The Tigers win the 18-U boys and 14-U co-ed titles in first-ever tournament at new Chehalem Aquatic Center

SETH GORDON - Grace Kavanagh makes a save during the Chehalem Water Polo 18-U girls team's 8-1 win over Tualatin Hills Friday in the opening round of the NWPC Summer Kick-Off Tournament at the new Chehalem Aquatic Center.

Despite winning two titles, hosting the PNWC Summer Kick-Off Tournament over the weekend was a bit surreal for the Chehalem Water Polo Club.

After months, if not years of excitement and anticipation for the opening of the new Chehalem Aquatic Center, actually playing in the new full-size pool didn't quite feel like playing at home for the Tigers.

"We had two practices in the new pool before our tournament, so basically it was like being in an away pool," boys coach Jake Kinne said. "But it's ours and I think the kids had a nice sense of ownership. They wanted to defend the home pool and they did in most cases. It's just exciting to know that we're going to have that facility moving forward."

The Boys 18-U team led the way for Chehalem, going 4-0 with a pair of close wins over Puget Sound to take the title.

After the first contest finished regulation in a 5-5 tie, goalie Wilson Johnson made three saves on Puget Sound's first three shootout attempts to lift the Tigers to an 8-6 victory.

That, along with a 12-0 drubbing of Tualatin Hills and a 13-0 blowout over Willamette Valley, set up a rematch with Puget Sound for the tournament title.

The visitors scored four goals in the second quarter to go up 4-3, but Chehalem stiffened in the second half to pull out a 6-5 win. Kinne said the return of Grant Stilp from a broken arm was a big key for the Tigers.

"Offensively, he's our center, so being able to get the ball to him and get some goals and ejections is important," Kinne said. "Defensively, he's a big strong body, so he's able to eliminate whoever he's guarding. He was able to push their centers out of position."

The 14-U coed squad also went undefeated over the weekend, beating Tualatin Hills 10-1, Empire 9-4 and Rain City 6-5.

"They had a good weekend," Kinne said. "We are mostly seventh graders on that team and kind of newer players with a couple of eighth graders in there in the goal."

Several players from that squad also played up on the boys 16-U team, which finished with a 1-3 record. The Tigers could not keep pace with Puget Sound in an 11-2 loss, lost twice to Rain City, falling 8-6 both times, but did throttle Lake Oswego 8-1.

The girls 18-U had an up-and-down tournament, opening with a big 8-1 win over Tualatin Hills, but came back to earth in a 13-4 setback against Puget Sound. Coach Cari Blanchard said the team was flat in an 8-4 loss to Empire, but refocused well to beat that squad 3-1 Sunday in their final game.

For that team, especially, she said it was a bit disorienting to play a home game in what is an unfamiliar facility, even as exciting as it was to finally get to use it.

"We kind of felt like fish out of water because the comfort level of our own pool and the size and depth," Blanchard said. "It's ours to use, but we're not familiar with it. I think they were just out of rhythm, out of sync, so we regrouped and talked about it. I think Sunday was just a good turn around."

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