For openers, the Redlands-based Renegades, a water polo club, is open to everyone — not just the kids that play at a trio in that city’s public high schools.
Ryan Williams’ dream is to train kids from every campus — Cajon and Yucaipa, San Gorgonio and Indian Springs, plus any schools from Riverside County, along with Redlands — for a 9-month period.
Those other three months, he said, “is for the high school season.”
Hard to believe: Renegades is the only club of its kind in the immediate area.
Polo clubs in surrounding areas include Riverside, Yucaipa (apparently, no tournament play), then the Foothill Polo Club based out of La Verne — about an hour’s drive.
There’s a need for club polo.
Renegades’ coaches Zoran Dragomirovic and Williams are spearheading the effort. It’s simple, says Dragomirovic, a former professional from Serbia.
“All the top high school teams,” he said, referring to the likes of Santa Ana Mater Dei and Segerstrom, Santa Maria Righetti, Murrieta Valley, Malibu, Corona del Mar, Laguna Beach, Rio Mesa, plus a whole lot more, “play against national team players in club.”
Hint: The closer to the beach you get, figure the polo talent pool gets greater. Forming a club like Renegades helps to even that score.
Said Williams: “The club brings us closer to those teams. We can compete with them.”
Underscored, perhaps, was the CIF Southern Section Division 3 boys’ championship won by Redlands East Valley in 2015. A largely freshman class, that squad was built from Renegades prospects.
Coached by Williams and Dragomirovic, players like Harrison Land, Maverick McMurtry, Zack Arthur and Chad Gornay, among others, dominated the polo waters.
Gornay, the brother of four-time Southern Section backstroke champion Evan Gornay, committed to UC Irvine.
Two more, McMurtry and Land, were National Junior Olympic All-American recipients last year. Throw in Levi Murtaugh, a Riverside Poly High player who used the Renegades to leap into collegiate play at UC Davis.
Then there’s Olympic Development Programs, in which Nico Perna (Under-13), among others, has risen to top levels.
There’s a cost.
It’s $125 a month, plus a $50 annual registration fee, plus $95 for a two-day tournament, $45 for the one-day events. USA Water Polo membership is also a must.
Plus this: If you’re on the Under-16 and Under-18 squads, be prepared to dedicate entire weekends. They’re using the deck at Indian Springs High.
There’s no difference to the financial, time and physical commitment to other sports — soccer, baseball, softball, basketball, you name it.
“Colleges scout these tournaments,” said Dragomirovic. “Water polo is not just a high school sport any more.”
College coaches rarely scout high school matches. Collegiate polo is in the fall, same as boys’ polo (girls play in winter, collegiate women in the spring). It’s easy for colleges to scout tournaments and Junior Olympic play out of their season.
For Renegades, there’s travel. Orange County. San Diego. This summer’s Junior Olympics are slated for San Jose.
All this since 2011, when Brian Snell, whose off-the-deck job has led him away to Colorado, formed Renegades.
Prep polo’s been around since 1912 when Long Beach Poly — a beach school, by the way — won nine of the first 11 titles. In 1977, Indio High copped a CIF title, apparently the first Riverside or San Bernardino County team to score a championship.
It’s a grind in the water.
Corey Valencia, a former Citrus Valley goalie, wasn’t even planning to play collegiately. Before the Highland kid was struck down with an indescribable heart ailment, he was planning for college, sans polo.
Heading into a 2015 tryout with the NCAA Division 1 San Jose State program, Valencia made the squad.
“I’d have never been as good of a goalie,” he said, “without the Renegades. I wouldn’t have been as experienced.”
Along with the experience of club play, including Junior Olympic tournament play, he got plenty of guidance — on technique, recognizing various types of attacks, plus going head-to-head with top-flight players.
That only strengthens a high school team.