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Water polo matches fierce, fun

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Adam Huff of Kearns High School shoots by Ben Robson of Skyline High in the boys water polo championship game in May 2006.

Adam Huff of Kearns High School shoots by Ben Robson of Skyline High in the boys water polo championship game in May 2006.

Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

Water polo may not be as popular as other sports, but among the devotees who engage in this sport, competition is fierce and it can be just as fun as hockey or basketball — two sports to which it is often compared.

The Utah High School Spring Water Polo League consists of six teams that operate out of the corresponding high schools, although it is not a sport sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association. And since all high schools do not have a team, many of the teams include players from multiple high schools who want to participate.

As recent as two years ago, organization was divided into Division I and Division II. Now Utah high school classification tends to facilitate organization and bring about more even competition. When it comes to water sports, Skyline will be right there in the forefront.

The Eagles finished as runner-up to Kearns last year. The 5A swimmer of the year, Nathan Swallow, competes for the water polo team. "He's a kid who can play any position," said coach Joe Pereira.

"Ben Robson is my point guard," said Pereira. "He is my John Stockton. All the good plays run through him."

Sophomore Ted Zhang mans the center position. Pereira expects that he will lead the team in scoring. "He goes down and makes all the moves," said Pereira. Graham Smith and Mason Child are solid performers. "We have a pretty well-rounded team," he added.

Pereira noted his goal: "My whole philosophy is the kids need to be trying to get better. The whole journey through life is to get better whether you are a doctor, a lawyer or whatever.

"Kearns has to be the favorite," he said. But that philosophy and Skyline's current 5-0 record portends they will challenge for the state championship. Whether Kearns is the favorite or not, it is the defending state champion for two consecutive years. Coach Brad Peercy has 19 years experience in the sport, and he has guided Kearns to three state titles since 2000. He graduated six seniors off last year's squad but is still optimistic about the outlook for this season. "We are a lot younger than last year," he said, "but we will still have a good team that will compete well."

No. 1 returnee Adam Huff was named MVP of last year's state tournament as a sophomore. During the summer he played on the national water polo team for his age group. Justin Christiansen serves as team captain and is an outside shooter. Steven Rij is a left-hander who "will be one of our best scorers," said Peercy. In water polo circles, a left-hander has a decided advantage.

"Depth will be a strength of our team," added Peercy. "Depth is necessary for a good program. These kids get tired."

Other teams:

JORDAN: Returning goalie Nate Nelson is starting for his third consecutive year. As a sophomore he played goalie when Jordan captured the Division II championship under a different alignment. Riley McQuivey is in the center and as a junior is perhaps the Jordan's best player. Sean Burton is a "quick and scrappy player" according to coach Mike Goldhardt.

Fred Gatti just moved in from California and Goldhardt said, "you just don't get California experience here." He believes his team is still young but said, "Every single day they have been improving."

HUNTER: Fourth-year coach Shawn Marsing counts only three seniors on his team. Goalie Jeff Green was named first team all state as a junior last year. Robert Stock is another starting senior. "Freshman and sophomores make up the bulk of the team," said Marsing. He projected his leading scorer to be Matt Smith, a junior. "He also plays great defense," said Marsing.

Hunter's record stands at 2-5, but the younger players are maturing rapidly.

WEBER: Coach Bill Cruff believes the strength of his team will be defense.

Corey Ward and Peter Pa are listed as his top two players. Cruff also likes his goalie Patrick Rasmussen. Not having any feeder programs in the vicinity, Cruff described his team: "Out of 23 players, half are brand new and have never played water polo before." Currently Weber's record is 2-7.

BRIGHTON: Coach Evan Caraway will have an entry in this league for Brighton.

E-mail: wjewkes@desnews.com