Members of the Dr. Phillips girls varsity water polo team competed recently at The USA Water Polo Junior Olympics — which took place in Dallas — and brought home the gold.
“It means a lot,” junior goalie Maran Harris, 16, said. “We are a newly developed team, and we just started to getting to play together with some of our other teammates. It was a very monumental moment to see everything come together after all the hard work. It was awesome.”
This was the first time Team Orlando attended the Junior Olympics with a girls division. It had attended in the past but only with a boys team, and despite not being able to practice much as a team, the girls did not disappoint.
“Sometimes, personalities are difficult to mesh together,” said Leo Ramirez, Dr. Phillips head water polo coach. “But they accepted each other and took to each other right away. It was like watching a team that had been (playing) together forever.”
“I actually didn’t get to meet people much before getting to play with them,” junior wing driver Vivi Kasten, 15, said. “I didn’t know half their names before the first game. But, it was really fun. We all worked together super well, communicated really well, and we just clicked as a team.”
Coming in as the underdogs, the team turned some heads game after game, displaying a strong chemistry on the water and growing their level of confidence for their upcoming 2023-24 water polo high school season.
“It means a lot to the girls,” Ramirez said. “Their confidence level went up a lot, and we didn’t know what to expect. We were put into a group that had the second seed of the tournament in it. … We just beat very good teams, and that gave them a lot of confidence. Teams couldn’t score on us. We had great offense, and we had the most goals and allowed the least goals (of the tournament). They were very confident.”
Senior utility and wing Nicole Speller, 17, competed last year at the Junior Olympics in the 16U category but this year entered as an 18U player — who also brought gold.
“Even though I didn’t play in the 16U division, I played in it last year, and we came in eighth (overall),” she said. “Seeing the progress from going and finish eighth to winning gold — it was good to see all the hard work that we’ve put in from last year to now. And, I realized how much harder one year division going up makes a difference, because I had to put in a lot more effort in games. It was very hard, but I pushed the entire game, and it was worth it.”
More than 30 boys teams and 15 girls teams participated in this year’s tournament.
“Honestly, it was not what I was expecting at all,” Harris said. “I was just hoping to win one of the first games when the bracket was set. I was not expecting to win all our games. … I’m so proud of us for being able to come together and achieve that.”
Dr. Phillips sophomore driver and utility Avery Haugh, 15, was named MVP of the tournament.
“I’m really grateful for it; I couldn’t have done it without the team and coaches,” she said. “We all worked together as a team, and I wouldn’t have been able to do everything I did without them. Being able to communicate with the team and be able to help lead them and assist them in whatever I could to ultimately coming out winning every game.”