The Sun Devil Water Polo Club is growing and gaining attention.
Five of its female members from the youth/high school divisions were selected for the USA Water Polo Mountain Zone travel teams, which represent Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
Phoenix Desert Vista sophomores Paige Hacker and Samantha Blau were selected for the junior travel team.
Hacker is a veteran of national-level competition.
“Paige swam on swim teams since she was 5 years old,” her mother Judy Hacker said. “She was introduced to water polo while on the Sun Devil Swim Club during a cross-training session and fell in love with the sport. After that it was 100 percent water polo.
“She went to the national competition her first year of playing with no expectations and ended up making the national team.”
That was three years ago. Since then, Paige Hacker has started her high school club water polo team that has doubled in size and now encompasses players from Desert Vista, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, Chandler Basha, Tempe Marcos de Niza and Phoenix Sunnyslope.
Hacker also participated in the 2007 Junior Olympics, traveling to play with the Miami Riptides. The team finished ninth out of 48 teams.
She was also a member of the Riptides squad when it finished as runner-up in February at the sixth South Florida International age group tournament in Coral Springs, Fla.
Blau, too, made incredible progress during her first year in the sport.
At 5-foot-11, she played center for the Desert Vista freshman basketball team last year. Since then, however, “her love of water polo has superseded her interest in basketball,” said her mother Janet Blau.
Samantha is the only female high school water polo goalie in Arizona and vice president of the club team at Desert Vista.
Joining Hacker and Blau are Addie Nauman and Katie Richardson from Kyrene Middle School, and Basha High freshman Cami Poissonnier, who were selected for the youth travel team.
All five girls will be participating in the zone championships scheduled for Memorial Day weekend in California. The junior team will play in Laguna Niguel while the youth squad will compete in San Juan Capistrano.
Two young men from the East Valley also were selected for travel teams: Gilbert Highland junior Kolby Krystofik and Desert Vista senior Paul Miernicki.
Three athletes from each junior zone team and two from the youth team competing at the championships will be selected for the 14-member U.S. national teams.
The female quintet has something else in common: The girls play for the Desert Vista entry in the Sun Devil Water Polo Club’s six-team high school league.
Highland, Mesa Westwood, Mesa Red Mountain and Mesa High will join two squads from Desert Vista in their state championships Friday and Saturday at Carson Junior High Pool in Mesa. The first match is scheduled for 5 p.m.
To help kick off its summer season, Sun Devil Water Polo will host a free clinic from 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. on May 17 at Arizona State’s Mona Plummer Aquatics Center to introduce potential players to the sport. No experience is necessary for the clinic, which is appropriate for all ages.
Also, several camp opportunities under the direction of Arizona State coach Todd Clapper and assistant Ryan Castle are available this summer for youth of all ages and ability.
The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPSoccer) is a program designed to give opportunities for children to play the sport regardless of a disability or any type of challenges.
“There are too many times that they get turned away just because of a condition they are diagnosed with,” said David Cruz, vice president of recreation for the Arizona Youth Soccer Association.
TOPSoccer is already under way in California, with about 300 players, but is still in its infancy in Arizona.
Jill and Tom Oliver run a program at the Arizona Sports Complex (3555 W. Pinnacle Peak Road in Glendale) with matches almost every Sunday at 1 p.m. And Lindsay Tarpley and Leslie Osborne from the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team have agreed to be the official spokespersons of the local program.
Now Cruz, a certified TOPSoccer coach, will be running “playday” practice sessions with the help of his “buddies” to introduce the program to other parts of the valley.
“Many of these buddies will be club soccer players or club coaches that are current members of the AYSA,” said Cruz. “These playdays will be an opportunity to show the parents of these players what type of program we will be running. It will also give us a chance to see what abilities these players have so we can properly place them in a setting that will help them learn the game and have fun.”
The program is open to all who have a disability or challenge (physical, mental, etc.), or any special needs player and there is no age limit. Best of all, the playdays are free of charge.
Playdays in the East Valley are scheduled for 2 p.m. May 10 at Big League Dreams in Gilbert and 7:30 p.m. May 21 at Shepherd Junior High School in Mesa.
For more information, visit www.azyouthsoccer.org or call Cruz at (480) 396-8607.
ON THE OTHER SIDE
Gymnasts from the Aspire Kids Center in Chandler won division championships and competed in the American Showcase National Championships last weekend in Anaheim, Calif.
The Senior Open Level 3 team (girls and boys ages 18 and younger) finished as runner-up to the national champions.
The Youth Level 2 team (girls ages 11 and younger) finished seventh. And the Youth Level 1 team finished fifth in its first out-of-state competition.
The Aspire All-Stars are coached by Dave and Jan Branch. Dave is a former ASU gymnast and NCAA national champion on floor exercise.
Visit www.aspirekidsports.com or call (480) 820-3774 for information.