Led by the performance of the U-16 Girls team that took second, the U-18 boys and U-16 boys also battled in Texas

COURTESY PHOTO: JOLEE GUTIERREZ - The Chehalem Water Polo girls U-16 team took second in late July at the Junior Olympics in Dallas, Texas.

Several Chehalem water polo teams made the trip to Dallas, Texas, last month for the 2022 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics. The U-16 girls team won six straight games before falling to NC Select in the finals 7.3-7.1. Meanwhile, the U-18 boys team took third and the U-16 boys team finished 17th overall.

For Newberg club water polo coach Aukai Ferguson, the trip to the Lone Star State was largely seen as a success. The competitions in Dallas were built on the back of strong junior Olympics showings last year.

"The expectation was to do well and we're pleasantly surprised that what we thought potentially could happen actually did," Ferguson said. "And each of the teams finished with winning records."

The wins for those Newberg teams came against squads from Texas, North Carolina and Florida, among other states. Ferguson described the style of play his teams encountered as more physical, but thought the teams handled it well.

Ferguson also said he was pleased with the performances of players like Ella Ferguson, Sydney Brand and Adrianne Medac, but extolled the calm of his team overall.

"It was just exciting," the coach said. "The girls being 16 and under were just ecstatic, and they really rose to the occasion. There's a lot of pressure, there was a lot of people in the stands watching and they performed really well."

While it was the U-6 girls who reached the highest high at the Junior Olympics, the success of the teams as a whole can be in large part attributed to the foundations built up by longtime Newberg water polo coach Jim McMaster, according to Coach on.

Ferguson, who has known McMaster for well over 20 years, pointed to him as the building block the Newberg water polo squads stand upon.

"He had a captive audience and he was the pool manager," Coach Ferguson said. "And so he recruited the kids quite young and he coached them all the way through … His level of intensity and commitment that was required was pretty impressive … they were hard workers in a very small club. They committed largely thanks to Jim, and we still try to carry that tradition on that they're expected to work hard, be focused and dedicated and that's the tradition of the Newberg program."

That dedication to hard work is evident as the athletes began training for the Junior Olympics in February and built up to the competition in Texas. The grind doesn't stop for Newberg water polo, as the student-athletes will switch to high school competition come September.

Coach Ferguson said he is proud of the work his teams put in.

"It was a long training period to get to that and to earn that level of success," he said. "The kids were committed … it's fun to see as a coach and educator that when they put in that kind of time and to have those results, it's very gratifying."

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