Terry Bernal/Daily Journal
Sami Strutner helped Stanford Club to a 2-1 record through opening day of the Club Water Polo Junior Olympics.
The Stanford Girls Water Polo Club survived Day 1 of the National Junior Olympics Thursday at Serra’s Aquatics Center.
Well, “survived” may be a bit of an understatement. Stanford Club won two games on opening day of the tournament, which spans through Sunday’s championship round. In fact, the team twice won big, triumphing 21-1 over Thunder Water Polo in the opening match, then closing out the day with a 15-3 win over Navy Aquatic Club.
However, sandwiched between the two lopsided wins was tough 11-5 loss to Danville-based 680 Water Polo. With four consecutive goals to open the match, 680 hardly looked back, receiving a hat trick each from Kimberly Johnson and Kat Klass.
“They came out with a lot more speed and with a set mind of winning that game in the first quarter,” Stanford Club center Caitlin Stuewe said. “I think that really put us down.”
It marks the third time this season 680 has gotten the better of Stanford Club, with 680 previously winning the consolation game at the U.S. Club Championships at Capistrano Valley High School on July 13 by a 9-7 margin. At the Junior Olympics qualifier earlier this season, 680 won 5-3.
Thursday, Stanford Club managed to close 680’s lead to 6-4 midway through the third quarter. But 680 responded by outscoring its cross-bay rival 5-1 over the final 12 minutes.
“Today was an aberration,” 680 head coach Ryan Cunnane said of the blowout. “Normally they’re right there with us every game.”
Jessica Heilman was Stanford Club’s leading scorer in the game with a pair of goals. The recent Menlo-Atherton graduate also persevered as one of the game’s standout defenders, according to Stanford Club head coach Kyle Utsumi.
“She did well,” Utsumi said. “She’s always solid on the defensive end.”
Heilman was even-keel about Stanford Club’s authoritative win over Thunder in the morning opener, in which the team set a positive tone for the season-finale tournament.
“We did well,” Heliman said. “Our passing was good and we had good communication. We worked well as a team and we came out strong.”
A four-year varsity starter at M-A, Heilman is coming off a Peninsula Athletic League Most Valuable Player season. She will be heading to the Ivy League next year with Brown University, where she will be pitted against longtime Stanford Club teammate Sami Strutner — a Redwood City native who is headed to Harvard in the fall.
According to Heilman, it was Strutner who originally inspired her to take to the water polo ranks in middle school. The two met while competing at swim meets for their local clubs, Strutner with Peninsula Community Center Aquatics and Heilman for the Ladera Dolphins.
Against 680, however, Heilman ran into another familiar face, 680 center Greta Kohlmoos. The two competed together briefly with the Olympic Development Program last year. But they are more accustomed to going head-to-head with their respective rival Bay Area club teams.
“They’re a tough opponent and [Kohlmoos] is very good,” Heilman said. “She’s better than a lot. So, it’s always harder to play them.”
Although Kohlmoos didn’t score a goal in the match, she is generally one of the go-to shooters for 680.
“She’s very big in the water,” Cunnane said. “When she gets her hands on the ball, it’s very hard to get the ball away from her after that point. She’s just one of those really hard covers.”
Further fueling the rivalry is the contingent of Sacred Heart Prep alumnae on both teams. Stanford Club’s Stuewe and Morgan McCracken are both recent SHP grads, while 680’s Madeline Johnson just wrapped up her freshman season for the Gators. The familiarity makes for a rivalry, but a friendly one, according to Stuewe.
“You want both teams to do well because we’re both Northern California,” Stuewe said. “There’s not that many teams up here. When you face them, you know what their strengths and weaknesses are. But they know ours. So, it’s hard playing a team that knows everything about you.”
Stanford Club continues play Friday, looking to keep its gold medal hopes alive, and needing a two-game sweep to do so. Stanford Club matches up with Newport Water Polo at Stanford University’s Bellardi Pool at 9 a.m., and Carlsbad Water Polo Club at noon.
And Stanford Club has its eyes on a possible rematch with 680 over the weekend.
“We can meet them later on in the tournament,” Stuewe said. “We can meet them in the first-place game if we want too, and it might be different standings, because some days we’re there, sometimes we’re not. We’ve always been very close with that team.”