The East Side Water Polo Girls 18U team in the pool at the Junior Olympics
The East Side Water Polo Girls 18U team in the pool at the Junior Olympics

The East Side Lions Water Polo Club Girls 18 and under (18U) team took to the pools in Orange County, Cal., from July 25 to 28. The team took third place in the bronze bracket of the classic division at the U.S.A. Water Polo Junior Olympics.

The Lions qualified by placing seventh at a Midwest qualifier in Bloomington, Ind. Jimmy Heard, club director and head coach of East Side, told the RoundTable, “We were excited to see the new level of competition. We were really looking forward to the challenge, I’d say.”

The team went 1-2 day one and was placed in the bronze bracket. “We knew...that it was going to be a tough time and so we just kind of reset.” said Coach Heard, while talking about the first day.

Day two, the Lions really started to pick up steam. With two big wins, East Side found themselves one win away from making it to the semi-finals.

This game took place on day three and was one of East Side’s toughest matches. Many parents were following a group chat in Evanston for updates throughout the tournament. Danira Dizdarevic, whose daughter Mina plays for the team, stated, “The tensest game, at least for the parents, was [the] qualifying game for the semi-finals.”

East Side, down 7-2 at halftime, scored eight second half goals, including a game winner by Mina with 45 seconds, securing a 10-9 victory.

Coach Heard mainly praised the defense for the win. “I’d probably have to attribute it to our defense in general. We just really stepped up.”

The Lions lost in the semi-finals on the final day of the tournament at Chapman University, but were able to end the tournament on a high note, with a 14-10 victory in the third place match.

“We were almost pleasantly surprised,” said Coach Heard about the third place finish. “Our first time going out [to the Junior Olympics] and coming back with some hardware was pretty neat for sure.”

The team will be back at full strength this winter, after girls’ high school swimming season. With the new Midwest Elite League forming, and at least five out-of-state trips planned for the team, more big things are expected.

The Club has classes and teams for all different ages and experience levels. Coach Heard encourages more people to try water polo.

“Water polo is kind of up and coming. It’s really fun, fast and exciting,” he said. “It’s just kind of a really unique sport that not a lot of people really know about. But, I think if they just watched it for 10 minutes they’d be totally hooked on it.”