From High School To World Stage
It might be a wise bet to put money on Chancellor Ramirez having one of the more interesting summers for an incoming UCLA freshman.
His water polo career has taken a strong projectile shot upward, taking him from Loyola High School in Los Angeles to playing with his new UCLA Bruins teammates at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, to now being a part of the U.S. senior national team at the 15th FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain. Ramirez will complete his rare trifecta of international play at the FINA Men's Junior World Championships, Aug. 12-18 in Szombathely, Hungary. Following the junior world championships, he will return to Los Angeles to begin his collegiate career.
And by his own tracking, the final summer tally of airports and places he has visited is as follows: Frankfurt, Germany (twice); Moscow (twice); Belgrade, Serbia; Rome; Zagreb, Croatia; and Szombathely, Hungary.
Making a singular jump from being the best high school player in the country to the top international level of water polo is very unusual, but Ramirez, 18, has been on this accelerated path for a while.
“First of all, it’s a great honor to be on this team at any age,” Ramirez said via email to TeamUSA.org from Barcelona. “The fact that I am the youngest means coach Dejan (Udovivic) recognizes that we have talented young players in the U.S.”
“Everyone is treating me very well,” he added. “We are a team; we are all here for one reason, we are here to work together and perform at our highest level possible at the 2013 World Championships.”
The United States opened play on July 22 against defending Olympic champion Croatia and suffered a 9-7 preliminary-round loss. The team followed that up with a 16-3 win over South Africa Wednesday. Ramirez scored his first two goals of the tournament against South Africa.
This world championships likely will not be the time for Ramirez to take top billing for Team USA. This trip is about learning, watching and practicing with his American teammates, and playing a little against the best in the world.
“Just the other day, (I was) standing on the (world championship) bulkhead, hearing our national anthem was a dream come true,” Ramirez said. “I'm proud to represent the next generation of USA Water Polo here in Barcelona.”
Ramirez has come up through the Rose Bowl Water Polo club, Olympic Development Program and USA Water Polo junior national team. He’s dominant as a defender, able to use his lanky frame to crowd attackers and bend shots.
Even though he has been playing against older, stronger, and more experienced players for a while, going from playing against peers to senior-level competition is a challenge.
“The jump from high school to the senior team is mentally, physically and technically huge,” Ramirez said. “(It’s) HUGE! I’ve been ‘playing-up’ in age group polo since I was about 12. I guess you can say I’ve almost always been playing against someone more experienced and stronger.
“I’ve learned that strong legs are very important. I need to move well, keep my hips away from the center, minimizing body contact, constantly nudging the center while remaining calm and under control. Then SWIM!”
He is rooming with four-time Olympian and current team captain Tony Azevedo in Barcelona, a neat pairing of Team USA’s oldest and youngest members. Ramirez freely admits he looks up to fellow Southern Californian Azevedo, 33, has enjoyed one of the most successful careers in U.S men’s water polo history and became a father in May.
Meanwhile, Ramirez is getting the full rookie treatment, required to bring ketchup and hot sauce for the team on the trip. One small logistical issue at the airport: the security screening snagged the condiments and confiscated them.
Other than that bit of drama, Ramirez said everything has gone well so far in Barcelona.
Ramirez won’t be heading off to total unknown in the fall at UCLA. He’s already played in the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, with the Bruins, as UCLA represented the United States. The team placed fifth at the World University Games.
“I felt like I was traveling with 14 brothers,” Ramirez said. “The UCLA team is a tight knit group. I’m really looking forward to my next four years of NCAA water polo. I’m also really looking forward to playing for coach Adam Wright. He's got something special happening in Westwood.”
Ramirez is hopeful his water polo career track will take him to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games as well as leading UCLA to success in the meantime.
“I love playing water polo,” Ramirez said. “I love being part of any team and constantly challenging myself.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets focusing primarily on basketball, figure skating, ice hockey, soccer and tennis. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.