There’s something in the water at Westside Aquatics. For four years in a row, the water polo club has sent several water polo teams and their athletes to compete in the Junior Olympics. The club is doing much of the same this year, sending six teams to the July 21 – 29 Junior Olympics in San Jose.

“We have the cream of the crop here in terms of talent,” Matthew Flanders, co-owner of Westside Aquatics Water Polo and head coach of the water polo teams said. “We’re in the top-20 teams in the nation, so it’s an honor to even make it to the Junior Olympics.”

Flanders, who daylights as a teacher and water polo coach at Samohi, has been with the club for four years, training boys and girls ages 8-18 to reach their absolute athletic peaks.

The coach says while some high schools have impressive water polo programs and players (Flanders says many of the Junior Olympic experienced players actually come from Samohi and local schools), Westside Aquatics helps push players looking to take their game to the next level.

Two such players are Madison Greger and Ashley Greger of Westside’s girl’s teams. Ashley, an eighth-grader at John Adams and Madison, a ninth-grader at Samohi, were placed into Westside by their mother after a local swimming program deemed the sisters “too competitive.”

“Exercise, the social aspect, all of its been great,” Jaime Greger, mother of Madison and Ashley said. “Both thrived here and we thought, ‘This is where we belong.’ The kids love the coaches and playing for them. Everyone comes together and that helped the girls team came together.”

Greger says the girls team has recently built up through word of mouth, with no more than 10-11 girls total playing water polo for Westside. Although small in numbers, they be fierce — This is the Gregers third trip to the Junior Olympics alone, with a silver medal from a previous year to show the culmination of their efforts.

She says although her daughters’ water polo careers are still very much in the beginning stages, the girls don’t have any pressure from her or their coaches, despite the hyper-competitive culture Westside’s established. These girls, Greger says, just wanna have fun.

“They do wanna win, I’m not gonna lie, that’s the end game,” Greger says with a laugh. “But they have fun hanging out with the team. It’s weird, full of expectations, hard work, and sometimes disappointment. It’s teaching them a lot of life lessons, and it’s fun; that’s why they love doing it.”

While the Greger’s begin the throes of their respective water polo journeys, Michail Melnik is at the end of his high school career, entrenched in the sport for the long haul.

A swimmer since the age of 4, Melnik says the club was “a great way…to get introduced to the sport”, providing him with lifelong friendships and sharp coaching he “couldn’t have gotten anywhere else,” including regular training sessions against college students.

Melnik says the training, besides keeping him in shape, provided him the “mental chess” aspect of water polo, helping him in his position as goalie preserve his body and expend energy when necessary. The training propelled Melnik to this, his third and final junior Olympics.

“The fact that this is my last junior Olympics is a big milestone for me,” Melnik said via email. “I’m moving on to playing college next year at the fifth-ranked school in Division 1 (University of the Pacific), which means I have a lot to prove.”

With expectations and a chance to stamp his resume with one final medal, Melnik was asked if he was nervous. The “mental chess” player of the team’s confidence brimming from his training, Melnik responded: “Never. Always prepared.”