The Bend Waves are accustomed to being good visitors. Seven or eight times every season, the water polo club members, their coaches and parents drive to the Portland area or out of state for tournaments, packing into hotel rooms for overnight stays.

So even though the Bend Water Polo Challenge, the first tournament the Waves have ever hosted since coming into existence in 2012, meant a lot of extra organizational work, general manager and 18U boys coach Ryan Duffy said it was in some ways a relief to be playing at home at Juniper Swim & Fitness Center on Saturday and Sunday.

“We travel, usually, seven to eight weekends a year — that’s a lot of money,” Duffy explained Saturday afternoon over the whistles and shouts from the Newberg versus Empire (Gresham) girls 18U game. “Oftentimes the pools that we do spend money to travel to aren’t nearly as nice as this one. This allows us to bring the competition to us. We’re going to sleep in our own beds.”

Duffy said the club has wanted to host its own event for several years, but it had to wait for a rare weekend when the Juniper pool was available. (Central Oregon Masters Aquatics hosted the Oregon Masters Swimming Association Championships at Juniper during the second weekend of April in 2017, but this year the swim meet will be held in Corvallis.) The two-day tournament included three divisions — 18U boys, 18U girls and 14U coed — with six teams in each.

“Next weekend we’ll be in Portland for the Rose Cup, and we’ll see pretty much everyone here, and they’ll have several more teams, as well,” Duffy said. “If we were able to have three or four more hours (of pool time on Sunday), we’d be able to host a more well-rounded tournament, but I think for the time that we have, we’re running the absolute best one we could.”

Waves 18U girls players Conner Hamlin, 15, and Meghan Barrett, 18, said they were excited to show off their home facility and defend their liquid turf. That excitement had produced good results: the Waves A team opened with a 7-3 win over Salem-based Willamette, and then beat Tualatin Hills 12-5.

“It gets you amped up,” Barrett said. “You’re representing your town and where you’re from and where you practice.”

“It’s nice not having to travel so far, and then you don’t have to stay in a hotel,” Hamlin added. “You can stay in your house, and stuff like that. And you know all the food spots. It’s easier.”

The Waves 18U boys beat Willamette, 8-7, but lost to Empire, 14-5, in their second game of the tournament.

Hamlin, who played on the Summit High School water polo team last fall, first played water polo with the Waves in middle school but spent last year living in Manhattan Beach, an area of Los Angeles and a water polo hot spot, before returning to Bend.

“There are so many teams in California; there are great, great teams,” Hamlin said. “There are a lot more camps held, because there are a lot of colleges there, like USC, UCLA, Santa Barbara, and they all hold camps for water polo girls our age. But I think (water polo) is getting bigger here (in Oregon.)”

Barrett, a senior at Summit, said she was excited that she got to enjoy a home tournament with the Waves before she leaves for college.

“I think it’s nice, playing a sport in a state where it’s not as big, because it’s kind of humbling. You get to watch it grow and evolve,” said Barrett, who admitted she did not really even know what water polo was until she started playing as a high-schooler. “We’re always the ones going to tournaments, and we never get to see what it’s like to host one. And I think it’s really cool to be able to do that, and hopefully it’ll be an annual thing.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0305, vjacobsen@bendbulletin.com

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