whipple, Dennis Djunic and Jack Loyens and girls like Bella Buchanan and Jessi Beyer.
“If you can’t run, you can’t play basketball. If you can’t swim, you can’t play water polo,” said Jeff Whipple, Park City’s assistant coach. “These guys have to be in really good shape.”
Both the girls’ and boys’ water polo teams have found success early in their respective seasons. The boys’ team is coming off a win at the Olympus Round Robin Tournament two weekends ago, while it lost by two to Kearns in the final of the Kearns Kickoff Tournament on March 15-18.
“The boys’ water polo team is very, very good,” Whipple said. “It’s a team that has strength on both the inside and the outside. Our defense can be exceptional, as well.”
The girls’ team was without some of its top players in Beyer, Buchanan and Emma Brooks, but still took fourth at the Olympic Round Robin Tournament. The Miners also placed fourth in Kearns, again without some of its stars.
The early-season success comes as no surprise to Whipple and the rest of the coaching staff.
“Our boys and girls are both the 3A favorites in the state,” Whipple said. “A good goal would be to go undefeated in [3A play].”
The girls’ team was without some of its best players the two previous tournaments because they were playing in the National Olympic Development Tournament while representing the Mountain Zone team. Maya Mohebbizadeh joined Beyer, Buchanan and Brooks on the Olympic Development Team.
Members from the boys’ team were also selected to the Mountain Zone team. Djunic, Kiyan Mohebbizadeh, Elijah Thalos, Jon Troxel and Braden Horton all qualified for one of the regional teams.
“There’s not many cities that have [this many kids] go to the most prestigious high school water polo tournament,” Whipple said. “That’s pretty special with what we have.”
One of the reasons the Varsity programs at Park City, both just three years old, have become so successful is because of the abundance of talent up and down the roster. It’s clear the Miners boast some impressive players at the top, evident by their selections to region and nationals teams. But they also have a batch of players ready to take over.
“We have star talent and then we have up-and-coming players,” Whipple said.
The Park City teams, both boys’ and girls’, are expected to make a run at the Utah High School Water Polo Association 3A crown this season. In order to be prepared for whatever comes their way, the Miners try to participate in the hardest tournaments throughout the year, despite the other teams’ classifications.
Kearns is one team Park City won’t see during the postseason, but sees plenty of prior to it. The program, led by Brad Peercy, has been on top of the water polo game for the last decade and hasn’t lost a single game the last five seasons. A state championship would be nice for Park City, but beating Kearns might be even sweeter.
“Our goal is to beat Kearns one time this year,” Whipple said.
The Miners got their chance to do so on Tuesday evening when they traveled to Kearns for a mid-week contest. Led by Dennis Djunic and Elijah Thalos, who finished with four and three goals, respectively, the boys’ team pulled off the hard-fought feat by beating Kearns 11-6. Park City also received excellent goaltending from Thomas Kearns, who registered 17 saves in the game.
The Park City teams will play their second game in two nights by returning to their home pool at Ecker Hill Middle School to host Brighton on Wednesday evening. The girls’ game is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., while the boys will follow at 7:30 p.m.
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