Jewel Roemer is one of the three high schoolers competing at the FINA Intercontinental Tournament with the U.S. women's water polo team in Perth, Australia.
For Abbi Hill, Jewel Roemer and Honnie Vandeweghe-O’Shea, this is the sports version of taking a college-level course or two. Except instead of it being English 101, this is more of a senior-level independent thesis class at one of the nation’s finest universities.
The three high school water polo stars are part of the 14-member U.S. women’s team that is in Perth, Australia, to compete in the FINA Intercontinental Tournament, the first major competition of the season.
With the collegiate season ongoing, U.S. coach Adam Krikorian elected to bring in these three high schoolers to play alongside a host of veterans, including five players who have each won two Olympic gold medals.
“I do think it’s intimidating because many of them I have looked up to since I’ve been little,” said Roemer, a junior who attends Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California, via email. “But everyone is so welcoming and helpful that they make me feel a part of the team right away.”
The U.S., coming off an outstanding 2018 season, has won the Intercontinental Tournament three of the last four years. In fact, last year’s team finished the year 33-1 with tournament victories at the FINA World Cup, FINA World League Super Final and Intercontinental Tournament.
The lone loss? That came against Australia in the opening round of the Intercontinental Tournament.
This year’s team opened play with an 11-5 win over China on Tuesday and an 18-7 victory over Japan on Wednesday. Group play continues Thursday against New Zealand, with a champion being crowned March 31.
Roemer and Hill have played in this tournament previously, but this will be Vandeweghe-O’Shea’s debut event with the senior national team. Though she admitted it was intimidating to join a team with some of the best players in the world, she said she ultimately views this as a one-of-a-kind learning experience.
“It’s more of an opportunity to work and learn from the best in the world,” emailed Vandeweghe-O’Shea, a sophomore at Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, California.
Even at their young age, the high school trio know they need to be at their best if the U.S. is to defend its title in Perth.
“I will definitely have some first-game jitters, but as soon as it gets going it’ll be fun and exciting,” wrote Hill, a senior at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California, prior to the competition. “Something that I always try to focus on while playing with the senior team is to not hold back and to not let fear get in the way.”
High school players on the national team aren’t unprecedented. In 2016, USA Water Polo named three high school players to the Olympic team that won the gold medal in Rio. Nonetheless, the three high schoolers are eager to take advantage of their opportunity.
“Since all the college players are in season, I think Abbi, Jewel and I are being given a great opportunity,” Vandeweghe-O’Shea said. “There are so many great players, I am just happy to be part of such an amazing team.”
Added Roemer: “This gives me the opportunity for invaluable experience.”
The opportunity does come at a bit of a price, as each of the young players will miss school to compete. However, all said their schools have been accomodating, and the opportunity to compete with Team USA is worth it.
“It’s really hard to miss school, especially towards the end of the semester when report cards are going to be out in a couple months, but I always get through it,” said Hill, who will play at UCLA next season, following in the footsteps of older sisters Sami and Kodi.
It helps, Hill said, that part of the time she’s missing is spring break.
Still, playing on the top-ranked team in the world at a major tournament will help these players make their mark and put them in the mix when it comes time to be selected for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“Being invited to this tournament and any training with the senior team is very beneficial to me and my future,” Hill said. “It benefits me as a player by giving me experience and allowing me to build on my skills, as well as benefiting my future of possibly being on the senior team.”