by: JEFF WILSON/THE PIONEER - Garrett Webb looks to shoot over a teammate during practice last week at the MAC. The COPS will be chasing the 14U state title this weekend.Hoping to build off of a successful regular season, the Central Oregon Polo Squad enters this week's 14U state tournament ready to claim its first title.

Play begins Saturday at the Madras Aquatic Center as eight teams will participate in the tournament, some coming from Eugene, Newberg, Lake Oswego, Portland and Bend. The format will be two groups of four teams playing round-robin matches with the top two placers from each division advancing to the semifinals.

The top team in one bracket will play the second-place team from the other bracket and vice versa. The two teams that come out will play for the state title.

And coach Bobby DeRoest likes his team’s chances.

“I do, actually. I know that what we are going to put out there is a pretty quality team and I hope we get some good competition from the visiting teams,” he said. “What we are putting out there is a good, quality product and hopefully that is going to be good enough to be successful.”

This will be the third year that Oregon has held a state 14U water polo championship. The team from Madras has had some success, placing third twice, but the goal is to better that finish this time around.

“We are really excited; we have a really talented group of 14 and unders,” DeRoest said. “Everyone we played so far this season, in this league, we’ve beaten pretty handily. It’s exciting to see them having success at a young age, because that gets them hooked when they get into high school.”

Garrett Webb, 14, is in his third season of water polo and has every intention of bringing the state crown to Madras.

“I’m really looking forward to going up against some of the best teams in the state,” he said. “We’re going for the top. Our guys are a little more hyped; we know what we are doing.”

Webb said that in the previous seasons, guys were a little new to everything and maybe a little too wide-eyed. They don’t expect to make that mistake this time around.

“This year, we have a lot more experienced players,” Webb said.

There is one aspect of the Madras team that others won’t have — girls. At the 14U level, some teams must combine both sexes in order to field a full team, while others do not.

Alesha Freeman, 14, doesn’t see that as being a problem.

“In my experience, I think girls are a good addition to the team,” Freeman said. “Girls play a little bit different than boys and I think it will add to our team and make us a little bit higher than the others.”

Freeman said the Madras team is close-knit and works well together, a strength that some other teams may not have.

“It’s been a little rough this year but we have a good chance,” Freeman said. “We have a lot more girls this year. I hope we can win it.”

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