Cathedral Catholic water polo club makes splash on national stage
Considering the abundance of talented water polo players in the region and what he sensed to be a growing interest in the sport, it didn’t make sense to Cathedral Catholic coach Brett Ormsby that the Del Mar area didn’t have a competitive youth water polo club.
Ormsby didn’t just sit on his hands and complain. In 2008, he and his wife, Thalia Ormsby, founded the Del Mar Water Polo Club at Cathedral Catholic’s state-of-the art swimming facility.
“Other established clubs had existed (in San Diego County), but there was a void in our local community and a desire,” Brett Ormsby said.
His club has, in short order, filled that void.
The DMWPC has made a mark on the national club scene, competing in elite tournaments and contributing to the development of future stars — several of whom are already competing at the Division I college level.
The club’s 16-and-under team won the 2012 United States Club national championship. Its 18-and-under-team (featuring many of the same players from the national championship team) took second place at nationals the next year and won a silver medal at the 2014 Junior Olympics.
Brett and Thalia Ormsby represented the United States in the 2004 Olympics in Athens on the men’s and women’s water polo teams after distinguished careers at UCLA — Brett was the school’s 2004 Athlete of the Year, and Thalia a three-time national champion.
The club is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 10 in the 16-and-under and 18-and-under circuits.
The girls’ 14-and-under team won a gold medal last summer at the prestigious John Hale tournament.
The club is open to youths aged 5 through 18 of all abilities and experience levels, Brett Ormsby said. Most of the club’s participants are from the Del Mar, Carmel Valley and Solana Beach areas, but some travel from as far as Coronado, Escondido and El Cajon.
High school water polo has been played competitively in California for many decades, but wasn’t instituted for girls until the late 1990s. A club circuit emerged in the early 1990s.
“Originally the goal of the club was to provide a place for high school athletes to train year-round because high school water polo takes place in the fall for the boys and winter for the girls, but to be successful we needed a platform that allowed athletes to train 12 months out of the year,” Brett Ormsby said.
“That was sort of the driving force behind it, but it’s grown into something much broader than that. It really caters to the younger community as well and seeks to try to get new athletes — the elementary (school) and middle school athletes — into the sport.”
But while competing in national tournaments is nice, Ormsby said his club is more focused on the development aspect of the sport.
He feels somewhat that “there shouldn’t even be national championships for the 10-and-under age groups because it really promotes the wrong thing,” he said. “We want kids in our club who are going to be collegiate athletes one day and who are going to be national team athletes one day, but in order to do that, they need to build a really solid foundation at a young age.
“Of course we’re trying to win — but what we won’t do is sacrifice any sort of development or doing things the right way to get any shortcuts to winning. We’re taking the longterm approach.”
The long-term approach has already yielded impressive results. The club’s alumni are already well represented among collegiate ranks with a group that includes Chris Fahlsing, a former Cathedral Catholic standout who helped lead UCLA to a NCAA championship last year.
Cathedral Catholic alumni Cody Smith (Stanford), Bryce Hoerman (USC) and Austin Rone (UCLA), Vista’s Ryder Roberts (UCLA), and Granite Hills’ Kevin LeVine (UC Berkeley) are among other recent members of the club who have gone on to play at the Division I level on the men’s side.
Torrey Pines grad Michelle Martinelli (Harvard) and Cathedral Catholic’s Jillian Wilding (UC Davis) are among recent club alumnae who’ve gone on to play in college.
These days, one of the club’s hottest attractions is Dennis Blyashov, a rising star who is a member of the USA National Cadet team and considered one of the nation’s best players his age group, Ormsby said. Blyashov plays for the club’s 16-and-under and 18-and-under teams.
And Ormsby insists that his club isn’t just focused on its elite athletes.
“High school sports and youth sports are about so much more than success on the court or in the pool,” he said. “It’s about teaching kids life lessons. Teaching them to deal with adversity and teaching them what ‘work ethic’ means. Teaching them to have a good attitude and teaching them to be resilient; those are lessons that everyone needs to learn whether they’re naturally gifted or not.
“That should be the driving sport behind all youth sports, water polo or anything else.”
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